One of the goals of Hughes’ essay, “Jazz as Communication” is to try to define what Jazz is and how it influences his own writing. The first time Hughes defines Jazz is when he says, “Jazz is a great big sea. It washes up all kinds of fish and shells and spume and waves with a steady old beat, or off-beat.” In other words, I think he is saying that Jazz is becoming so great that it will become more popular than Rock and Roll- a type of music that is loved and admired by so many. Jazz is the great sea that will swallow up Rock and Roll. This imagery is an interesting choice to use because it does not account for the possibility of the next big genre of music to come and “wash up” Jazz itself. In that case, Jazz could not possibly be the sea.
The second time is when Hughes says, “Jazz is only what you yourself get out of it.” He brings up a quote of a lady who asked what Jazz is, but replies that she doesn’t need to ask, she already knows. She can interpret the meaning of Jazz any way that she likes. If Jazz makes her sad, calm, or even happy, then she can interpret Jazz as a type of music that does one of those things. However, the problem with this definition of Jazz is that it can apply to different types of music as well, and therefore, by simply saying the definition, one will not know that you are talking about Jazz and might think you are discussing a different genre.
Finally, Hughes gives a definition based on what Jazz means to him and says, “Jazz is a montage of a dream deferred.” After reading this line I realized why we were told to read the second poem “Harlem.” Not realizing how it connected to Jazz, I was confused why we were asked to read it. He says that Jazz is like “a great big dream-yet to come.” I think he is saying that Jazz will always continue to be performed and favored in the music society, much like a dream that we continue to look forward to. Jazz is so powerful and important that if neglect it/ push it off, much like a dream, we will come to regret it. Ultimately, Hughes thinks highly of this type of music and is thankful that it can give him inspiration throughout his writing.
- How do you think Hughes’ poem “Harlem” relates to Jazz?
- Do you agree with Hughes when he says, “Jazz is only what you yourself get out of it” or is Jazz simply one type of music that can’t be interpreted?