Jazz and Redemption

During any given week, I get messages from people all over the world, some of whom are my friends, some of whom are strangers, all of whom have something valuable to offer me as raw material for Harris, the writer.

This week, in the response section that accompanies this page, is a message from Russ H. of Marble Falls, Texas, that takes up a thread from last week's commentary on Jack Kerouac and that author's love for and use of jazz in his writing.

Mr. H. writes, "Having thrown that hippie gauntlet down, are you ready for a challenge? I nominate Eudora Welty's 'Powerhouse' as the greatest jazz story of all time. Check it out. Top it, if you can."
Well. As the ancient Romans said, "De gustibus non est disputandum," which, literally means "Concerning taste there can be no argument," but which could be construed as "Blow it out your nose," or some other orifice, if the ancients had had such a phrase. And, no doubt, they did. But I've known Mr. H. for nearly 40 years. He's never steered me wrong.

And I didn't know the Welty story. So I headed for the local library, found it, read it, and was transfixed by its elegance and the theme of redemption that runs through it. The protagonist is a jazz keyboard man on tour who gets a cryptic telegram about his wife's death. And it is never clear whether or not she actually is dead. But Mr. H, is correct -- it is a story that deserves a Top 5 rating in the genre of jazz prose works.

My own nomination for a Top 5 spot goes to James Baldwin for "Sonny's Blues," a story that also carries redemption via music as its theme.

What we have here, I mused, is an explanation of why jazz touches some deep pedal tone in our souls and brings us hope and pleasure at the same time.

I am always harping about the blues, and about how the best of jazz is blues-based, because the soul and spirit of the blues is about suffering and redemption. And redemption may take on the likeness of resignation to a lousy life, but that resignation is a redemption unto itself. Similarly, the spark of hope resides therein. And, when one adds the glory of melody and harmony, who could ask for more?
"Powerhouse" and "Sonny's Blues" show us the power of music to heal the spirit. And they reveal music -- specifically, jazz -- as a substitute for going to church.

So now I have a new hobby, i.e., finding works of fiction that support this theme. Do you know of any? If so, respond to SkyJazz and I'll keep a tally.

And, Mr. H., thanks.