Monday, May 16, 2011

All That Jazz

Post by Jenny

I have a favorite jazz station I like to listen to when I’m in the car, and not long ago one of the DJs mentioned how jazz is uniquely American music which moved up from its birthplace in New Orleans to the clubs of Chicago and New York. It didn’t take long before the classic New Orleans sound, such as King Oliver’s Creole Jazz Band, inspired other musicians, from Duke Ellington to George Gershwin to violinist Paul Whiteman, and widened the scope of the music’s popularity.

But the Jazz Age was about much more than music. It was the era of flappers, Prohibition, Al Capone, and Charles Lindbergh. And, musicians aside, perhaps no one embraced the spirit of the times more than the writers. Sinclair Lewis, Edna St. Vincent Millay, Eugene O’Neill, Langston Hughes, Dorothy Parker…and of course F. Scott Fitzgerald, who is credited with coining the term “Jazz Age.”

Fitzgerald was only 24 in 1920 when his first novel, This Side of Paradise, made him famous overnight. Feeling that he could then support a wife, he married the beautiful Zelda Sayre, and the two lived and chronicled the excesses and cynicism of the era. From Scott’s Commentary on New York (1926): “The restlessness approached hysteria....Young people wore out early—they were hard and languid at twenty-one…The city was bloated, glutted, stupid with cake and circuses…”

We all know that soundtracks are an integral part of a moviegoing experience, but books can have soundtracks, too. Take this quote from The Great Gatsby: “All night the saxophones wailed the hopeless comment of the Beale Street Blues while a hundred pairs of golden and silver slippers shuffled the shining dust.” Just as with movies, the soundtrack of a book is best if it conveys mood without overpowering plot or characters. Above all, it has to “sound” right.

The roaring twenties, of course, was not the only era to be shaped by its music. Rock and Roll in the fifties, Disco in the seventies, grunge in the nineties…each of those musical styles, and many more, can be a powerful tool for anchoring a character in a particular time, setting, or mood.

Do you use music in your writing?


Kathleen said...
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Kathleen said...

I'm doing final deep edits on my first novel, a good versus evil fantasy where Temptation, the personification of evil is the villain. One of the major weapons used against him is music.

When I consider the role of music in my own life, I realize its force for supporting or altering the inner temperature of my emotions. Like my characters, I can choose to allow my choice of music to help me battle or succumb to negative passions. That's magic.

Laila Knight said...

Music doesn't work for me. It has to be perfectly quiet when I write, but a lot of writers prefer background noise.

Dean K Miller said...

Definitely have background music when I write. Electronic space music is the most apt description.

Music provides a great backdrop to setting and scenes in written works, bringing in the hearing sense for the reader.

Something to consider including in the future.

Jenny said...

Kathleen, I'm intrigued! Best of luck with your novel.

Laila and Dean, your comments make for an interesting comparison!

Amy Frazier said...

Music is a powerful link to our memories. And music helps us form memories as well. It makes good sense to think about musical involvement -- both using music as an element in writing, and to support our individual writing process. I enjoyed this post very much.

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