Rhythm, Melody and Harmony in Jazz and Poetry

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There are various genres of music worldwide, each distinguished by unique characteristics. Among these is Jazz, a genre created primarily by black Americans in the early 20th century. Jazz combines elements of American and African tribal music.

Jazz stands out from all other genres of music due to its numerous distinct characteristics. Three main distinctions are particularly noteworthy. Firstly, Jazz is characterized by its unique combination of rhythm, melody, and harmony. Secondly, each Jazz player possesses subtle differences that make their performance instantly recognizable. Finally, Jazz musicians interact and react with their surroundings, going beyond simply playing a predetermined set of notes. The rhythm, melody, and harmony contribute significantly to making Jazz distinct from other genres of music.

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Not only do these rhythms apply to the music of the Jazz era, but they can also be found in certain poems from that time. An example of a poem that showcases a specific rhyme scheme is T. S. Eliot’s “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock.” In this poem, Eliot deviates from a traditional rhyme pattern seen in simpler poems. While he does include end-rhyme, it does not consistently alternate for every line, occasionally presenting two or three lines without a rhyme followed by two lines that do rhyme.

The unorthodox rhyme scheme of his poem gives it a connection to the seemingly random rhythms found in Jazz music. Claude McKay’s “The Tropics in New York” is another poem that exhibits harmony similar to Jazz, using a straightforward end-rhyme scheme that alternates with each line. Despite this, the poem flows endlessly and does not cause confusion or wandering thoughts. These two poems are just a glimpse of the many thousands that showcase the first characteristic of Jazz music.

One notable aspect of Jazz music is the unique nuances incorporated by musicians to differentiate themselves from one another. Langston Hughes, a renowned poet during the 1920s, exemplified this attribute. As an influential African-American poet, Hughes consistently showcased his deep appreciation for his heritage along with his discontentment towards the prevailing oppression. His poem “Refugee in America” vividly exemplifies this characteristic.

In this poem, the author expresses his admiration for words like “Freedom” and how he contemplates its meaning daily. Additionally, he expresses his deep emotions towards words like “Liberty”, which nearly bring him to tears. These sentiments clearly convey his strong resentment towards the oppression faced by his race. Another one of his poems, titled “The Negro Speaks of Rivers”, showcases the author’s immense pride in his heritage. Within this poem, Hughes beautifully depicts the long history of his race, highlighting their familiarity with rivers spanning across various continents.

He is stating that his race is omnipresent and will endure, resembling the rivers worldwide. However, this is not the only trait that can be seen in both the music and literature of that era. Another Jazz characteristic evident in literature from that time is the musicians’ spontaneous movement in the music, responding to the crowd and their fellow band members rather than adhering to a fixed set of notes. William Carlos Williams’ “The Great Figure” serves as an early example.

This poem appears to lack coherence and purpose. It recounts the straightforward narrative of a fire truck traversing the city in inclement weather. During the Jazz era, there were few artistic forms, whether musical or literary, that produced poems as seemingly haphazard yet significant as this one. Hilda Doolittle, a renowned poet credited with originating the Imagist style of poetry, offers another example of this unconventional approach. In her poem “Heat,” she describes a breeze that arrives to alleviate the intense heat.

According to her, the fruit will not fall in thin air, but the wind will cause the fruit to be cut down as it passes through. As mentioned earlier, Jazz possesses a combination of rhythm and melody which allows for the differentiation between Jazz musicians and the seemingly chaotic nature of the music. These three qualities are only a few of the many aspects that distinguish Jazz from all other genres of music. However, these particular traits indicate the similarity between early twentieth-century Jazz and poetry and literature of that time period.

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Rhythm, Melody and Harmony in Jazz and Poetry. (2018, Feb 02). Retrieved from


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