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Three Ways of Looking at a Yardbird

Three Ways of Looking at a Yardbird

Charlie Parker and the Theorization of Jazz Improvisation in the Work of Ralph Ellison, James Baldwin, and LeRoi Jones/Amiri Baraka

Chapter:
(p.23) Movement I Three Ways of Looking at a Yardbird
Source:
The Shadow and the Act
Publisher:
University of Chicago Press
DOI:10.7208/chicago/9780226554259.003.0002

This chapter investigates how Ralph Ellison, James Baldwin, and LeRoi Jones/Amiri Baraka used Charlie “Bird” Parker as a sign of Negro complexity and a symbolic guide through the contingent relationship among the illustrations and theories developed in their literary works and cultural criticism. Though each writer approached Bird as “the black artist as sacrificial Negro,” they charted separately defined routes toward achieving African American political, economic, and cultural freedom. Parker's musical innovations helped shape radical youth immediately after World War II. Improvisation and illumination provide access to salvation in Baldwin's work. Following John Dewey's themes of art as experience, Jones/Baraka draws poetry and jazz improvisation together so that he can simultaneously exercise the culture's diverse and contradictory parts while poeticizing the spiraling self in transition. Jones/Baraka provides the American public with a poetics for transforming American culture and politics with the inclusion of improvisational African American identities.

Keywords:   Ralph Ellison, James Baldwin, LeRoi Jones, Amiri Baraka, Charlie Parker, Negro complexity, cultural criticism, radical youth, jazz improvisation

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