How Jazz Works
How Jazz Works
This chapter examines jazz in the context of the ultimate sort of communication that Kenneth Burke called “communion.” Communion has to do with individuals joining in a common effort not so much for the sake of its outcome as for the experience of cohesion inherent in the experience of a participant. Framing this discussion is the moment in Burke’s novel, Towards a Better Life, when his protagonist, in the midst of a transcendent experience he can’t quite define, in immersed in a sense of “communion residing solely in the summons.” This can happen in jazz, when listeners are so encompassed by the movement of the music that they experience it as “co-performers.” That co-performing is the rhetorical consequence of an intense engagement with aesthetic form as Burke described it, a description he founded on the effects of music. The chapter describes that effect in instances of jazz, as it brings people together in a momentary recognition that despite the fact that contention is the essential experience of democratic life, there is in our civic life an occasional summons to inhabit what we are working toward.
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