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15 of 16 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A poignant, soaring, touching work of art
As a child of fine artists and a classical and jazz musician, I had no idea or understanding as to why many of the churches- from the turn of the century to almost the present day in many areas- consistently referred to jazz as the devil's music, or dangerously secular, until after reading this book. Toni Morrison becomes the metaphor herself, along with her invented...
Published on January 18, 2000 by Earl Hazell

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27 of 32 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Not Quite Charlie Parker
Toni Morrison's Jazz is a book premised around love, race, violence and the city that is home to these ideas. Set in the 1920's, Jazz is a story about a married couple's struggles, and the entangled lives of those involved in their love. Stylistically this is a beautiful book, written almost poetically. However, this book may not be a cup of tea for a reader that enjoys a...
Published on March 17, 2005 by Ape Drape


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15 of 16 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A poignant, soaring, touching work of art, January 18, 2000
This review is from: Jazz (Paperback)
As a child of fine artists and a classical and jazz musician, I had no idea or understanding as to why many of the churches- from the turn of the century to almost the present day in many areas- consistently referred to jazz as the devil's music, or dangerously secular, until after reading this book. Toni Morrison becomes the metaphor herself, along with her invented characters, as a story of love and passion, anger and rage, sorrow and grief, hunger and lonliness, acknowledgement, and quiet, earhty epiphany unfolds as uncontrollably as the tides,with all the simple complexity of a jazz riff- and with as much freedom from judgement. Toni Morrison's descriptive powers sweeping across the landscape of history and the landscape of the individual character's lives is frightening in its ability to overwhelm. She brings out the raw, triumphant humaness of each character with such lyricism and painful joy. The novel can at times feel like a giant denoument, yet its slowly building climaxes are what make it more than readable; they make it exciting, sublimely predictable and unpredictable simultameuosly. It almost makes one understand better why the story of Christ is called a "Passion"; passion, as exemplified in this novel, is not just a sexy or damaging thing, but also the way to come to know God.
There are small pars of the novel that are a bit too detailed in the rendering of lesser character's lives. Yet her rendering of the time period- Harlem in the 20's, and the community is incredible. This is more, or different, than a novel. It is an epic poem- an epic jazz poem that has you hearing the music as it mildly, painfully, poignantly and triumphantly ends. Toni will not let you down with this one.
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27 of 32 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Not Quite Charlie Parker, March 17, 2005
This review is from: Jazz (Paperback)
Toni Morrison's Jazz is a book premised around love, race, violence and the city that is home to these ideas. Set in the 1920's, Jazz is a story about a married couple's struggles, and the entangled lives of those involved in their love. Stylistically this is a beautiful book, written almost poetically. However, this book may not be a cup of tea for a reader that enjoys a plot driven novel. Nor is it recommendable for someone unwilling to adamantly hunt for significance.

After reading the first page, the reader is familiarized with the basics of the plot within the novel. The basic tale, which takes place in Harlem, begins with an aging man named Joe, who is unhappy in his marriage. He ends up looking for love outside of his home and finds it in the 18 year old, Dorcas. Their involvement lasts several months but ends after Dorcas, desiring a younger companion, breaks up with Joe. Unable to let go, Joe murders his youthful former-mistress. When his wife, Violet, finds out that he has had an affair, she makes an appearance at Dorcas' open-casket funeral and mutilates the corpse. For months Joe mopes about his loss, but Violet goes outward with her emotions. She ends up speaking to and bonding with the aunt of the deceased. As time progresses, Violet and Joe work to reconstruct their marriage. The story occurs over several months, but most of this information is exposed within the first several pages. The early exposition of the plot shows that it is not the most important piece of this work's puzzle. More important is the unique way that the plot develops.

Different aspects of the tale develop as different narrators offer new details of the events. The story is told from one prospective, then an idea is continued by a new speaker and is analyzed through a different prospective, sometimes illustrating new information. This is effective in that it greatly enhances character development. Instead of reading about the opinions of a character through the eyes of only one narrator, several different opinions about each character are offered; often including the opinion the character has of his or herself. However, it slows the pace of the novel. Instead of telling one continuous story from beginning to end, Morrison tells the story once, then details a part of that story with a new narrator and eventually repeats the process again. This does help explain why each speaker acts the way they do in Jazz, but nevertheless makes the fleshing out of this story's plot an arduously sluggish development. For a person that enjoys a fast-paced plot, this may not be a favorite, but its style is a redeeming factor.

Figurative language illustrates much of this novel, and is the basis for much of the imagery. An example is, "Daylight slants like a razor cutting the buildings in half. [...] Nobody wants to be an emergency at Harlem Hospital but if the Negro surgeon is visiting, pride cuts down the pain" (7). There are parts when this book reads less like a novel and more like poetry. However, there are times when Morrison's language works against her and ends up burying meaning underneath insignificant details, "Alice had picked up a leaflet that had floated to the pavement, read the words, and shifted her weight at the curb, she read the words and looked at Dorcas. Looked at Dorcas and read the words again. What she read seemed crazy, out of focus. Some great gap lunged between the print and the child" (58). Details are started and often lead nowhere. It is not entirely Morrison's writing style that should be blamed for the loss of meaning however.

Overall significance in this work is difficult to come by. Several ideas are present, but none are distinctly brought to the forefront of the book. The first considerable theme is the effect of racism on the day-to-day life of the African American. Whereas in books like Huckleberry Finn or To Kill A Mocking Bird racism is an issue that is brought directly to the attention of the reader. In Jazz it is not. Rather, it is hinted at throughout the novel. This is illustrated when Joe talks about his hunting teacher, "Whitefolks said he was a witch doctor, but they said that so they wouldn't have to say he was smart" (125). Placing racism in the background is effective in this book because it shows that the treatment they were receiving from Caucasians was not on the forefront of every African American citizen's mind always, but nevertheless was a factor in their day-to-day lives. A second theme that is not directly illustrated in the text is the importance of understanding all viewpoints in a situation.

Throughout the novel, the usage of multiple viewpoints allows the reader to truly understand each event and understand each character's motives. An example is when a picture of Dorcas is placed in Joe and Violet's home and they each tip toe to this picture and look at her face. "If the tiptoer is Joe Trace [...] then the face stares at him without hope or regret and it is the absence of accusation that wakes him from his sleep hungry for her company. [...] But if the tiptoer is Violet the photograph is not that at all. The girl's face looks greedy, haughty and very lazy" (12). Though the reader does, neither Joe nor Violet understand how the other feels about this picture. Instead of talking to each other to try to understand why the other acts the way he or she does, they hoard their emotions inside themselves. Lack of communication leads to perpetual displeasure in their marriage. Morrison shows that it is necessary to communicate and understand all viewpoints before formulating judgments.

Overall, this novel is unsuitable for someone that enjoys quick plot developments. But for someone looking for a book with colorful language and underlying themes, Toni Morrison's Jazz is and enjoyable book.
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12 of 14 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Spanning the Transition from Slavery to the Freedom of Jazz, August 10, 2001
By 
Donald Mitchell "Jesus Loves You!" (Thanks for Providing My Reviews over 124,000 Helpful Votes Globally) - See all my reviews
(VINE VOICE)    (TOP 500 REVIEWER)    (HALL OF FAME REVIEWER)   
This review is from: Jazz (Library Binding)
For many African-Americans, the period from 1860 through 1930 was a particularly challenging one. The formal slavery of the South transitioned into a vulnerable rural economic existence, dependent on the weather and the price of crops. The promise of the city lured many to leave their homes, and adopt city life-styles that put new social pressures on them and their relationships. Jazz tells this story through the microcosm of one marriage, that of Joe and Violet Trace.
Unlike many books about marriage, this one is a love story. Although it bears no relationship to any romance novel you have ever read, it reveals the way that the need for love develops from within each of us and allows us to grasp its potential when we respond to the yearnings of those we care about.
Music was important in the lives of many people during those years. Churches and music halls vied for the attention of most people in the cities. Jazz was a new influence, bursting on the scene with a combination of extreme freedom and mutual respect for the other players. In this book, jazz is represented both as a symbol of freedom and as a source of base impulses that can lead people astray. Ms. Morrison also pays homage to jazz by building her narrative around the individual stories of those involved taken in solitary order, much like the solos in a jazz piece. The narratives all weave together, but you have to hear the whole piece to understand how. Be patient with what seem like digressions. They are really transitions into new perspectives, like when a horn does a riff before returning to the theme.
You also get the metaphor of jazz used in the relationship of the two Traces. They were originally in rhythm with each other, then fell out of rhythm, and then regained their ability to improvise together. It's very nicely done!
To me, the best part of the book was that Ms. Morrison does not permit her characters to fall back on misfortune, fate, and heredity as excuses for misbehavior. Clearly, those factors affect us, but we all have the potential to rise above them. We need only open our eyes and start responding to those closest to us. Then, we can build a better life together.
The family background of the two Traces is a rich tapestry as well of the social history of African-Americans during this period. Ms. Morrison's imagination is quite remarkable in the variety and vividness of these characters!
For those who are interested in understanding more about the roots of the Jazz Age, this book will also be very appealing.
After you have finished thinking about the lessons of Jazz, you should consider where you display the good characteristics of a jazz player . . . and where you do not.
Feel the rhythm around you!
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Jazz in Writing, March 4, 2003
This review is from: Jazz (Hardcover)
"Jazz" (1992) is one of the best works by Toni Morrison, the first African-American woman awarded Nobel Prize for literature.
The best way to read "Jazz" is to read it slowly, savour every line, every sentence, every mental picture it creates. It is a lyrical novel, where the story shifts back and forth in time -- expression of feelings, moods and thoughts has a priority over a plot.
The story of love lost, searched and found on the background of 1920's Harlem creates an appealing, coloful tapestry. Morrison often uses "stream of conscoiusness" method of writing, first applied by Virginia Woolf. Dialogues, although rather scarce, are brisk, full of humanity (good and bad) and even spark with wisdom of common people. The narrator identifies with the characters, portrays them with affection and ultimate understanding. The story is marked with striking sense of detail, various motifs interchange and interweave -- just like in jazz music -- and the result is powerful.
As with jazz music, "Jazz" the book is not a book for everyone. But once you come to appreciate the style, you can read it again and again and every time find something new.
One is bound to agree with a reviewer in Cosmopolitan who related to "Jazz" as if it was "Shakespeare singing the blues."
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Moving, masterful...Morrison, September 11, 2002
By 
"stenerin1" (Chicago, IL USA) - See all my reviews
This review is from: Jazz (Paperback)
I've never been a fan of Toni Morrison's. Even though she is both a critical darling AND heralded as a literary Messiah by the proletariat, I've never been able to get into her. Still, I have to respect any successful purveyor of the "wacky-for-the-sake-of-whack" style of writing, and someone who has for years been both El-train fodder and critical wunderkind.
Morrison is a "book tease". Sure she can be extremely engaging writer, but the reader is only engaged because he's being TEASED. She doesn't give the whole story away, but prefers to lead you along nipping at her bait. She does this in everything I've read by her, and she continues her torture in JAZZ. As soon as she gets you engaged in one facet of the story, she switches to another. Now this is fine, because at the end, all of her separate stories will come together and create a glorious cohesive whole of narration. Still, the reader cannot but be frustrated and annoyed by a tease. It seems unnecessarily cruel to do this over and over and over again. THE BLUEST EYE, BELOVED and now JAZZ. It seems everything the woman writes is shamelessly, remorselessly, PITILESSLY cruel to her readers.

Yet, it is clear that Morrison doesn't do this out of some twisted wish to see her readers suffer. Certainly she's no Faulkner. So there must be something else here, some master plan, some great literary rationale behind all the fuss. Plainly, there has just got to be some reason that everyone likes her and I don't. So I approached JAZZ the way you approach that relative you really never liked, but you have to make nice to at a funeral. I decided I'd shake hands, but not touch cheeks.
But JAZZ isn't a book you can stay aloof from. And for once, either because she hit me over the head with the title or simply felled me with her inimitable stylism, I was in the Morrison groove, digging the Morrison style and truly experiencing that strange Morrison trip for perhaps the first time. I can finally appreciate the beauty of her prose, and respect the value of her intricate narratives. The book reads like jazz; fast, furious stories rushing together. Jangling, almost discordant narratives flowing towards the same culmination, and then racing back in a different tack to return to that same point through a different series of interconnecting literary melodies. And then narrative and the music fill your head with so much magnificent noise that you too feel like you're standing in the center of the City, watching it flow around you, and live and breathe.
Such is the beauty of Morrison, and of JAZZ. Hardly a perfect journey [hence the 4 star rating], but well worth the few bumps. Now if only she'd been able to do this for BELOVED!
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Another great Morrison read, August 4, 1999
By A Customer
This review is from: Jazz (Hardcover)
In line witb Toni Morrison's tradition of superb fiction tomes, Jazz is a work that is too complex to produce a universal interpretation. The genius of Morrison's work is the personal relationship between the reader and the subject matter that her novels compel. Interpretation is purposefully subjective.
In Jazz, Morrison manages to accomplish a literary feat: somehow capturing the history, essence, and character of a genre of music and translating it into literature. The novel "Jazz", is, like the music, seductive yet melancholy, spirited yet unpretentious, and is a simultaneous diatribe against and celebration of life. "Jazz" does not attempt to offer a rational explanation of the seemingly bizarre behavior of the main protagonists; instead, Jazz attempts to delve further into the human consciousness, into the cancatenation of events which shape (and sometimes warp) the human mind; Jazz attempts to highlight the pepetual change which constitutes life.
Therefore, I had no trouble understanding orphan Dorcas' "wild ways" and unimaginable selfishness, nor Joe's neverending "hunt" for his mother, which culminated in Dorcas' shooting, nor Violet's possessiveness, grounded in her enormously unstable childhood.
Like its musical counterpart, the novel "Jazz" is a work of genius. Would that all novels evoke such a profound personal impact.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Phenomenon, March 7, 2003
By 
dummy "dummy" (Washington, DC USA) - See all my reviews
This review is from: Jazz (Paperback)
Morrison has done it again. The story of a twisted love affair gone awry, Jazz takes you through the streets of an up and coming Harlem in the 1920s. It bares the souls and psyches of Violet, a 50-something black woman going through a midlife crisis, and her husband Joe, who falls in love with a teenage girl in an attempt understand his disjointed past.
If you have read any of Toni Morrison's works, this book follows the exact same pattern of her others: no visible pattern at all, but somehow coming together throughout the various narratives in various times and places within history. Although many questions are left unanswered, you still feel as if you have been immersed in a dream, a fantastic journey into the past that you never want to end. Morrison's writing is both beautiful and complex. There literally are no words to describe it. There is no one else out there like Morrison.
I suggest that first-time Toni Morrison readers start off with Sula, which is her shortest and least complex work, but still one of her greatest, and then pick up Jazz after you have read a few others including Beloved, Tar Baby, and Song of Solomon.
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A lyrical, brooding, rumbling, passionate, epic jazz poem, July 28, 1999
By A Customer
This review is from: Jazz (Hardcover)
As a child of artists and a classical and jazz musician, I had no idea or understanding as to why many of the churches- from the turn of the century to almost the present day in many areas- consistently referred to jazz as the devil's music, or dangerously secular, until now. Toni Morrison becomes the metaphor herself along with her invented characters as a story of love and passion, anger and rage, sorrow and grief, hunger and lonliness, acknowledgement and quiet, earhty epiphany unfolds as uncontrollably as the tides, with all the simple complexity of a jazz riff, and with as much freedom from judgement. The power of the emotions and events sweeping across the landscape of history and the landscape of the individual character's lives is frightening in its ability to overwhelm, and she brings it all out with such lyricism and painful joy. The novel can at times feel like a giant apotheosis or denoument, yet its slowly building climaxes are what make it more than readable; it makes it exciting and sublimely predictable and unpredictable simultameuosly. It almost makes one understand better why the story of Christ is called a "Passion"; passion, as exemplified in this novel, is not just a sexy or damaging thing, but also the way to come to know God.
There are small pars of the novel that are a bit too detailed in the rendering of lesser character's lives. Yet her rendering of the time period, the 20's, and the community is incredible. This is more, or different, than a novel. It is an epic poem- an epic jazz poem that has you hearing the music as it mildly, painfully, poignantly and triumphantly ends. Toni will not let you down with this one.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Dazed and Confused, November 14, 2002
By 
This review is from: Jazz (Paperback)
This book deals with the story of a couple in New York City during the Harlem Renaissance. The book has many underlying themes and symbols throughout. It was difficult for me to draw the connections of the symbols to their meanings. While I read I had a hard time keeping up with the narritive because the scences changed rapidly. When I finished reading it I felt like I needed someone to come and explain all the symbolism used in the novel. However I do enjoy Morrison's descriptions of the city before and during the Harlem Reniassance and how jazz was an expression of Black's emotions during the time period. This was my first Morrison book and I was not too happy with the overall feeling I got but hopefully her other works are more clear cut.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Jazz - it's a kind of music - improvised!, January 19, 2006
By 
scatter "prevalent" (gilbertsville, ny USA) - See all my reviews
This review is from: Jazz (Paperback)
The key to understanding this amazing novel is in the title. Each character is a Jazz instrument, playing and embellishing his or her theme, then stepping aside while the theme is picked up by the next instrument/character with variations. This is improvisational music, not a composition, more like a jam session. It is therefore improvisational literature - not hard to understand, just beautiful, energetic, and extremely clever.

Enjpy!
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Jazz
Jazz by Toni Morrison (Paperback - June 8, 2004)
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