Thursday 18 April 2024

The King of Jazz by Donald Barthelme

Love Supreme.

Beginning in medias-res and consisting almost entirely of dialogue, "The King of Jazz" by Donald Barthelme is another gem in the author's impressive oeuvre. Jazz music and literary postmodernism are like two peas in a pod, both sharing an affinity for experimentation and complex structures. The interplay of various voices and musical sounds in the text creates a syncopated rhythm, reminiscent of the spontaneous energy found in jazz music. Yet, beneath this seemingly improvised cadence lies the author's meticulous craftsmanship, skillfully playing with language to evoke such an effect. 

Now that Spicy MacLammermoor has died, Hokie Mokie believes that he is the newly crowned King of Jazz. Can we pause for a moment and acknowledge how ridiculous these names are? I love it. Hokie Mokie has barely any time to revel in this newfound glory before he is quickly challenged by another musician from Japan. An intense jam session takes place, each musician trying to outshine the other with their electrifying, vibrant and soulful instrumentals. However, these adjectives are inadequate to capture the essence of the beautifully complex and and rhythmic jazz techniques during the competitive showdown. The reader can only imagine what the music sounds like through the different perspectives and commentary of those playing or listening at the show. For example, one of the audience members attempts to describe Hokie Mokie's music as a "famous 'English sunrise' way of playing. Playing with lots of rays coming out of it, some red rays, some blue rays, some green rays, some green stemming from a violet center, some olive stemming from a tan center-". Of course, this is mere poetic embellishment and Hokie does not sound like this at all. Paradoxically, the author is lightheartedly poking fun at the fictive representation of music, which cannot be captured in words, while also utilizing language in this refreshing way to convey these impressions. 

This is just a joyful, funny and rollicking read from start to finish.

You can read this story HERE.

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