Wednesday, January 13, 2010


Professor Jonathan Mayhew
2624 Wescoe
Office Hours: TR: 10-11:30 and by appointment

Honors 492: Commons Course
“Writing Jazz”

Course Description:

“Writing Jazz” means writing about jazz, writing about writing about jazz, and appreciating the connections between the music itself and the literature it has inspired. We will begin by looking at the main forms of the music in its historical development, along with key concepts like “swing” and “improvisation.” We will then read literary texts inspired by jazz, exploring key motifs and techniques. Finally, we will explore the possibilities for doing our own writing about the music in the form of the final projects that each student will produce.

Requirements and Grading:

Class participation: 15%
Blog Posts 15%
3 Short Writing Assignments 30%
2 Exams 20%
Final Project, including presentation 20%


J. Szwed. Jazz 101
Jack Kerouac. Visions of Cody. Mexico City Blues
Julio Cortázar. Blow Up and Other Stories 

Feinstein, ed. Jazz Poetry Anthology



The instructor follows all relevant university policies regarding disability, academic integrity, H1N1 influenza, etc... Any absence of specific statements regarding any university policies in this syllabus should not be construed to indicate non-compliance.

Students returning after being absent due to H1N1 should contact the instructor immediately upon their return to the classroom so that we can arrange make-up work. Absence from class means a zero on participation for that particular day. Students with legitimate excuses may make up that portion of the grade by providing additional blog posts, etc... Absence from a lecture (outside lecture series) will count as the equivalent of missing 2 days of class.

Late work can be accepted, but with a penalty, generally 5 percentage points if not turned at the beginning of the class period when the paper is due, and 5 additional points for each additional day after that.

Schedule of Class Meetings:

Week 1:

1/14: Introduction to the course. Basic concepts and expectations.

Week 2:

1/19: Jazz history and concepts. Improvisation.
1/21: Rhythmic conceptions: Swing

Week 3


Week 4

2/2 History of jazz: Early Styles. Szwed Chapters 10-14.
2/4 History of jazz. Late Styles. Finish reading Szwed’s Jazz 101 by this date.
1st short writing assigment.

Week 5

2/9: Writing jazz: basic concepts
2/11: Cort├ízar, “The Pursuer”; comparison with “’Round Midnight” film

Week 6

2/16 Modernism and jazz: Poems by Williams, Sandburg, Tolson
2/18 Bebop and the Beats. Read Kerouac’s Mexico City Blues.

Week 7

2/23 Poems by Creeley, Blackburn, Kaufman in The Jazz Poetry Anthology
2/25 African American poetry and jazz. Read poems by Baldwin, Baraka, Brown
2nd Writing Assignment

Week 8

3/2 Discussion of 1st lecture (Moten); catch-up on other discussions.
3/4 Poems by Harper, Hayden, Joans, Jonas, Knight

Week 9

3/9 Poems by Mullen, Reed, Senghor
3/11 Jazz and the New York School. Poems by Koch, O’Hara, Berrigan
3rd Writing Assignment

(Week of 3/15, spring break)

Week 10

3/23 Discussion of 2nd lecture (Kernodle); catch-up on other discussions
3/25 Jazz prose: Kerouac’s Visions of Cody (Selections)
1st Exam.

Week 11

3/30 Writing about jazz: Baraka, Balliett
4/1 Development of research projects

Week 12

4/6 Jazz and visual culture: photography
4/8 Jazz and film

Week 13

4/13 Development of research projects
4/15 “ “ “ “

Week 14

4/ 20 Discussion of 3rd lecture (Lopes)
4/ 22 2nd Exam

Week 15

4/27 Pressentation of Projects
4/29 Presentation of Projects

Week 16

5/4 Presentations of Projects
5/6 Conclusions. Before and after comparisons. Evaluations

Lecture Series:

Note: The Lecture Series is an integral component of the course, and attendance is not optional. Do everything you can to attend these lectures. Please note that one is the Thursday before spring break. Take that into account when making travel plans.
Fred Moten, 
Department of English, Duke University 
Thursday, February 25th 
7:30 p.m., Spooner Hall 
"Jurisgenerative Grammar: For Alto, For Black"
Tammy Kernodle, 
Department of Musicology, Miami University 
Tuesday, March 9th 
7:30 p.m., Spooner Hall 
"Ev'ry Time I Feel the Spirit: Constructing Black Women's Conversion Narratives in Jazz"
Paul Lopes, 
Department of Sociology, Colgate University 
Thursday, April 15th 
7:30 p.m., Spooner Hall 
"From Hepcat to Rebel to Heroin Fiend: The Jazz Trope in the Popular Imagination"

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