Speakin' The Blues
"Unlike, for instance, the Reverend Homer A. Barbee, whose earlier speech at the protagonist's college is a tightly rehearsed repetition of other similar speeches..., Wheatstraw's eloquence is an off-the-cuff, organic eloquence, an eloquence that foregrounds the possibilties of improvisation as opposed to strict recitation."
As I read this article about the speech utilized within Ellison's novel, I came to realize just how much the speaking styles of the characters relate to the jazz characteristics of the 1930s and the ensuing movements. Improvisation, a widely used technique in jazz literature, is seen in a light of courage and honesty. As a jazz musician, myself,I can relate to this feeling. I know that when I'm playing a chart and the director points at me to take a solo I feel very gratified when my solo expresses some idea that is passing through my mind: the chords line up and some rhytmic lick that I've stored away in my mind comes forward and sounds from my horn. When I finish and pull the instrument away for a short rest, I feel accomplished: I have expressed my thoughts through music and not relied on a script.
Much of the same phenomenon can be said of the improvisational speech. It's one thing to be able to write a beautiful speech in much the same way that it is to compose a piece of music, but the work is even more gratifying and accomplished when it is adapted and modified on the spot. It's one thing to memorize a speech or read from a jazz chart, but it's another thing to permit one's emotions to be read by the tongue, itself. Hence, the characters that makes use of the improvisational style are better accepted by the crowd since the crowd provides the inspiration for the words: a tailored fit, so to speak; as opposed to a canned speech that runs dry and seems generic.