Date of Award


Document Type

Honors Thesis

Degree Name

Bachelor of Arts



Advisor/Committee Chair

Derik Smith

Committee Member

Glyne Griffith


Jazz. A word that today signifies cool cats in dark sunglasses and black turtlenecks, a word that brings to mind the—predominantly white—big bands of World War yore, or that singular, immediately recognizable rasp of Louis Armstrong. It’s a word that reminds one of names like Miles, Coltrane and Coleman. Maybe even a man whose last name, for most intents and purposes, is the letter G. Many, however, do not associate jazz with racism, repression, and, perhaps most surprising, a disease that renders its victims hysteric and prone to fits of dance. But if they were to read either Ishmael Reed’s novel Mumbo Jumbo, or a number of venomously racist articles, often run in ubiquitous publications, they would note that jazz was once indeed perceived in such a way—a way that dismisses jazz as a dangerous product of the jungle that will send Western civilization back at least 2,000 years. This is a fear that stems from a combination of racism and the jazzy tendency to threaten comfortable conventions. In Mumbo Jumbo Reed employs an aesthetic that is arguably “jazzy,” and this paper will attempt to define its origins and how it manifests in the novel.