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Thinking Jazz –

Literature and Culture of the Jazz Age

Fall 2015 M 5:30-8:20 EH# 215 CRN# 24706

Office, TR, 11:45-1:00, or by appointment

Course Description

The principal goal of this course is to study and enjoy the 1920s, the decade that has gone down in history as the Jazz Age, the Roaring Twenties, or -- quite suggestively-- the Aspirin Age. We will take an in-depth look at one of the most turbulent and intoxicating periods in America in the past century and see how literature, the arts, and politics are all part of the same cultural field. We will discuss key symbolic events that have shaped the Age, such as Prohibition, the automobile, the The Red Scare, as well as the emergence of radio and sound film. We will also take a critical look at some of the stereotypes the Jazz Age produced, most notably the flapper, as well as the very idea of jazz as an authentic "American" form of expression -- by some accounts, the United States' most significant contribution to modern and contemporary cultural forms.

Complementing our readings, we will also devote considerable time to the actual music leading up to and developing in the Jazz Age, the individual artists, composers, singers, and bands that gave the Twenties their roar and their rhythm. As well, we will get a glimpse at how subsequent generations of writers (and musicians) revisit the history and myths of the Twenties and beyond, and how film -- an art form significantly coincident with the evolution of jazz -- has represented (and continues to represent) musical genius, ethnicity, and gender. Welcome and enjoy. Stay tuned!

Useful Links:

  • Please check Jazz Pal for useful links to Jazz, the Harlem Renaissance, modern American literature sites, and related development, as you prepare for class and research your interests. Many of these sites contain numerous other links. You might also find MAL Pal useful. — As you find additional sites we should all know about, please let us know!

"If you have to ask what jazz is, you'll never know." – Louis Armstrong

"Put it this way: Jazz is a good barometer of freedom… In its beginnings, the United States of America spawned certain ideals of freedom and independence through which, eventually, jazz was evolved, and the music is so free that many people say it is the only unhampered, unhindered expression of complete freedom yet produced in this country." – Duke Ellington

Texts and Materials

  • Jean Toomer, Cane
  • F. Scott Fitzgerald, Six Tales of the Jazz Age
  • John Dos Passos, Manhattan Transfer
  • August Wilson, Ma Rainey's Black Bottom
  • Kevin Young, Ed., Jazz Poems
  • Ted Gioia, The History of Jazz, 1st or 2nd edition (on staggered ereserve)
  • select readings and audio recordings (on ereserve and the web)


  • Andrew L. Stone, Stormy Weather (1943)
  • Arthur Lubin, New Orleans (1947)
  • Michael Curtiz, Young Man With a Horn (1950)
  • Melville Shavelson, The Five Pennies (1959)
  • Documentaries and biopics, such as The Jazz Age (1960), Wild Women Don't Get the Blues (1989), and Jazz (2001), and The King of O-Town (), among others

Let's Connect!

mwutz@weber.eduPhone  801-626-7011
Skype  michaelwutz007

LebenslaufCurriculum Vitae
Weber – The Contemporary West
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Mailing Address


Michael Wutz, Brady Presidential Distinguished Professor
Editor, Weber - The Contemporary West
Department of English, 1404 University Circle
Weber State University
Ogden, UT 84404-1404 USA