Antagonistic Cooperation

For Black Music Month, this week's review looks at how improvisation and collage-making act as through lines in African American music, writing, and art, informing Black history, aesthetics, and culture.

Antagonistic Cooperation: Jazz, Collage, Fiction, and the Shaping of African American Culture

O’Meally, Robert G. Columbia, 2022
296p bibl index, 9780231189187 $120.00, 9780231189194 $30.00, 9780231548212 $29.99

Antagonistic Cooperation: Jazz, Collage, Fiction, and the Shaping of African American Culture book cover.

A distinguished scholar of jazz studies and African American literature, O’Meally (comparative literature, Columbia Univ.) examines jazz (primarily Louis Armstrong and Duke Ellington) as portrayed in fiction, visual art, and cinema. The author states that his analyses depend on Ralph Ellison and Toni Morrison as the “book’s major theorist(s).” O’Meally considers the creations of these authors, musicians, and artists (especially Romare Bearden) as collage and the process of creation as collage-making. These collages are often facilitated through a communal process of “antagonistic cooperation” (a term O’Meally borrows from William Graham Summer’s Folkways, 1906), also meaning “community building.” The collages are built on jazz improvisation and the “unillusioned contemplation (and joy) that defines the blues.” For example, cross-genre fertilization includes pianist Earl Hines’s use of space/intervals between notes, an influence on Bearden’s use of space in color, line, and shape. One chapter is devoted to the film Paris Blues (1961), which starred Sidney Poitier and Paul Newman as two American jazzmen and highlighted the music of Armstrong and Ellington. Also featured is Paris Blues, the collage by Bearden, photographer Sam Shaw, and writer Albert Murray. Elucidation is brilliant, but the book will not be accessible to novices.

Summing Up: Highly recommended. Upper-division undergraduates through faculty and professionals.
F. J. Hay, Appalachian State University
Subject: Humanities – Performing Arts – Music
Choice Issue: Feb 2023

Enjoy this week’s review? Check out more reviews of related titles: