‘Sonny’s Blues’ by James Baldwin

While short stories can, of course, draw on anything the writer likes, there are certain subjects that writers seem to cluster around. And ever since F Scott Fitzgerald’s epoch-naming collection of 1922, The Jazz Age, the short story has enjoyed an especially intimate relationship with jazz.

‘Sonny’s Blues’ follows a rough script set down by Langston Hughes more than twenty years earlier in ‘The Blues I’m Playing’: an unconventional, but talented young jazz musician repairs a broken relationship through a moment of transformative performance (buried under this is an even older script, the script for the short story: an individual experiences something transformative that changes their relationship with those around them). But Baldwin does so much more than this simple template suggests. The story is a rich exploration of communication, storytelling, and the way communities are made and unmade. It is the jazz story and Baldwin at their keenest.

Collected in Going to Meet the Man, Dial, 1965, and available online here

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