The Arch Stanton Quartet presents a program of original jazz compositions and readings called “Shadow & Act: Music Inspired by Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man.”

“Invisible Man” is a classic American novel published in 1952, offering a first-person fictional account of an unnamed narrator’s attempts to navigate complex racial and social relations in the first quarter of the twentieth century.

ASQ’s program includes three original jazz compositions inspired by scenes or motifs from “Invisible Man,” along with a rendition of Fats Wallers’ “Black and Blue” – a tune which figures prominently as a literary device in the novel. The performance also includes readings from Ellison’s book.

“I can think of few novels that are as explicitly musical as Ralph Ellison’s ‘Invisible Man,'” says Arch Stanton Quartet guitarist Roger Noyes, composer of the suite. “Ellison was very interested in exploring the improvisational aspect of jazz, particularly its ability to operate outside the dictates of rigid structures like time. He used jazz music to incredible effect: as a linguistic tool, as a metaphor for the American democratic ideal, and as a lesson absorbed by the book’s narrator who gains a sense for how to improvise in an otherwise hostile social environment.”

“With these compositions, I attempt various musical strategies that weave together certain moods, motifs, rhythmic patterns and melodic phrasings inspired by the narrator’s experiences in a racially charged society,” says Noyes. 

The program includes:

  1. “Black and Blue” (by Fats Waller)
  2. Reading from the Prologue chapter of “Invisible Man”
  3. “Prologue” (by Roger Noyes)
  4. Reading from Chapter 1 of “Invisible Man”
  5. “Atalanta” (by Roger Noyes)
  6. Reading from Chapter 10 of “Invisible Man”
  7. “Liberty Paints” (by Roger Noyes)

Members of ASQ (Noyes on guitar, Terry Gordon on trumpet, Jim Ketterer on drums, and Chris Macchia on bass) debuted this suite of music in 2015 at the Albany Public Library.

Writing for nippertown.com, reviewer Rudy Lu named that performance a top-10 concert of 2015, noting that “the music brought Ellison’s evocative prose to life.”