Troping the Blues:
to the Concert Hall
The calves follow their mothers. The young plant grows
up near the parent stem. The young antelope leaps where
its mother leaped.
By tropological revision, I mean the manner in which a
specific trope is repeated, with differences between two
or more texts.
Henry Louis Gates, Jr.
In one of the two relatively extensive statements on music in The Signifying Monkey, Gates (1988) claims:
There are so many examples of Signifyin(g) in jazz that one could write a formal history of its development on this basis alone. One early example is relatively familiar: Jelly Roll Morton's 1938 recording entitled "Maple Leaf Rag (A Transformation)" Signifies upon Scott Joplin's signature composition, "Maple Leaf Rag," recorded in 1916. Whereas Joplin played its contrasting themes and their repetitions in the form of AABBACCDD, Morton "embellishes the piece two-handedly, with a swinging introduction (borrowed from the ending to A), followed by ABACCD (a hint of tango here) D (a real New Orleans 'stomp' variation)," as Martin Williams observes. Morton's piano imitates "a trumpet-clarinet right hand and a trombone‐ rhythm left hand." Morton's composition does