This blog is about Jazz but it is also about musicians, poets and the arts that embrace Jazz. I intend to add more posts about Jazz-poetry, Jazz literature, Jazz Photography and film .
Jazz and poetry have been overtly interlinked since ‘On The Road’ by Jack Kerouac. Kerouac was so taken with the rhythms of Bebop that he adjusted many of his writings and poems to the frenetic and accented beats of Jazz (which he saw as the raw beat of the streets). You can hear this best when Jack recites his own prose.
Another Beat Poet Alan Ginsburg wrote this in his ‘Footnote to Howl’;
“Holy the groaning saxophone! Holy the bop apocalypse! Holy the jazzbands marijuana hipsters peace…..”
A favourite poet of mine is Bob Kaufman (another San Franciscan):
“Sweet beats of jazz impaled on slivers of wind/ Kansas Black Morning/ First Horn Eyes/ Historical sound pictures on New Bird wings/ People shouts/ boy alto dreams/ Tomorrows gold bellied pipe of stops and future Blues Times/ Lurking Hawkins/ shadows of Lester/…...”
A poem that uses Jazz as a theme can be about a tune or perhaps give the merest hint of a tune (or a musicians life). It can be blunt or as funny as hell. Modern American Poet, Laureate Billy Collins wrote ‘ I chop some parsley while listening to Art Blakey’s version of Three Blind Mice’ - From ‘Taking Off Emily Dickens Clothes’. My good friend Iain Sharp wrote a terrific poem called ‘Chet Bakers teeth’ - published in a collection titled – ‘The Singing Harp’. Both highly recommended for their humour and the profoundly sly insights which lurk beneath the words.
Frank O’Hara was the most New York specific of mid twentieth century poets who along with his friend (painter) Jackson Pollack, conjured up a raw vision of New York . The last lines of his Poem dedicated to Billie Holiday, titled “The Day Lady Died’ are as follows;
“Leaning on the john door in the FIVE SPOT
While she whispered a song along the keyboard
to Mal Waldren
and everyone and I stopped breathing”
This is what jazz is; a deeper edgier meaning lurking behind a pretty tune or rif. Humour, quick-fire quotes and slippery notes that fall off the edge of reason, only to land on their feet again.
John Fenton (jonjaz) – March 2011 (updated March 2013)
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Member of JJA (Jazz Journalists Association)