Jazz as Poetry

Jack Kerouac Vesuvio's bar San Francisco

Jack Kerouac Vesuvio’s Bar San Francisco

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 musician’s 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 riff. Humour, quick-fire quotes and slippery notes that fall off the edge of reason, only to land on their feet again.

John Fenton – March 2011 (updated March 2013)

#You may quote freely from this blog, but please acknowledge the source and respect my intellectual property

Member of JJA  (Jazz Journalists Association)


The Neutrino Codex from the ‘Ace Tone’ liner notes (Album by Ron Samsom)

Ron, Neutrino 088

Neutrinos colour

Ron, Neutrino 086 (1)



Posted for all lovers of Bob Kaufman – 9th September 2013

Walking Parker Home

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/realisation

Bronze fingers-brain extensions seeking trapped sounds

Ghetto thoughts/bandstand courage/solo flight

Nerve-wracked suspicions of newer songs and doubts

New York altar city/black tears/secret disciples

Hammer horn pounding soul marks on unswerving gates

Culture gods/mob sounds/ visions of spikes

Panic excursions to tribal Jazz wombs and transfusions

Heroin nights of birth/and soaring/over boppy new ground

Smothered rage covering pyramids of notes spontaneously exploding

Cool revelations/shrill hopes/beauty speared on greedy ears Birdland

nights on bop mountains, windy saxophone revolutions

Daydreams of junk/and melting walls and circling vultures/

Money cancer/remembered pain/terror flights/

Death and indestructible existence

In that Jazz corner of life

wrapped in a mist of sound

His legacy, our Jazz tinted dawn

wailing his triumphs of oddly forgotten dreams

inviting the nerveless to feel once more

The fierce dying of humans consumed

In raging fires of love


Bob Kaufman (beat poet)

From Solitudes Crowded with Loneliness

13 thoughts on “Jazz as Poetry”

  1. I enjoy your Jazz Poetry section. I would like to have a back link and would like you to guest blog. I feature Jazz Art and culture in everyday life. Have a look and let me know, http://jazzybeatchick.com

    • I have a lot more Jazz Poets to put up but doing that is hard with blogs due to the pre formatting. I might photograph the poems and then post up more pages. That is the easiest workaround. There are a few poetry referencing posts in the main page as well. The poem on Bennie Goodman, (kindly dedicated to me) by the poet Iain Sharp in particular. Thanks – John Fenton JazzLocal32.com

      • Amazing blog! Do you have any recommendations for aiiprsng writers? Im planning to start my own website soon but Im a little lost on everything. Would you advise starting with a free platform like WordPress or go for a paid option? There are so many choices out there that Im totally overwhelmed .. Any suggestions? Thanks a lot!

    • Happy to do the guest blog you suggest – my email is Jonjaz@ihug.co.nz – I could cover the influence of the beats and Jazz poetry on the New Zealand scene ? You could allow me a repost of one of yours or do likewise?

  2. Could I have a link to your blog site Roger?

  3. Good to discover this blog, John. I’ll add it to my blogroll and make sure I drop in to catch your posts. Regards, Roger Mitchell

  4. roger manins said:

    Hi John
    I don’t have your email but want to invite you to the following

    MICHEL BENEBIG WORKSHOP and house concert

    74 Shortland St, Auckland CBD

    Thursday 17th Nov at 12-2 PM in Room 306 (the drum room)

    He will be giving an informal house concert/ BBQ at Roger and Caros place This Friday 18th (sadly though, Caro will be overseas)
    20 Leonard road Mt wellington Auckland
    3-6ish pm
    This is open to cjc members and jazz students too ( and dedicated listeners)
    Come along – bring your own food (BBQ will be running) and drink and a $5 or $10 donation for the band


    Roger Manins
    New Zealand

  5. fentonline.com

  6. Hi ! Get in contact. Stay tuned. Check out the site. John Fenton

  7. Mark Nielsen said:

    NIce material here!
    Now you’ve done it. You put me in mind to go dig up my overlong poetic experiment “Blues for Bird”, probably almost ten years old, and drag it over to my blog. I’m also working on a novel about a jazz trumpter in the late 50s who has a romance with one of the few female Beat Generation poets. Might want to trade more ideas & stories with you sometime, but for now, here’s a little blog entry on the novel project.

    Use the search function for other jazz-related posts, or poetry… a handful of which owe a debt to the odd rhythms & themes of classic jazz.

  8. This isn’t about you at all! ;-) – should be more ‘About You’?

    • Jazz and poetry have been used together extensively. In the 50’s San Francisco based pianists like Andre Previn (yes that one – Mia Farrow etc) worked with poets often. In Word Jazz both can improvise or not. Hear Mike Nock tracks with Jazz + Poetry (and Meehan).

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s