Wednesday, April 12, 2017

April Celebrates Jazz and Poetry—A Match Made in Harlem

An assortment of Jazz Apreciation Month Posters.

It has come to my attention that not only is April National Poetry Month, but, at least since 2001 it is also Jazz Appreciation Month (JAM) which is marked by a music festival sponsored by the Smithsonian National Museum of American History and including special events and programs sponsored by schools, local government arts councils, and other organizations.  The idea was the brain child of John Edward Hasse, PhD, curator of the museum and fittingly initially funded by a grant from the Ella Fitzgerald Charitable Foundation.
Jazz and modern American poetry grew up together in the 20th Centuryartistic kissing cousins each enabling and encouraging the other in ways both overt and subtle.  They can comfortably share a month long appreciation. 
It began, as so much rich American culture did during the legendary Harlem Renaissance.  Many poets including Langston Hughes captured the rhythms and sounds of the smoky clubs and dance halls along with an exuberant life style that went along with it.
Langston Hughes by Winold Riess

The Weary Blues
Droning a drowsy syncopated tune,
Rocking back and forth to a mellow croon,
I heard a Negro play.
Down on Lenox Avenue the other night
By the pale dull pallor of an old gas light
He did a lazy sway. . . .
He did a lazy sway. . . .
To the tune o’ those Weary Blues.
With his ebony hands on each ivory key
He made that poor piano moan with melody.
O Blues!
Swaying to and fro on his rickety stool
He played that sad raggy tune like a musical fool.
Sweet Blues!
Coming from a black man’s soul.
O Blues!
In a deep song voice with a melancholy tone
I heard that Negro sing, that old piano moan—
“Ain’t got nobody in all this world,
Ain’t got nobody but ma self.
I’s gwine to quit ma frownin’
And put ma troubles on the shelf.”

Thump, thump, thump, went his foot on the floor.
He played a few chords then he sang some more—
“I got the Weary Blues
And I can’t be satisfied.
Got the Weary Blues
And can’t be satisfied—
I ain’t happy no mo’
And I wish that I had died.”
And far into the night he crooned that tune.
The stars went out and so did the moon.
The singer stopped playing and went to bed
While the Weary Blues echoed through his head.
He slept like a rock or a man that’s dead.

—Langston Hughes
From jazz poem to jazz cantata--composer Herbert Chappell used Vachel Lindsay's verse.

Soon White cats were catching the bug like Vachel Lindsey who had once kindly encouraged young Hughes. 
The Daniel Jazz
Inscribed to Isadora Bennett

Let the singer train the audience to roar like lions, and to join in the refrain:—“Go chain the lions down,” before he begins to lead them in this jazz.

Beginning with a strain of Dixie.

Darius the Mede was a king and a wonder.
His eye was proud, and his voice was thunder.
He kept bad lions in a monstrous den.
He fed up the lions on Christian men.

With a touch of Alexander’s ragtime band.

Daniel was the chief hired man of the land.
He stirred up the jazz in the palace band.
He whitewashed the cellar. He shovelled in the coal.
And Daniel kept a-praying:—“Lord save my soul.”
Daniel kept a-praying:—“Lord save my soul.”

Daniel kept a-praying:—“Lord save my soul.”

Daniel was the butler, swagger and swell.
He ran up stairs. He answered the bell.
And he would let in whoever came a-calling:—
Saints so holy, scamps so appalling.

“Old man Ahab leaves his card.
Elisha and the bears are a-waiting in the yard.
Here comes Pharo and his snakes a-calling.
Here comes Cain and his wife a-calling—
Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego for tea.

Here comes Jonah and the whale, and the sea.
Here comes St. Peter and his fishing pole.

Here comes Judas and his silver a-calling.
Here comes old Beelzebub a-calling.”
And Daniel kept a-praying:—“Lord save my soul.”

Daniel kept a-praying:—“Lord save my soul.”
Daniel kept a-praying:—“Lord save my soul.”

His sweetheart and his mother were Christian and meek.
They washed and ironed for Darius every week.
One Thursday he met them at the door:—

Paid them as usual, but acted sore.

He said:—“Your Daniel is a dead little pigeon.
He’s a good hard worker, but he talks religion.”

And he showed them Daniel in the lion’s cage.
Daniel standing quietly, the lions in a rage.

His good old mother cried:—
“Lord save him.”
And Daniel’s tender sweetheart cried:—
“Lord save him.”

And she was a golden lily in the dew.

And she was as sweet as an apple on the tree.
And she was as fine as a melon in the corn-field,
Gliding and lovely as a ship on the sea,
Gliding and lovely as a ship on the sea.

And she prayed to the Lord:—

“Send Gabriel. Send Gabriel.”
King Darius said to the lions:—
“Bite Daniel. Bite Daniel.
Bite him. Bite him. Bite him.”

Here the audience roars with the leader.

Thus roared the lions:—

“We want Daniel, Daniel, Daniel,
We want Daniel, Daniel, Daniel.

And Daniel did not frown,

Daniel did not cry.
He kept on looking at the sky.
And the Lord said to Gabriel:—

The audience sings this with the leader, to the old negro tune.

“Go chain the lions down,
Go chain the lions down.

Go chain the lions down.
Go chain the lions down.”

And Gabriel chained the lions,
And Gabriel chained the lions,
And Gabriel chained the lions,

And Daniel got out of the den,
And Daniel got out of the den,
And Daniel got out of the den.

And Darius said:—“You’re a Christian child,
Darius said:—“You’re a Christian child,

Darius said:—“You’re a Christian child,”
And gave him his job again,
And gave him his job again,
And gave him his job again

—Vachel Lindsay

Archibald John Motley, Jr.'s Nighylife.
Lindsay’s fellow Illinois bard Carl Sandburg, a guitar player and singer himself, also got into the scene in several poems.
Jazz Fantasia
Drum on your drums, batter on your banjoes, sob on the long cool winding saxophones.
Go to it, O jazzmen.

Sling your knuckles on the bottoms of the happy tin pans, let your trombones ooze, and go hushahusha-hush with the slippery sand-paper.

Moan like an autumn wind high in the lonesome tree-tops, moan soft like you wanted somebody terrible, cry like a racing car slipping away from a motorcycle cop, bang-bang! you jazzmen, bang altogether drums, traps, banjoes, horns, tin cans—make two people fight on the top of a stairway and scratch each other’s eyes in a clinch tumbling down the stairs.

Can the rough stuff … now a Mississippi steamboat pushes up the night river with a hoo-hoo-hoo-oo … and the green lanterns calling to the high soft stars … a red moon rides on the humps of the low river hills … go to it, O jazzmen.

—Carl Sandburg
Bird--Charlie Parker Bebop king.

Post-World War II America ushered in the eras of bebop and beatniks—a whole new generation grooving in whole news ways.  Take Jack Kerouac’s muse on the passing of a seminal reed man.

Charley Parker

Charlie Parker looked like Buddha
Charlie Parker, who recently died
Laughing at a juggler on the TV
After weeks of strain and sickness,
Was called the Perfect Musician.
And his expression on his face
Was as calm, beautiful, and profound
As the image of the Buddha
Represented in the East, the lidded eyes
The expression that says “All Is Well”
This was what Charlie Parker
Said when he played, All is Well.
You had the feeling of early-in-the-morning
Like a hermit’s joy, or
Like the perfect cry of some wild gang
At a jam session,
“Wail, Wop”
Charlie burst his lungs to reach the speed
Of what the speedsters wanted
And what they wanted
Was his eternal Slowdown

—Jack Kerouac  

Jayne Cortez, who was the widow of Ornnett Coleman died in 2012.  She often read and performed with her band, an electro-funk modern jazz group called the Firespitters.

Then there is Jayne Cortez whose beat infused work as a poet, performance artist, feminist, and activist continued to flourish in the post-beat era.  She shows that you don’t have to mention jazz or even music—the very words percolate with riffs and improvisations complete with spaces for the horn and slap bass solos…
I Am New York City
i am new york city
here is my brain of hot sauce
my tobacco teeth my
mattress of bedbug tongue
legs aparthand on chin
war on the roofinsults
pointed fingerspushcarts
my contraceptives all
look at my pelvis blushing

i am new york city of blood
police and fried pies
i rub my docks red with grenadine
and jelly madness in a flow of tokay
my huge skull of pigeons
my seance of peeping toms
my plaited ovaries excuse me
this is my grime my thigh of
steelspoons and toothpicks
i imitate no one

i am new york city
of the brown spit and soft tomatoes
give me my confetti of flesh
my marquee of false nipples
my sideshow of open beaks
in my nose of soot
in my ox bled eyes
in my ear of Saturday night specials

i eat ha ha hee hee and ho ho
i am new york city
never change never sleep never melt
my shoes are incognito
cadavers grow from my goatee
look i sparkle with shit with wishbones
my nickname is glue-me

take my face of stink bombs
my star spangled banner of hot dogs
take my beer can junta
my reptilian ass of footprints
and approach me through life
approach me through death
approach me through my widow’s peak
through my split ends my
asthmatic laughapproach me
through my wash rag
half anklehalf elbow
massage me with your camphor tears
salute the patina and concrete
of my rat tail wig
face upface downpiss
into the bite of our handshake

i am new york city
my skillet-head friend
my fat-bellied comrade
break wind with me

Jayne Cortez

The release of the last surviving Scottsboro boy, Clarence Noris, on the orders of Alabama governor George Wallace in 1976 inspired a  poem by Everett Hoagland.
And finally one from an old poet/friend I have never met but long admired, Everett Hoagland who found jazz riffs in a newspaper clipping with whiffs of an old injustice in his recent collection The  Music and Other Selected Poems.

The Last Scottsboro “Boy”

You might have thought justice
was a jive, cracked tune,
sung with a forked tongue,
like the Liberty Bell’s.

But you held life
like a steel guitar, your jail cell
a twelve-bar blues, and strummed it:

All people should be free.

In Alabama, the governor’s
pardon, Wallace gives you some skin.
His representative and Miss Belle
try to ring Liberty, but
it’s Alabama
and you know it’s a blues tune:

Clarence Norris, aged 63.
I have no hate;
I like all people.
All people should be
free.  I wish those other boys
were around to

Everett Hoagland

From The Music and Other Selected Poems by Everett Hoagland, North Star Nova Press.  Copyright Everett Hoagland, 2015.

No comments:

Post a Comment