[Dixielandjazz] Popular Songs as Poetry, 70s style/Jazz & Poetry

Charles Suhor csuhor at zebra.net
Wed Dec 24 11:47:17 PST 2014

On Dec 23, 2014, at 10:43 PM, Bill Haesler wrote:

> Unfortunately, when the 60s came along and that different generation initiated 'Poetry and Jazz' sessions, they lost me.
> Musical improvisation behind a poet's words is quite a different thing.

Jazz and Poetry is another realm, with several approaches. At one end of a spectrum is “mutual improvisation”—not for the faint of heart. The poet will get up and say stuff, musician(s) will hear, and play what seems to reflect or develop the spoken poetry. At the other end are loosely prepared performances where the musicians see the composed poems in advance and might even sketch out ideas of how the mood can be enhanced, who plays when, etc. Rehearsals might even “test-drive” the process.

I had a lot of fun using the latter approach. Between 1993-96 I produced and performed in J&P at the Blind Pig in Urbana, Ill. I co-produced sessions with students from Evanston High School at the 1996 conventions of  IAJE (International Association of Jazz Educators) and NCTE (National Council of Teachers of English) in Chicago. My colleague Jamie Hutchinson and I wrote “The Jazz and Poetry Connection: A Performance Guide for Teachers and Students,” jointly published in IAJE’s Jazz Educators Journal and NCTE’s English Journal in 1996.  In Montgomery, Pensacola, and other points South, African-American poet E. K. Daufin and I did duo and combo J&P programs between 1998 and 2004. Always, we let our musical intuitions flow from our or  others’ composed poetry. Audiences related well to this.

Like free form jazz, the looser approach to J&P holds greater interest during live performance than on recordings. In my experience, it produces cohesive and memorable art only spottily and in the hands of sensitive poets and musicians. I’m not at all up to date, but currently, Barry Wallenstein in New York is a skilled poet who works with fine players.







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