Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Jazz and Poetry
Image from Kay Lovett's Fine Art gallery

As a jazz musician who grew up in the final third of the 20th Century, my exposure to the "golden age" of jazz-oriented poetry was pretty limited. When I've thought of jazz and poetry in the past it always brought to mind images of beatniks, berets and bongo drums. In fact, Maynard G. Krebs is the visual I get even now when I think of the Beat Generation. Kerouac, Ginsberg, Burroughs, Charlie Parker, Dizzy Gillespie, Lenny Bruce, marijuana and heroin all blend together for me in the kind of highly stylized way that only ignorance can produce.

I've only recently begun to delve into poetry again, after a long sojourn in the land of prose. It has been a lot of fun discovering new stuff as well as revisiting old favorites like Rumi, Neruda, Bly, cummings et al. I've even gone to a few readings of local poets here in Chicago. If you've never gone to a poetry slam or a reading I highly recommend it.

Apparently there is still a strong tradition of connection between the two disciplines of jazz and poetry. There is poetry that uses improvisational forms, poetry about the music and/or the musicians, poetry that is read or created in the context of the music. When it is good, it can be very satisfying, especially to those of us who like things to have both sound and meaning.

One place I've started to check out online is the e-poets network. The site has a nice variety of contemporary written poetry, as well as audio and video clips of poetry performances. Of particular interest to me is their collection of "jazz in words". Curator Kurt Heintz has put together a section of the site which, in his words:

"lists artists whose work addresses jazz, or whose work has been influenced significantly by jazz, whether that's in historical or contemporary modes. Jazz and performance poetry have a long, entwined history from the mid 20th Century to today."

As I read and listen to some of this work, the mental cliches are starting to fade. Funny how a little knowledge and experience challenges one's prejudices.

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