Wednesday, August 5, 2009

More Jazz Poetry: Sonny and Joe

painting by Aida Emart

To Keep Him Alive
by Paul Freidinger
(soon to be published by New York Quarterly)

The embouchure directs action:
tongue, lips, curve of the cheek,
seek solution with the reed; a need
for saliva on the sliver of wood,
sense of sound by breath, wet wood
makes the moan that makes it good.

Sonny Rollins said
without music he’s dead;
without the embouchure he can’t play,
without practice
the embouchure evaporates into air,
a balloon without breath;

without practice he can’t play,
without the embouchure there is no music,
without practice he’s deceased,
without the reed (essential seed
of vibration) sound is memory
of something not there.

He used to practice sitting
on the Williamsburg Bridge,
his sound swallowed by the sea,
lights of Manhattan swaddling him,
tankers floating beneath him on their way
to the ocean; no one noticed day or night;
no one stopped to listen.

New Yorkers are too sophisticated
to bother with art or let it bother them
he remarked, thankful for anonymity and presence
of the ideal audience of cars and pedestrians
and maritime traffic—and the reed

in concert with lips, tongue, lungs, spit,
the heart of sound from practice, embouchure
a link to the horn around the neck, crucifix-
of-sorrow-mix into joy, shriek and honk,
to seek, to keep him alive, to keep him alive,
to keep him alive, alive, alive…

Don't Ask Me Now
by Paul Freidinger

Joe Henderson climbs the stairs of his tenor sax,
the scale in scale (above the minor chords by McCoy)

to reach accord. Then, tremolo and a flurry
of sixteenth notes fluttered with honks and screeches

bent to blue and a dissonant melody forged from pain
that all resident boppers long for. Monk lives

in the intervals, dreams in the spaces we can’t transcend
or remember how he stood at the piano

as the sax man pierced the night, his silhouette bobbing
like a branch of leaves in a spring downpour.

In this version of “Ask Me Now,” Joe embodies his mentor
and weaves echoes of Thelonious through the bell

of his gleaming horn. Listening to this on an old cd,
I rise and mime a soft-shoe in tribute. My minor moment

raining down with joy. Don’t interrupt. Don’t ask me now.
I’m bobbing and dancing, too