Since its beginning in the early twentieth century, jazz music has exercised an influence on American literature’s subject matter and style. Beginning in the 1920s, an era labeled The Jazz Age by novelist and short story writer F. Scott Fitzgerald. Jazz continued to evolve throughout the first half of the century, moving from swing music to the even more freely played bebop, with its emphasis on spontaneity and improvisation. The latter jazz form received its most famous literary validation in the works of American novelist Jack Kerouac, who initiated the Beat movement with his novel On the Road (1957). Another beat poet, Allen Ginsberg, also imitated bebop rhythms in his poem Howl (1956). William Burroughs, Gregory Corso and LeRoi Jones also found inspiration in jazz music and the culture that surrounded it. James Baldwin spent much of his time exploring the jazz scene in Greenwich Village before his novels were published. Langston Hughes’ writing was inspired by the jazz rhythms as the basis of his poetry. Authors in the 1980s and 1990s who displayed a reverence for jazz music include Josef Skvorecky (The Bass Saxophone) and Michael Ondaatje (Coming Through Slaughter). The next three novelists have been inspired by the musician Bill Evans and his personality.
Christian Gailly (1943), a widely celebrated French novelist, saxophonist and psychoanalist wrote a novel in French Un Soir au Club (Editions Minuit 2002) translated An Evening at the Club (Other Press; New Ed edition March 17, 2003). This novel has become famous throughout Europe. As a number one bestseller in France, it won the 2002 Prix Livre Inter and has also been translated into Dutch, Russian, Italian and German.
The main character Simon Nardis (Nardis recorded frequently by Bill Evans) gave up his career as an outstandingly innovative jazz pianist to save his life and his marriage. No more road trips, drugs, alcohol or women. And no more jazz. Then, one evening, he finds himself in a jazz club owned by the American singer Debbie Parker (Waltz for Debby). His wife died. Other personages be named Bill, Scott (LaFaro) and Paul (Motian). One can draw unmistakable a lot of parallels between the principal character in the novel and the life of Bill Evans.
Martin Bril (1959-2009) is a freelance Dutch writer, journalist and columnist for countless magazines. He studied philosophy and graduated the Film Academy. He wrote among other things a book with short poetic essays about music Een plek onder de zon (Prometheus 2006). One essay is called “Waltz For Debby”, the well-known composition of Bill Evans. The writer is moving by car on the highway in a darkened landscape where he passes the Dutch city Veenendaal. A translated paragraph from this essay by Martin Bril:
“A few miles later I suddenly thought about Bill Evans – jazz pianist. And if I think of Bill Evans then I think of a tonic. As the carbon dioxide (or is it the quinine?) above the glass dances when you have just poured the tonic, so sounds Bill Evans, but then in slow motion. It is so pure that there is almost nothing more. “Waltz for Debby” is the title of one of Evans’ finest albums. I’ve never known a woman who called Debby, and I’ve never danced a waltz, but on the album is one of the most moving piano pieces I know: “Porgy” – a sparse, dreamy song that at first hearing sounds as a romantic trivial piece , but that at further listening constantly opens new vistas, a handful of notes, two hands on a keyboard, a bass in the background sometimes sounds like an organ; pure consolation, and deeper than that.
Music for Sunday afternoon, for the early evening, for deep in the night, for the darkness, even on the highway near to the city Veenendaal. Music at the touch, but very accurately opens a wide musical scale of emotions: love, grief, resignation, fear, joy. And that in five minutes and seven fifty seconds. Come and play it yourself!
There is no relation between the city of Veenendaal and Bill Evans who died this year twenty-five years ago. He certainly has never played there, but it is not excluded that there live fans of his music, maybe only one, but that is enough. And even if that is not the case, surely a fan of his music will daily pass by train or car the city Veenendaal. Even then Bill Evans would be satisfied.”
copyright by Martin Bril
J. Bernlef (1937-2012) was a Dutch writer, lyricist, novelist, jazzaficionado and translator. His bibliography includes more than 70 writings. He received nine literary awards. He became known to a larger public with his novel Hersenschimmen from 1984, which treated the theme of dementia. The book was the basis for a 1987 film, a theatre play in 2006 and has been translated into several languages, in English Out of Mind. Bernlef received the Dutch P.C. Hooft Award in 1994. Bernlef published several jazz writings How to fall from the stairs, Do not shoot the pianist and Pianoman. In the essay Achieves the jazz the twenty-first century? he wrote a chapter “The demise of Billy the Kid”, about the early work of Bill Evans (page 13).
Owen Martell (1976) born in Exeter, grew up in Pontneddfechan, South Wales. He went to Aberystwyth and Oxford Universities. Owen was Wales Book of the Year Winner 2001 and short–listed for Wales Book of the Year in 2004. He wrote Intermission, a fictionalised novel of what happened during the months after Scott’s car crash. In 1961, the Bill Evans Trio (Bill Evans on piano, Scott LeFaro on bass, Paul Motian on drums) played a series on concerts at the Village Vanguard in New York City. They culminated in two recordings – Sunday at the Village Vanguard and Waltz for Debbie – now considered two of the greatest jazz records ever made. Ten days later, Scott LeFaro died in a car crash. Evans was devastated and disappeared from public life for several months. What happened during those months. The novel is told from four different points of view – Bill’s older brother Harry, his mum Mary, his father Harry Snr and finally, that of Bill himself. The novel inhabits the lives of four people in orbit around a tragedy, presenting an intense and moving portrait of the burden of grief, and of a man lost to his family and to himself. It is also a conjuring of a pivotal moment in American music and culture, and a unique representation of the jazz scene in the early 1960s. (Publisher: William Heinemann, 2013)
Adam Gopnik (1956) is an American writer, essayist and commentator. He is best known as a staff writer for The New Yorker to which he has contributed non-fiction, fiction, memoir and criticism and as the author of the essay collection Paris to the Moon, an account of the half-decade that Gopnik spent in the French capital. After returning, twenty of his essays for The New Yorker have been collected in a new book Through the Children’s Gate: A Home in New York. Gopnik proves himself an erudite companion as he discourses on such subjects as the decline of the department store, the revival of Times Square and the story behind the Bill Evans Trio jazz classic Sunday at the Village Vanguard. The essay “That Sunday”, Gopnik’s 2001 account of the Bill Evans Vanguard sessions in The New Yorker (August 13, 2001) on the occasion of their fortieth anniversary: “It is a good day to remember one of our greatest musicians.”
Adam Gopnik wrote of Evans’s playing in these recordings, “They are as close to pure emotion, produced without impediments – not at all the same thing as an entire self poured out without inhibitions, the bebop dream – as exists in music.” Bill Evans has no casual fans, Evans’ name has become “synonymous with a heartbreak quality that is not like anything else in music.”
From “That Sunday”:
One of the mysteries of Evans’s career is that, after that Sunday, he continued to play “Porgy” over and over again, almost obsessively – but almost always as a solo number. Paul Motian gave this some thought. “I don’t think there was any reason – no, wait, I remember something now. While we were listening to that number on the tape, Bill was a wreck, and he kept saying something like ‘Listen to Scott’s bass, it’s like an organ! It sounds so big, it’s not real, it’s like an organ, I’ll never hear that again.’ Could that, his always playing it without a bass afterwards have been a sort of tribute to Scott? I kind of doubt it, but then again maybe so.” When we hear Evans play “Porgy,” we are hearing what a good Zen man like Evans would have wanted us to hear, and that is the sound of one hand clapping after the other hand is gone.
copyright by Adam Gopnik
In the literature an influence of jazz on poets appears commonplace. Much has been written about the connections between jazz and a number of contemporary poems. Various collections are devoted to such poetry, including Moment’s Notice: Jazz in Poetry and Prose (Coffee House Press 1992) by Art Lange and Nathaniel Mackey and Second Set – The Jazz Poetry Anthology Vol2 (Indiana University Press 1996) by Sascha Feinstein and Yusuf Komunyakaa. Ted Joans (1928-2003) was a poet, artist, and trumpet player. Andr Breton proclaimed him a surrealist; he was associated with the Beat Generation. His jazz poems are collected in a book called Black Pow-Wow.
If you should see
a man walking
down a crowded street
in the opposite direction
but run toward him
for he is a POET!
You have NOTHING to fear
from the poet
but the TRUTH
copyright by Ted Joans
One would not be surprised to find a fair number of recent poets, including Peter Balakian, Alan Feldman, Gerald Locklin, Sebastian Matthews, Robert Schuler, Jeffrey Skinner, Bill Zavatsky, Jan Zwicky and others, have been inspired by Bill Evans or alluded to the musician in their works.
Brilliant Corners is the only journal to focus on jazz-related literature. Next poets published about Bill Evans in the journal.
David Jauss: “Orphans”, 1/2 (Summer 1997), p. 8 (poem about Bill Evans’ “Only Child”)
Richard Terrill: Improvisations. Bill Evans, 4/1 (Winter 1999), p. 36-41 (short story)
Rick Madigan: Blue in Green, 5/2 (Summer 2001), p. 25 (poem)
Robert Wrigley: Lying in a Hammock at West Dennis Lake, Idaho, Listening to Bill Evans on Headphones, the Morning After Hearing a Wolf Howl, 10/1 (Winter 2005), p. 8 (poem)
Paul Zimmer: Turn Out the Stars, 12/1 (Winter 2007), p. 32-41 (short story)
Bill Zavatsky: Words out of Music. Collaborating with Bill Evans and Marc Copland, 13/1 (Winter 2008), p. 11-48 (poems)
Jacques Rda (1929), a French poet and jazz critic. He received in 1983 the “Grand Prix de posie de la Ville de Paris” and in 1993 the “Grand Prix de l’Acadmie franaise” for his total body of work. He was editor of the French periodical Jazzmagazine. Jacques Rda published L’improviste volume one and two, and Anthologie Des Musiciens De Jazz. He wrote like several authors poems on the music of Bill Evans. He wrote 5 poems with the title Tombeau de Bill Evans, perhaps with reference to Tombeau de Couperin by Maurice Ravel, inspired by the Bill Evans songs “Displacement”, “Conversations With Myself”, “Peace Piece”, “Interplay” and “Explorations (L’improviste II’ – Jouer le jeu, Gallimard 1985), also published in the French Jazzmagazine. An example is the poem on Conversations With Myself, the first of Evans overdubbed solo albums with monologues, dialogues and trialogues. On the left the original for those who master the French language , next to it an attempt to translate the poem in English.
L’ivoire et les prcieux bois
Laqus, l’bne, tout renvoie
Mon image moi-mme et lui rend l’image de moi.
Entre leurs reflets et mes doigts
Rien ne s’interpose, qu’un peu de froid.
Mais pour ce reflet dans l’ivoire, mes doigts
Sont aussi des reflets: l’envers devient l’endroit
Qui n’a plus matire ni poids,
Et dlivrs mes vingt doigts jouent fidlement ensemble.
Cependant je penche mon front toujours plus bas
Pour les regarder qui s’effleurent et se contemplent,
Car de part et d’autre mes doigts me gardent l’quilibre
Contre l’ivoire qui n st plus qu’une ouverture libre
Entre les deux fonds du miroir o j’approche de moi.
Et je m’entends m’interroger et me rpondre
Seul, double, prostern sur la profondeur d’ombre,
Dans la lumire de mes doigts.
copyright by Jacques Rda
The ivory and the precious lacquered
Woods, the ebony, all mirrors
An own image to myself and reflects it back.
Between this reflection and my fingers,
Nothing comes in-between, except maybe some cold.
However relative to the reflection in the ivory, my fingers
Are also reflection: A shadow becomes a hand
Having neither substance nor weight,
And freed up, can my twenty fingers faithfully play together
However, I lean my forehead still lower
To be able to watch them touch and observe each other gently
Since from either sides these fingers hold the balance
Against an ivory which has become open space
Between two mirror backgrounds where I still get closer to Me
And I hear myself questioning and answering
Single, doubled, kneeling at the depth of shade
Onder the glow of my fingers.
copyright by Jacques Rda
Bill Zavatsky (1943), a good friend of Bill Evans, worked as a jazz pianist and journalist (articles in New York Times Book Review and Rolling Stone) and has been teaching English literature at Trinity School in Manhattan. He won the PEN/Book of the Month Club Translation Prize and a fellowship from the Guggenheim Foundation. He published three collections of poetry. He wrote several poems on Evans music in Where X Marks the Spot (Hanging Loose Press 2006). One poem, Live at the Village Vanguard is addressed to the audience heard on the historic recordings at the Village Vanguard in July, 1961. The poem is not as much about what Evans was doing on stage, but what the audience was doing: chattering away, clinking dishes, ordering drinks. He wonders if they now listen to the recording, point to their chattering voices, and say, “Hey, honey— that’s me”. Beyond these barbs, he wishes he could help them hear the miracle occurring right in front of them, to distract them from their distracted lives. After Bill Evans died in 1980, Bill Zavatsky was asked by Nenette Evans and his manager Helen Keane to write something for the first pothumous recording that would be released, which turned out to be Elegy for You Must Believe in Spring, Bill Evans’s first album for Warner Brothers.
Two compositions are by Evans himself: the opening track, “B Minor Waltz” reflecting on the suicide of his ex-girlfriend Ellaine, the other “We Will Meet Again” on the suicide of his older brother Harry, a year before the pianist’s own death in 1980. Later in 1983 the Norwegian pianist Egil Kapstad released a LP (now CD) called Epilog – Bill Evans in Memoriam (Ponca Jazz Records) where the pianist wrote a gorgeous melody on the lyrics of “Elegy” sung by vocalist Sheila Jordan with jazztrio and string quartet. On the album Zavatsky also wrote the lyrics for “Our Autumn Waltz”. The second poem “To the Pianist Bill Evans” published Bill Zavatsky in his first book Theories of Rain and Other Poems (1975).
For Bill Evans”, 1929-1980
Music your hands are no longer here to make
Still breaks against my ear, still shakes my heart.
Then I feel that I am still before you.
You bend above your shadow on the keys
That tremble at your touch or crystallize,
Water forced to concntrate. In meditation
You close your eyes to see yourself more clearly.
Now you know the source of sound,
The element bone and muscle penetrate
Hoping to bring back beauty.
Hoping to catch what lies beyond our reach,
You hunted with your fingertips.
My life you found, and many other lives
Which traveled through yor hands upon their journey.
Note by note we followed in your tracks, like
Hearing the rain, eyes closed to feel more deeply.
We stood before the mountains of your touch.
The sunlight and the shade you carried us
We drank, tasting our bitter lives more sweetly
From the spring of song that never stops its kiss.
(Excerpted from “Where X Marks the Spot”, 2006)
Copyright by Bill Zavatsky
Published with permission of the author
“To the Pianist Bill Evans”
When I hear you
play “My Foolish Heart”
I am clouded
remembering more than
Scott LaFaro’s charred bass
as it rested
against a Yonkers wall
in its transit
from accidental fire
like a shadowy
rhythms of Lou
“Man, we’re late!”
his long curved bass
straining the car
interior, a canvas swan
my hand clutched,
steel strings as
of the human neck
the vulnerable neck
the neck of music
squeezed by hands
the fragile box
of song, the breath
I crushed out of music
before I killed
whatever in me
not touching the keyboard
of terrible parties
falling as canvas and
wood and hair flamed
behind a windshield
I imagined being
trapped inside, still
see it in my heart
our terror magnified
note by note
purified each year
the gentle rise
and circle of
in their transit
into memory, a space
does not slowly wave
its blazing arm …
(Excerpted from “Theories of Rain and Other Poems”, 1975)
Copyright by Bill Zavatsky
Published with permission of the author
Robert Schuler, who teaches film, American Literature, and writing at the University of Wisconsin-Stout, wrote an anthology of 38 poems In search of Green Dolphin Street, a homage to Bill Evans (Marsh River Editions 2004). He describes his book of poetry as “a suite of poems in praise of Bill Evans.” He postulates: “I try to carve strong images and to intensify them with as much music as I can fashion for the matter at hand. I want to fully evoke the thingness of things, the essence of nature, music, art, or humanity”. His homage to Evans is felt in almost every poem.
From the poem 6:55 PM, June 23rd
the best of days
when the Bill Evans Trio
set out to discover the essence of music
time keeps coming back
why not make it
these crystalline compositions
that preserve beauty
that keep their own time
in runs of the bass
trills of the piano
time could be
copyright by Robert Schuler
Gerald Locklin has taught English since 1965 at California State University, Long Beach and is the author of over 125 books and of poetry, fiction, and criticism, with over 3000 poems, stories, articles, reviews, and interviews published in periodicals. Takes on Bill Evans is another wonderful collection of jazz poems (Zerx Press, 2002). “For one who has respect for melody, even the improvisation on a melody may constitute a melody”.
From “Takes on Bill Evans”
My Foolish Heart
Be still! Still as his style
in which emotion is contained
within close chords.
A stillness can explode
just as the silent night did.
Never let a stone unturned.
The pianist cast spells upon the stepping stones.
The trumpet pointed towards the sky.
All we have learned must be unlearned,
but first it must be learned.
copyright by Gerald Locklin
Jan Zwicky is a Canadian philosopher, poet, essayist, and violinist. She is an associate professor at the University of Victoria in British Columbia. She is winner of the 1999 Governor General’s Award for Poetry, is nominated for the 1999 BC Book Prize for Poetry and shortlisted for the 1999 Pat Lowther Memorial Award for the Best Book of Poetry by a Canadian Woman. Many of her poems speak to or follow the rhythms of particular musical works of Mozart, Brahms and Bach. She published Songs for Relinquishing the Earth ( Brick 1998) with some Bill Evans songs, among other things “Here’s That Rainy Day” and “You Must believe in Spring”. Next poem is a reference to the song “Never Let Me Go” from the solo piano album Alone (Verve 1968)
Sound that makes night fall around it
like the glow from a reading lamp.
Rain on the roof, straight down.
The name of your name
spoken without another’s.
Rubato is a hand
you thought indifferent
laid, briefest of moments,
on your sleeve.
It walks away, then,
that sound, without looking back.
Lights up a Lucky. Says
we hadn’t the ghost of a chance, says never
let me go.
copyright by Jan Zwicky
Jeffrey Skinner is a poet, and professor of Creative Writing at the University of Louisville. He has received fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts, the Ingram Merrill Foundation, and the Howard Foundation. He published a book of poems called Gender Studies (Miami University Press 2002). A section of that book is called Bill Evans and the Birds of Appetite, a series of sonnets in the voice of jazz pianist Bill Evans. The poems are incredibly moving because the language is so tense and musical, fresh and surprising. Next sonnet is a memo to the last drummer of Bill Evans, Joe LaBarbera.
Memo to Joe LaBarbera
How many seconds, total, does blood settle down
so you see the matted leaves refracting summer
glare, and from your most personal American lawn
let ambition fizzle, like a tablet in icewater?
Not many. Yes, I am rushing and I want you to go
with me . . . When they brought up talent I said drive
and early on wanted everyone to know
how many keyboard miles I’d logged before arrival,
here – wherever here may be. I’m grateful
for what I’ve been allowed to accomplish, and the ease
of a new son, a new trio; the softer view from fifty.
But there’s a tag for the push of sheer will,
Joe: straight up, cold. It’s no picnic, my refusal to please.
Yes, I am rushing, and I want you to go with me.
Published with permission of Jeffrey Skinner
Peter LaBarbera (not Evans’ last drummer Joe LaBarbera) published on internet in his Poetry Jazz Zine Collection poems about Bill Evans and other legends such as Miles Davis, Dizzy Gillespie and Stan Getz. Next poem about Bill Evans and the bassist of the “first trio” Scott LaFaro:
Slumped and slumped over a piano of time
pouring his entirety into ivory, telling
a story in a language that sits on the edge of a wave
awaiting to be washed to
shore, leaving the result in the smooth sand.
He interprets his pain in a minor key
and the sound swirls around the night
bringing the mood to rest inside the figure of the bass:
Scott La Faro – an ever part of the man’s pain swirls
through the music
created by the slumped figure at the piano.
copyright by Peter LaBarbera
Peter Balakian is an Armenian-American poet, writer and academic. He holds a Ph.D. in Ame-
rican Civilization from Brown University and teaches at Colgate University, where he is a Donald M. and Constance H. Rebar Professor of the Humanities in the Department of English and Director of Creative Writing. He is a prize-winning poet and won several awards include a Guggenheim Fellow-
ship. He wrote the poem “BLUE” about the Miles Davis/Bill Evans song “Blue In Green”:
Light we pulled into a string of glass
that seeped out of the long vibration
of Miles’ Blue in Green
like slow time in the empty lot
after soot and rain and rush,
the Ferry out of sight,
my bones electric with the hum
of the cable of the Bridge at 3 a.m.
and the dying lights of the Bowery.
Bill Evans making the rain thin
to a beam of haze before the
horn comes back from underwater.
copyright by Peter Balakian
Alan Feldman has been professor of English at Framingham State College. He taught the advanced creative writing workshop at Harvard’s Radcliffe Seminars. Feldman’s poems have appeared in many magazines, including The Atlantic, The New Yorker, Poetry, and have been featured several times on Poetry Daily (www.poems.com). A Sail to Great Island (University of Wisconsin Press 2004) won the Felix Pollak Prize in Poetry. One poem is dedicated to Bill Evans:
Bill Evans plays “Never Let Me Go”.
“Never Let Me Go”
Never let me go, says the piano,
then the five syllables are repeated
a little lower, maybe more sadly,
or with more acceptance that this plaint
is endless, fruitless, but it is the plaint
of love forever, whatever else changes,
and the five notes always sound different
the way the lover constantly is finding
new ways to ask what can’t be answered.
The piano takes a break to think it over
all around the keyboard, as if it is free
to take a walk, anywhere away from
those five notes, but no, it’s been walking
towards them. Never let me go,
it says cheerfully, tenderly, without reproach,
as if it knows that saying so is its true calling.
copyright by Alan Feldman
Sebastian Matthews is a graduate of the University of Michigan and lives in Asheville, North Carolina, where he works as an adjunct instructor at Warren Wilson College. He published a recent collection of poetry We Generous (Red Hen Press, 2007), which contains a section of poems referencing music and musicians, such as Miles Davis, Roy Eldridge, Billie Holiday, Sonny Rollins, and Louis Armstrong. His poem in the volume alluding to Bill Evans Live at the Village Vanguard described the background noise during the live recording session. Recent CD remastered versions offers considerably improved sound quality over any CD or LP versions. The hiss you hear from CD and LP is virtually gone. This gives listeners greater clarity and depth in sound. Unfortunately, this makes the background noise of the audience with their chats, laughs and silverware more noticeable. This could be disturbing to seriously devoted Bill Evans fans, although Paul Motian, the only living member of the trio, has recently mentioned in the Swing Journal’s interview that the chatty audience never bothered the trio in those days.
“Live at the Village Vanguard”
Near the end of Bill Evans’ “Porgy (I Love You, Porgy)”
played live at the Village Vanguard and added as an extra track
on Waltz for Debby (a session made famous by the death
of the trio’s young bassist in a car crash) a woman laughs.
There’s been background babble bubbling up the whole set.
You get used to the voices percolating at the songs’ fringes,
the clink of glasses and tips of silver on hard plates. Listen
to the recording enough and you almost accept the aural clutter
as another percussive trick the drummer pulls out, like brushes
on a snare. But this woman’s voice stands out for its carefree
audacity, how it broadcasts the lovely stair of her happiness.
Evans has just made one of his elegant flights up an octave
and rests on its landing, notes spilling from his left hand
like sunlight, before coming back down into the tune’s lush
living-room of a conclusion. The laugh begins softly, subsides,
then lifts up to step over the bass line: five bursts of pleasure
pushed out of what can only be a long lovely tan throat. Maybe
Evans smiles to himself when he hears it, leaving a little space
between the notes he’s cobbled to close the song; maybe
the man she’s with leans in, first to still her from the laugh
he’s just coaxed from her, then to caress the cascade of her hair
that hangs, lace curtain, in the last vestiges of spotlight stippling
copyright by Sebastian Matthews
Grace Schulman has received New York University’s Delmore Schwartz Award for Poetry and two Pushcart Prizes, and she was recently awarded the Aiken Taylor Award for Modern American Poetry. She is Distinguished Professor of English at Baruch College, CUNY, as well as the poetry editor of The Nation and a former director of the Poetry Center of the 92nd Street Y. She lives in New York City. The title of her new collection The Broken String (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2008) refers to violonist Itzhak Perlman’s will to play a violin concerto despite a missing string, which inspires the poet’s celebration of life in its fullness and limitations. Musicians in these poems rise above their other kinds of brokenness — and sometimes succumb to them. The great pianist Bill Evans hits a false note and pounds his fists on the keys, venting a lifetime’s accumulated struggle and loss. From the first poem and second strophe:
“The Broken String”
What you have left: Bill Evans at the keyboard,
Porgy. The sound rose, but one note, unworthy,
stalled in his head above the weightless chords,
above the bass, the trumpet’s holler: Porgy.
A sudden clenched fist rose, pounded the keys,
fell limp: a heroin shot had hit a nerve.
I Loves You, Porgy. Sundays at the Vanguard
he soloed, improvised — his test that starved
nameless fear. Hands pitted against each other,
like the sea’s crosscurrents, played away anger.
copyright by Grace Schulman
August Kleinzahler (born 1949) is an American poet. He was born in Jersey City, New Jersey. He won the 2004 Griffin International Poetry Prize and the 2004 Gold Medal in Poetry from the Commonwealth Club of California, and was short-listed for the U.K.‘s Forward Prize in Poetry. He is also the recipient of awards from the John Simon Guggenheim Foundation (1989), the Lila Acheson-Reader’s Digest Award for Poetry (1991), and an Academy Award in Literature from the American Academy of Arts and Letters (1996). In 2000 he was awarded a Berlin Prize Fellowship. He is the author of ten books of poetry. In his poetry collection Earthquake Weather (Moyer Bell, 1989, p. 34) he wrote “What It Takes” about Bill Evans and Scott LaFaro.
What It Takes
He stared for hours
at the cat
taking his ease under the calla leaf
pour in late afternoon
whelming the tower on the hill
how bird truck or shout
wind & light
scored day the way the music
roll in a nickelodeon’s scored
and what it played in the mind
or the young Bill Evans
before Scott LaFaro died
My Foolish Heart
again and again
fennel, lobelia shadow & flies
however many times it takes
copyright by August Kleinzahler
Florence Wetzel became exposed to jazz in the 1980s through the fortunate experience of living in Hoboken, New Jersey. Jazz clarinetist Perry Robinson was living there at that time and she ended up co-writing Perry’s autobiography The Traveler with him in the late 90s, which was a wonderful musical education. Perry attended the Lenox Jazz School in Tanglewood with Bill Evans in the faculty at that time. She joined in 2003 All About Jazz and reviews CD/DVD’s now. She has also written a few novels: Mrs. Papadakis and Aspasia and Madeline. From Jazz Portrait Poems:
hours of aloneness
insides of sound
a piece of peace
in the slowest suicide
the most beautiful kind of beauty
and such pleasure
when you discover this
copyright by Florence Wetzel
Joseph McNair, Professor of Education at Miami Dade College, is a prolific poet, essayist, and novelist. He edits Asili: The Journal of Multicultural Heartspeak, an influential African American online literary review. Visit Asili, the Journal Blogspot.
for bill Evans (1929–1980)
a unique & most unusual jazz pianist,
yr tone & conceptions were delicate
without being fragile. u could not
collaborate nine gestative months with
miles with thin skin. u might have been
vulnerable but u didn’t bruise or frighten
easily. he liked what he saw in u, what
u brought to the table, those hints of
lennie tristano, lee konitz & even horace
silver – yr quiet rage. he liked the way
the piano sounded when u played. yr
highly nuanced touch; those single note
tone phrases that rang like freedom (u let
them ring as if u wanted all & sundry to
savor the decay); those block chords &
rhythm independent melodies, never
aggressively percussive, more often
like a junkie shrinking back from bright
lit corners. & yet yr themes & figures
were exquisitely crafted disturbances
in space & time, studies in the kind of
pain only the soul can know, kinda blue,
abstracted from bent time. u’d take a
stone of a phrase in yr solo, toss it in
yr modal soup & let the ripples spread,
extend their rhythms, melodic passages
& harmonies. then, within the same solo,
u’d drop that stone again & again,repeating
that transformative dance each time. an
unfolding beautiful to behold. so unlike
the day-to-day ugly of cold sweats, malaise,
anxiety/depression that boy heroin brings;
the cramps,chills, muscle & bone aches &
nausea,the menacing, often terrifying
phantasmagora lurking just outside of eye
& earshot, the temporary fix that propped
the music up,that propped u up.the good
news is that u kicked, kicked the boy to
the curb.but u failed to strain yr impulses,
yr social alienation & sensation-seeking
thru & into the safe refuge of the vaunted
impressionism & introverted classical
sensibility folks so admired about u,
that influenced so many young, brilliant
players. & thus u fell under the fatal spell
of the girl. alas, yr mistress wasn’t music,
Joseph McNair, Miami 2010
from his collection, I hear music