Secret Carnival Workers
By Paul Haines, edited by Stuart Broomer
Coach House Books
Jazz and poetry ought to be natural kindred spirits. Both are about individualistic expression, projecting sentiment over logic. But with rare exception, "jazz poetry" tends to be pretty awful. More often than not, it falls into either mimicryattempting to emulate a particular musician or instrumentor homage, championing a player, style or scene. Rather than being of itself, it becomes referential, not "jazz poetry" but "poetry about jazz."
Paul Haineswho died in 2003 at the age of 69was the rare writer who managed to connect to the music without having to announce the fact. Best known for his libretto for Carla Bley's landmark album Escalator Over the Hill, Haines' writing covered beautifully simple slice-of-life verse, evocative liner notes and, on occasion, actual jazz journalism, but always with his own enigmatic style. His talent for simple abstraction made the surreal seem self-evident and his voice carried through his various ventures.
As a critic, he disregarded convention to follow his own muse. Reviewing the Italy Jazz Festival for Coda in 2002 he took the opportunity to interview musicians about jazz education and compiled comments from Andrew Cyrille, John Tchicai, Evan Parker, John Zorn and others. At times the wandering spirit could stray too far off track, as in a review of a Turkish festival that falls too deep into travelogue. But even then, the pieces collected here by Stuart Broomer (who was his editor at Coda) resonate with a need to express. Additional essays by Broomer, Bley, Roswell Rudd and Michael Snow make the book function as a sort of vague, half-auto biography, as nonlinear as its subject's own work.
Ultimately the value in Haines' writing is the same quality that gives jazz its appeal: it has an immediacy; his poetry is momentary, minute in subject matter, stated because it was felt and worthy because of its crafting.