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Dan Jaffe: Playing the Word


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High Flyers

I'm listening to "Ornithology"
as two brown pelicans wheel by the corner
of my balcony
in swooping counterpoint
to Bird's quick notes.

Those high flyers
make me think of you, Martin,
your words rising from the mountain:
the open flow of your phrasing, those
buoyant chords that pull us toward you,
the heartbeat that charges the silence.

Bird did it, too.
He told the story with his horn.
He broke through the closed doors of the spirit.
He bopped down the walls. His
swinging blues let loose the soul.

So I know, now,
you're on the bandstand with Bird,
holding your conversations
in be-bop time,
your spirals of notes
unwinding from the corners of the world
as we spin free.

Play On

God saves the world some say
for the sake of a few holy men.
For their sake He keeps the garden.
On nights empty even of stars
you may hear their voices
on the wind, their melodies
woven in the currents of the river.
Round about midnight we know
it's true. We know Monk runs deep,
that Bird lives in pure sound
that Mingus still plucks a spectral bass,
that Hotlips never put down his horn,
that those puffs of cloud over the Missouri
are a line of notes,
that the planet dances through the heavens
because somewhere somebody's blowing a riff.
They play/they played/they are playing-
All the great ones who linger
always at the edge of consciousness:
Emily and Walt
and serious Percy Bysshe
who in a different lingo
played the Adonais Blues,
Lady and Max and Satch,
and Langston Hughes,
and Mary Lou in the Celestial City
which is always here
so long as Bechet or McShann,
Bassie or Dizzy,
or George Salisbury of Lawrence, Kansas,
play not just for the fanfare,
the flowers or the fame,
but for the music
that keeps us going.
So we listen together
for what drives the world.
Play, George, play; play on, play on.

After Blowing All Night

They been blowing all night
and now they're talking,
which means less,
saying how the music
keeps you going
through the killer days,
how what comes out
of the horn's better
than anything on your plate,
anything out of a glass
or a needle, better
than anything except
maybe a woman
and that's short time
except a rare sometimes
and how chasing either
too hard can do you in
like that cat Antony or Bird
strangled on a riff.

It Sure is Risky

It sure is risky
when it comes to love.
One minute the two of you
are a ball of heat, the next
you're drinking cold coffee by yourself.
I haven't met one I can predict,
not one man, faithful or not.
Whether he stays or leaves
the fridge is empty at least half the time
and you end up with the blues.
It sure is risky
when you come to love,
but it's better than
never or nowhere or notime or nothing.
The blues is better than being without.

Bird Meditation

Dr. told me something profound.
He said, Bird, you can't
mess up your body forever.
You're stuck in that sack of bones,
and it will tell you when
it won't carry you round no more.
I said, Dr. of Medicine, learned you may be,
I'm gonna beat the destiny you're bound to.
I'm gonna fly out of here with my soul together.

Cat asks me, Bird, then why you keep on taking the stuff?

I go to this heart specialist, you know,
give him a hundred dollars for heart relief.
He treats me. Don't do no good.
My heart's still messed up.
I go to this ulcer man,
give him 75 dollars to cool my ulcer out.
Don't do no good.
Meet this little cat in a dark alley around the corner.
I give him five dollars for a bag of shit;
my ulcer's gone, my heart trouble gone
all of my ailments gone.
Only got my life to worry about.

Coda for a Horn Player

All you can do
Is what the Bird tried to:
Blow it out your soul
And hear it float back.
Let's play one for them.

DAN JAFFE has written more than a dozen books. His jazz opera, All Cats Turn Gray When the Sun Goes Down (with Herb Six) has been produced in Kansas City, St. Louis, and New York. He also appears on the CD In Their Own Voices: A Century of Recorded Poetry (Rhino Records). Jaffe has performed his poetry with numerous jazz musicians, including George Salisbury, Milt Abel, Nicole Yarling, Frank Smith, Brian Murphy and Tim Whitmer. He currently lives in Miami Beach, Florida.

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