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Jeff Robinson: Rare Bird Sighting

Timothy J. O'Keefe By

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April is Jazz Appreciation Month. It's also National Poetry Month, and every Sunday night, the Jeff Robinson Trio accompanies poets at the Lizard Lounge in Cambridge, Massachusetts. The trio provides collective jazz improvisation based on the rhythmic cadence of each poet, creating music that is truly unique to each performance.

Jeff Robinson hails from St. Louis and moved to Boston to attend Berklee College of Music. To create his one-person play, Live Bird, which is based on the life of Charlie Parker, Robinson creatively draws from his experiences in acting, music and poetry.

In the world of jazz, few musicians are as iconic as Parker. Parker, known as Bird, came of age in Kansas City during the Great Depression—a time when shady politics, bootleg liquor and gambling created an environment in which jazz would thrive. During the 1920s, the vaudeville acts in which Parker's father had performed began to fade as a form of entertainment. In their place, something new began to emerge. Glowing, neon tubes sparked and buzzed venue names in electric light, and inside the venues, some of the era's leading jazz musicians could find regular employment. At places like the Sunset Cafe and the Reno, Parker heard music rooted in blues traditions that used rhythmic figures and contained long melody lines. The sound would become known to a broader audience as Kansas City Swing. These musical influences, along with Parker's desire to discover new sounds, would forge a driving presence in jazz.


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