6

Kissing Cousins: Jazz + poetry = jazz poetry

Jeff Winke By

Sign in to view read count
Believe it or not there have been times when jazz and poetry intertwine. The music inspires the poetry and creates a non-mainstream style of writing... jazz poetry.

Innovations in music and poetics in the early part of the 20th century surfaced in the 1920's. The simultaneous evolution of poetry and jazz music was not lost upon musicians and writers of the time. The two art forms merge and form the genre of jazz poetry. However, note that there's a distinction between poets who write about jazz music (jazz-related poetry) and poets who capture the tone, rhythm and cadence of the music in their writing (jazz poetry).

During the Harlem Renaissance, poet Langston Hughes—considered the first true jazz poet—incorporated the syncopated rhythms and repetitive phrases of jazz and blues into his writing. Case in point, his 1923 poem "The Weary Blues."

Droning a drowsy syncopated tune,
Rocking back and forth to a mellow croon,
I heard a Negro play.
Down on Lenox Avenue the other night
By the pale dull pallor of an old gas light
He did a lazy sway...
He did a lazy sway...
To the tune o' those Weary Blues.

Jump to the early 1950's and Beat Generation writers find a kindred spirit with jazz musicians. Both the Beat poets and jazz musicians are outsiders. Jack Kerouac, Allen Ginsberg, Diane di Prima, Neal Cassady, Anne Waldman and Michael McClure would often have musical accompaniment for their poetry readings. Lawrence Ferlinghetti collaborated with saxophonist Stan Getz.

A rough-at-the-edges Beat poet, Bob Kaufman, captures the sense in his poem "Round About Midnight," which clearly tips its black beret to Thelonious Monk:

Round About Midnight

Jazz radio on a midnight kick,
Round about Midnight.

Sitting on the bed,
With a jazz type chick
Round about Midnight,

Piano laughter, in my ears,
Round about Midnight.

Stirring up laughter, dying tears,
Round about Midnight.

Soft blue voices, muted grins,
Excited voices, Father's sins,
Round about Midnight.

Come on baby, take off your clothes,
Round about Midnight.

Tags

comments powered by Disqus

More Articles

Read The Fire in Coltrane’s Lungs Jazz Poetry The Fire in Coltrane’s Lungs
by Larry Jaffe
Published: August 2, 2014
Read Kissing Cousins: Jazz + poetry = jazz poetry Jazz Poetry Kissing Cousins: Jazz + poetry = jazz poetry
by Jeff Winke
Published: May 1, 2014
Read The Answer is Jim Jazz Poetry The Answer is Jim
by William DeLancey Adamson
Published: December 11, 2013
Read Birds with Long Red Tails Jazz Poetry Birds with Long Red Tails
by Adriana Carcu
Published: October 28, 2012
Read Poetry in Motian Jazz Poetry Poetry in Motian
by William DeLancey Adamson
Published: November 23, 2011
Read Black Sage (for Henry Grimes) Jazz Poetry Black Sage (for Henry Grimes)
by Gordon Marshall
Published: July 17, 2011
Read "Bonerama at the Iridium" Live Reviews Bonerama at the Iridium
by Mike Perciaccante
Published: August 5, 2017
Read "Generation Next: Four Voices From Seattle" Interview Generation Next: Four Voices From Seattle
by Paul Rauch
Published: June 19, 2017
Read "Buddy Guy: Can't Quit The Blues" Extended Analysis Buddy Guy: Can't Quit The Blues
by Doug Collette
Published: September 3, 2016

Sponsor: JANA PROJECT | LEARN MORE  

Support our sponsor

Join the staff. Writers Wanted!

Develop a column, write album reviews, cover live shows, or conduct interviews.