Saturday, February 28, 2015

Poetry about Music and Musicians: Playlist for February 27, 2015

CLICK HERE TO LISTEN TO THE PODCAST OF THIS PROGRAM 



Satchmo
 

By  Melvin B. Tolson  
 

 

                     King Oliver of New Orleans

         has kicked the bucket, but he left behind

 

              old Satchmo with his red-hot horn

 

                to syncopate the heart and mind.

 

                  The honky-tonks in Storyville

 

       have turned to ashes, have turned to dust,

 

                 but old Satchmo is still around

 

         like Uncle Sam’s IN GOD WE TRUST.

 

 

 

               Where, oh, where is Bessie Smith,

 

       with her heart as big as the blues of truth?

 

           Where, oh, where is Mister Jelly Roll,

 

           with his Cadillac and diamond tooth?

 

              Where, oh, where is Papa Handy

 

  With his blue notes a-dragging from bar to bar?

 

       Where, oh where is bulletproof Leadbelly

 

          with his tall tales and 12-string guitar?

 

 

 

                                Old Hip Cats,

 

              when you sang and played the blues

 

                    the night Satchmo was born,

 

       did you know hypodermic needles in Rome

 

         couldn’t hoodoo him away from his horn?

 

          Wyatt Earp’s legend, John Henry’s, too,

 

              is a dare and a bet to old Satchmo

 

  when his groovy blues put headlines in the news

 

            from the Gold Coast to cold Moscow.

 

 

 

                                 Old Satchmo’s

 

    gravelly voice and tapping foot and crazy notes

 

                             set my soul on fire.

 

                                   If I climbed

 

           the seventy-seven steps of the Seventh

 

  Heaven, Satchmo’s high C would carry me higher!

 

         Are you hip to this, Harlem? Are you hip?

 

              On Judgment Day, Gabriel will say

 

                       after he blows his horn:

 

   “I’d be the greatest trumpeter in the Universe

 

          if old Satchmo had never been born!”
 
 
REFLECTIVE MUSIC:  When You're Smiling, performed by Louis Armstrong
 
 
 
 
 
 

 

 

Call It Music

 

By  Philip Levine  

 

 

Some days I catch a rhythm, almost a song  

 

in my own breath. I'm alone here  

 

in Brooklyn Heights, late morning, the sky  

 

above the St. George Hotel clear, clear  

 

for New York, that is. The radio playing  

 

"Bird Flight," Parker in his California  

 

tragic voice fifty years ago, his faltering  

 

"Lover Man" just before he crashed into chaos.  

 

I would guess that outside the recording studio  

 

in Burbank the sun was high above the jacarandas,  

 

it was late March, the worst of yesterday's rain  

 

had come and gone, the sky washed blue. Bird  

 

could have seen for miles if he'd looked, but what  

 

he saw was so foreign he clenched his eyes,  

 

shook his head, and barked like a dog—just once—  

 

and then Howard McGhee took his arm and assured him  

 

he'd be OK. I know this because Howard told me  

 

years later that he thought Bird could  

 

lie down in the hotel room they shared, sleep  

 

for an hour or more, and waken as himself.  

 

The perfect sunlight angles into my little room  

 

above Willow Street. I listen to my breath  

 

come and go and try to catch its curious taste,  

 

part milk, part iron, part blood, as it passes  

 

from me into the world. This is not me,  

 

this is automatic, this entering and exiting,  

 

my body's essential occupation without which  

 

I am a thing. The whole process has a name,  

 

a word I don't know, an elegant word not  

 

in English or Yiddish or Spanish, a word  

 

that means nothing to me. Howard truly believed  

 

what he said that day when he steered  

 

Parker into a cab and drove the silent miles  

 

beside him while the bright world  

 

unfurled around them: filling stations, stands  

 

of fruits and vegetables, a kiosk selling trinkets  

 

from Mexico and the Philippines. It was all  

 

so actual and Western, it was a new creation  

 

coming into being, like the music of Charlie Parker  

 

someone later called "glad," though that day  

 

I would have said silent, "the silent music  

 

of Charlie Parker." Howard said nothing.  

 

He paid the driver and helped Bird up two flights  

 

to their room, got his boots off, and went out  

 

to let him sleep as the afternoon entered  

 

the history of darkness. I'm not judging  

 

Howard, he did better than I could have  

 

now or then. Then I was 19, working  

 

on the loading docks at Railway Express,  

 

coming day by day into the damaged body  

 

of a man while I sang into the filthy air  

 

the Yiddish drinking songs my Zadie taught me  

 

before his breath failed. Now Howard is gone,   

 

eleven long years gone, the sweet voice silenced.  

 

"The subtle bridge between Eldridge and Navarro,"  

 

they later wrote, all that rising passion  

 

a footnote to others. I remember in '85  

 

walking the halls of Cass Tech, the high school  

 

where he taught after his performing days,  

 

when suddenly he took my left hand in his  

 

two hands to tell me it all worked out  

 

for the best. Maybe he'd gotten religion,  

 

maybe he knew how little time was left,  

 

maybe that day he was just worn down  

 

by my questions about Parker. To him Bird  

 

was truly Charlie Parker, a man, a silent note  

 

going out forever on the breath of genius  

 

which now I hear soaring above my own breath  

 

as this bright morning fades into afternoon.  

 

Music, I'll call it music. It's what we need  

 

as the sun staggers behind the low gray clouds  

 

blowing relentlessly in from that nameless ocean,  

 

the calm and endless one I've still to cross.
 
 
 
REFLECTIVE MUSIC: Lover Man, performed by Charlie Parker
 
 
 

 

 

 

Borodin

 

By  Donald Revell  

 

 

When the world was loveliness I was

 

A composer, Borodin, my left eye

 

Level with the floor beside toy men.

 

Wild work and havoc they made,

 

Being glad. I could draw a line

 

Would run straight through the minds of men,

 

Being a sociable angel,

 

Music before and after, blushing.

 

 

Heaven is a nonsense entirely sensible.

 

I was a child on the floor beside you,

 

Making music, becoming small in the rosy

 

Embrace of God’s best messenger.

 

I loved your havoc and your hair.
 
 
REFLECTIVE MUSIC: Polovetsian Dances, by Alexander Borodin
 
 
 

 

Signature Song
 

By  Bill Berkson    

 

Bunny Berigan first recorded “I Can’t Get Started”

 

with a small group that included Joe Bushkin, Cozy Cole

 

and Artie Shaw in 1936.

 

Earlier that same year, the song,

 

written by Ira Gershwin and Vernon Duke,

 

and rendered as a duet patter number by Bob Hope and Eve

 

Arden, made its debut on Broadway in The Ziegfeld Follies.

 

By 1937, when Berigan re-recorded it in a big-band setting,

 

“I Can’t” had become his signature song,

 

even though, within a few months, Billie Holiday would record

 

her astonishing version backed

 

by Lester Young and the rest of the Basie Orchestra.

 

 

 

Lovers for a time, Lee Wiley and Berigan began appearing

 

together on Wiley’s fifteen-minute CBS radio spot,

 

Saturday Night Swing Club, in 1936.

 

Berigan died from alcoholism-related causes on June 2, 1942.

 

Although “I Can’t Get Started” is perfectly suited to Wiley’s

 

deep phrasing and succinct vibrato, she recorded the ballad only

 

once, informally, in 1945, during a Town Hall performance date.

 

The Spanish Civil War started in 1936 and ended in 1939

 

with Generalissimo Francisco Franco’s forces entering Madrid.

 

“I’ve settled revolutions in Spain” goes Gershwin’s lyric, just as odd.
 
 
REFLECTIVE MUSIC: I Can't Get Started, performed by Bunny Berigan
 
 
 

“I Broke the Spell That Held Me Long” 

By  William Cullen Bryant 

  

I broke the spell that held me long,

 

The dear, dear witchery of song.

 

I said, the poet’s idle lore

 

Shall waste my prime of years no more,

 

For Poetry, though heavenly born,

 

Consorts with poverty and scorn.

 

 

I broke the spell–nor deemed its power

 

Could fetter me another hour.

 

Ah, thoughtless! how could I forget

 

Its causes were around me yet?

 

For wheresoe’er I looked, the while,

 

Was Nature’s everlasting smile.

 

 

Still came and lingered on my sight

 

Of flowers and streams the bloom and light,

 

And glory of the stars and sun; –

 

And these and poetry are one.

 

They, ere the world had held me long,

 

Recalled me to the love of song.
 
 
REFLECTIVE MUSIC: Liebst du um Schonheit, by Clara Schumann
 
 

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