Saturday, February 28, 2015

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



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






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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