Jazz po­etry

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Music Reviews - John McBeath

Po­etry Live Ge­off Page and the John Mackey Trio Art­sound Jazz po­etry is de­fined as po­etry that demon­strates jazz-like rhythms and the feel of im­pro­vi­sa­tion. Its ori­gins can be traced to the 1920s when sev­eral po­ets, in­clud­ing Ezra Pound and TS Eliot, dis­carded the ex­ist­ing po­etic con­ven­tions of rhythm and style.

By the late 1950s po­ets from the beat gen­er­a­tion were con­cen­trat­ing on spon­tane­ity and free­dom where jazz po­etry and jazz mu­sic were used as pow­er­ful state­ments against the sta­tus quo.

Author Jack Ker­ouac of­ten had mu­si­cal ac­com­pa­ni­ment for his po­etry read­ings, as did Lawrence Fer­linghetti. Beat poet Bob Kauf­man, in po­ems such as O-Jazz-O and Morn­ing Joy, used syn­co­pated rhythms, sur­real im­agery and so­cial alien­ation de­rived from his life as a drifter and jail in­mate.

The genre took an in­no­va­tive leap in 1957 when US an­nouncer Ken Nor­dine re­leased sev­eral “word jazz” al­bums read­ing jazz po­etry in a deeply res­o­nant voice, with pro­fes­sional style plus back­ing by a jazz sex­tet led by Fred Katz on cello.

Can­berra poet and jazz pro­ducer Ge­off Page has just re­leased a 16-track al­bum read­ing his jazz po­ems, recorded at the Wood­works Cafe in Bun­gen­dore, NSW, backed by a swing­ing ACT group, the John Mackey Trio, with Mackey’s tenor sax plus guitarist Lach­lan Coven­try and James Luke on bass.

The mu­sic, of a high stan­dard, fea­tures promi­nently; back­ing, con­nect­ing, oc­ca­sion­ally in­ter­ject­ing. Page’s recita­tion ap­pears among the mu­sic very much like an in­stru­ment solo­ing.

The mu­sic blends in with so­phis­ti­cated mu­si­cal­ity. Sev­eral tracks are purely in­stru­men­tal. The po­etic con­tent, mostly but not al­ways re­lated to jazz, varies from an ex­pres­sive list­ing of jazz per­form­ers in Blues on The Names, to the real life story of the death of US trum­peter Lee Mor­gan, shot in a bar by his part­ner He­len Mor­gan, in The Night She Walked Back into Slug’s.

A Man­ual of Style is a trib­ute to Syd­ney sax­o­phon­ist Bernie McGann: gruff at times but not ill-man­nered; a hint of old-time danc­ing, but the flat­tened fifth as well. La­conic yes, but sav­age too.

The at­mos­phere of a cof­fee lounge with its back­ground jazz is poet­i­cally sketched in Cof­fee with Miles: the rough per­cus­sion of the grinder, the flu­ency of wait­resses float­ing on the beat.

Booker Ervin is a trib­ute to the Amer­i­can sax­o­phon­ist: “Gone at only 39 / some­where yet you’re play­ing still”.

Sev­er­ance de­scribes in sick hu­mour a sadis­tic staff dis­missal: “There’s your pack­age on the shelf / a com­pli­men­tary Smith & Wes­son / now step out­side and shoot your­self!”

It’s pleas­ing to see this Aus­tralian resur­gence of the po­etry with jazz genre and this al­bum de­liv­ers both mu­sic and po­etic prose in an en­gag­ing and orig­i­nal style.

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