Last Thursday, I participated (unexpectedly) in a fundraiser for Jazzmouth, the upcoming poetry, music, and art festival in Portsmouth. I'd attended in order to see some new poets, to contribute a few bucks, to hear a couple of poets who already interest me, and to indulge in a newfound love for live jazz.
I've never been fond of jazz. Blues, absolutely. Sit me down with a recording of Howlin' Wolf or Muddy Waters, and I'm in hog heaven. The jazz I heard on the radio in Chicago was always too light for me. I'll read poetry that is intellectual without having heart, but I can't take music that's all head and no gut. Hypocritical? Probably. But it didn't change the fact that the closest I'd get to improvisational music was, well, 8-bar blues and a decent guitar solo in a rock song.
I'd been proud of this fact. The only autobiographical note in all of "ADD TV" is the line that kicks the whole thing off: "My music is not jazz / but rap." I'd performed a one-off poem at Mic Check once that lauded the grounded improvisation of Blues over what I perceived to be an elitist and ironically mindless following of jazz - "Famous poets always talkin' 'bout jazz / Famous poets always' talkin' bout jazz / Famous poets, they love to talk about jazz / But baby, I wear a Bluesman's hat."
I realize at this moment that I'm still capitalizing Blues but not Jazz.
Then I attended Beat Night, at which Groove Bacteria, which seems to range from 5-10 musicians, takes instruction from a poet and responds musically. Now, I'd been to the Green Mill in Chicago on nights when the three-piece (piano, bass, drums) band backs up the open mic. But I'd never seen anybody except Marc Smith really work well with the band. Maybe I just went on the wrong nights. But at Beat Night, I finally heard someone say, "Play like the house is underwater" and heard that from the band AND the poet. I finally heard someone say, "Punk gospel" and saw the poet come alive because of the music in a way I hadn't seen before (I mean this literally in this case, having seen another well-done performance of this particular poem by this particular poet).
At the end of the regular portion of the fundraiser, there was room for an open mic, so I signed up. I walked up to the mic planning on doing something light and funny. I'd performed at Beat Night before, but did "ADD TV" and not to music. I can't do that piece to music (the musicians agreed). At the last moment, I decided to do "Wooden Boys and Deadlier Toys," with the request to the band "A music box that was in a fire." Not only have I never performed that poem better, but I got ideas on how to improve it, from a fellow poet in the audience and from within my own head. I finally got the improvisation, which is something I've been exploring in my spoken word lately.
And, to my surprise, not just from my own performance but the other readings that night, I'm starting to enjoy Jazz.
THE MELITA HUME SHORTLIST: AMY BLAKEMORE (1 of 11)
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