Saturday, August 18, 2018

Bill Cushing, Marcus Roberts, and Aretha Franklin


Tonight I'd like to post Bill Cushing's poem inspired by Marcus Roberts.  Roberts was born in 1963, so Bill is jumping the gun a bit.  Nevertheless, it's always good to promote someone new at the blog.  In addition, I will also post part one of Bill's interview with this wonderful jazz pianists.


                        (for Marcus Roberts)

With eighty-eight steps to choose,
how do the pianist’s hands 
decide which to use? 
Perhaps each acts alone:
one as the heart, maintaining 
clockwork tempo, balanced 

as blood and milk—giving life in
obsidian or porcelain.

The other wanders free,
travels against rhythm: turns
at times unknown, sees 
dead ends, backtracks to 
others, sometimes climbing yet
always acting in concert.
Or not.

Bill Cushing

Interview: Marcus Roberts, The Musician 
(1,071 words first published May 15, 1990 in RIO Magazine)

After Marcus Roberts’ first album, 1988’s The Truth is Spoken Here, hit number one on the Billboard jazz charts in1989, music critics of the time hailed the young Floridian pianist as a new genius of jazz. Time magazine described his interpretation of Thelonius Monk’s “Blue Monk” as possessing such “light witchery that the song sounds reborn.”

Studying music at the St. Augustine School for the Deaf and Blind (which boasts another Jacksonville alum by the name of Ray Charles), he then majored in music at Florida State, where Wynton Marsalis first heard—and then invited him to join his own band. After that, Roberts became a world-class, globe-trotting professional musician. However, at the time of this interview, he was in the middle of a more ordinary activity: practice.

Although with Roberts, practice is hardly mundane. Sitting at the piano his parents bought nearly 20 years before, he plays a seductive improvised piece before kicking into a Jelly Roll Morton blues tune. When he plays the blues, it sounds like twelve hands rather than two, and one gets the feeling that a Marcus Roberts rendition of “Happy Birthday” would end up sounding like a symphonic masterpiece.

Rio: While you were playing earlier, you achieved an almost harp-like sound from the keyboard. Do you attribute that ability to technique or feel?
MR:Well, it’s both, but you’ve got to realize there are different types of technique. I’m starting to figure out different ways to sonically create different moods by creating different sounds based on the type of touch I use, or the combination of touch and pedaling that affects the sound. I’m starting to hear a specific sound that I like from certain piano players that I have a love for, who I would like to make as pillar examples for me: Jelly Roll, Duke, McCoy Tyner, Coltrane.

Rio: One thing writers emphasize about you is that, even though you’re studious of music, there’s no stiffness in your renditions. Do you find the study of music as part of the love of music?
MR:Man, that’s what study always represents. Any of the great jazz musicians have studied. Not all of them necessarily went to “X” University, but that’s not where you are going to get information about the music anyway. A lot of older musicians got their apprenticeships on the bandstand. Miles Davis played with Charlie Parker; you ain’t going to get no better teacher than that!
Coltrane played with Miles for five, six years, and by the time Coltrane developed the concept of the classic quartet he was dealing with, that don’t sound like Miles. That sounds like Coltrane. You don’t get it confused with nobody; it’s a whole other sound. He wouldn’t’ve got to that by playing with Miles. You’ve got to realize that jazz music represents the way stuff is supposed to be. 

Rio: Was there anything with your musical background that influenced you?
MR:Oh, Lord, yes, yes. All that gospel; all that Mahalia Jackson. My mama’s real soulful; that’s where I get whatever level of soul that I can claim. She’s be up at like 5:30 in the morning, singing through the house.

Rio: The impression one gets is that you, along with the Marsalis brothers, are in going back to the roots, trying to rediscover the beginnings of jazz, to determine where it’ll go from there.
MR:What we’re trying to do mainly now is learn the basic vocabulary of music. If you take Elvin Jones, for example, or his brother Hank—if you take their evolution as musicians. I mean, someone like Elvin could go to a club in 1950, 1940, and hear Charlie Parker, Billie Holiday, the great Duke Ellington, or hear Louis Armstrong. When we grew up, we couldn’t do that. Wynton certainly did because his dad’s a great pianist.

Rio: You guys are kind of breaking away from the “fusion” sound so popular in the 80s and 90s.
MR:To me, any music is cool as long as you trace it back. In fusion, or whatever style of music it’s called, I can’t really hear a lot of the elements of music. It’s another sound, another concept. I mean, this is pop music; they’re calling it something, so they have a marketing term for it. What I am saying is: Is the concept music or is the concept marketing?  

In jazz we have the first concept of democracy, which is that you have the right to deal with whatever it is you’re dealing with as long as you respect the rights of others to do the same. That’s why you have the soloist. Then, you have everybody else improvising at the same time so you have a whole group of musicians improvising at the same time, which means that you have to function as a group. There has to be a lot of give and take. 

In classical music, Bach could improvise by himself, but he wasn’t going to get together with five or six people. If you take just the Duke Ellington Big Band alone, everybody in that band had a special sound, a personal identity. Now Duke—and that’s what makes him so great, he took all those musicians—Johnny Hodges, Paul Gonzalez, and all the people in his band—and figured out a way to develop not only their identity over the years but then to use that to develop, ultimately, his overall concept of music. And he did that for fifty years. He started in the Depression and was still doing gigs by Watergate.

Rio: Dizzy Gillespie once said he felt jazz is the new classical music. Do you agree with that, or do you think it’s a whole different thing?
MR:It’s obviously different, but I understand what he’s saying: he’s saying jazz music, at the highest level, is equal to and will stand up to the objective musical tests used to define any great classical pieces. Like, if you take the late work of Duke Ellington, it’s no less great than the late music of Beethoven or Bach from a musical standpoint. What you have to realize is that Duke Ellington defined his own world of musical possibilities that had not existed before his time, so when [Dizzy] says that, he’s talking about the range of cultural identity that’s present in jazz music in America is no less great than the classical music of Western Europe.

Let's go back to 1988 for Marcus Roberts' performance of "Blue Monk." Note that Wynton Marsalis introduces him by his full name:

More recently (in 2017) the Marcus Roberts Trio (with Jason Marsalis on the drums) plays "They Can't Take That Away From Me":

There the trio plays "I Got Rhythm":  

I'll finish with his version of "Cherokee":

Thursday one of the all-time greats, Aretha Franklin, died.  She has received many tributes, and the links to follow are certainly the least of them, but I would like to pay tribute to her tonight.

Of course, there is her "Respect":

I want to add her "I Say a Little Prayer":

I'll finish with her "Ain't No Way":

Rest in peace, Aretha Franklin.

Wednesday, August 15, 2018

Welcome to Gary Glauber!

Another musician born in the 1950s is Elvis Costello.  Tonight I am posting Gary Glauber's poem (previously published in Pamplemousse) about this intriguing figure and his recent memoir.

Sad Burlesque 

It’s not for everyone.
The eclectic nuanced wail,
the lyrical bravado of
innuendo, double entendre, 
badinage & bonhomie,
an assault on several senses
that caught enough popular sway
once upon an earlier time
of bitterness & angry young men
fighting to find their place 
that now, forty years &
a shelf full of releases after,
some are willing to read
this lengthy firsthand account.

This musical chameleon,
student of sundry genres & styles
has ventured bravely forth 
in a wide swath of directions
with mixed results, but always
with most sincere intent 
to capture & illuminate
the unsung genius of others.
That man with many heroes
& an unyielding love for his father
was once hero to me, a beacon
whose music could guide me
through often rocky shoals
of tempestuous adolescence.

But this wavering aural dynamite, 
champion of emotional strife,
has long since lost righteous rage.
Years of unhappy, inexplicable choices
are glossed over in this retelling,
supplanted with chapters focused 
on celebrity collaboration,
poignant celebrations for noble causes,
galas punctuated with lyrical snippets. 
The once fierce & feral genius
has been tamed, full ferocity removed
& replaced with this domesticated
& reflective father of three,
sanded down by winds of experience,
become more quietly wise & wry;
such is the transformative power of life.

First published in Pamplemousse

Gary Glauber is a poet, fiction writer, teacher, and former music journalist.  His works have received multiple Pushcart Prize and Best of the Net nominations. He champions the underdog to the melodic rhythms of obscure power pop. His two collections, Small Consolations (Aldrich Press) and Worth the Candle (Five Oaks Press), and a chapbook, Memory Marries Desire (Finishing Line Press), are available through Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and directly from the publishers.

Now let's put on the music.  I'll start with Chet Baker's cover of "Almost Blue": (The pianist, by the way, is Frank Strazzeri.)

The Swingtime Jazz Band covers "She" here: This band appears to be based in Bangkok.

Costello himself performs "I Want You" at a jazz festival in Ghent, Belgium:

A while back he and Chet Baker perform "You Don't Know What Love Is." YouTube doesn't state where or when this performance occurred.  

I'll finish with a cover version of "Watching the Detectives" by The Guiseley Brothers, a British band:

Sunday, August 12, 2018

Welcome to Ryan Quinn Flanagan!

Tonight I'd like to welcome Canadian poet Ryan Quinn Flanagan to The Song Is...  He is an active member of the poetry scene on Facebook and online, so it's great to see his poems at my site.

Poem for a Man Who Believes Push-ups Will Save Him

He has seen one too many prison movies,
drops to the floor and gives twenty 
each time he feels overwhelmed,
his counsellor suggested this and I ask
him why his counsellor doesn’t do the push-ups 
and he drops and gives me twenty;
it is hard to talk to a man like that,
he is always either on his way down or his
way up, counting out each sweaty offering; 
this man who believes push-ups 
will save him, and when he jumps back up
he is breathing heavily, with that alarming
red massive heart attack face that you see
on powerlifters as though they have been 
constipated for weeks and are crouching
to try squeeze one out; push-ups never saved 
anyone, not anyone in prison or any 
other way, but this one is a believer and 
there is nothing you can do with a believer
except try to not still be there when he
gets back up to his feet.

Translation: Svetlana, thank you for our daughter.
Photograph by Peretz Partensky

In Winter’s Dreams We Wake

The blow was hardly crushing
there was no defeat
power steering perhaps,
but no defeat 

I could feel the boots of marching 
soldiers over my back
lost to song and someone else’s

things become what they are not 
when enough people let them

in winter’s dreams we wake

and I stared at the pole 
imagining myself a swinging giggling
child again

the belly pained with laughter

before a bug flew 
in front of my face
and I swatted.

The Hillside Drive Submissive

I am walking up Hillside Drive 
by the plaza.

In shoes that are meant 
to absorb shock.

Past the blood donor sign 
that always makes me think
of mosquitoes.

And this man in a leather mask 
with a zipper for a mouth
rides by on his eBike.

He seems to be in a hurry.
This Hillside Drive submissive.

Perhaps he is late for an appointment.
His dominatrix will not be happy.

Putting out cigarettes on his back
while he quacks like a duck.

It’s a strange way to spend 
an afternoon.

But so is giving your 
blood away.

Johnny & June

I am a sucker for the love story.  
Johnny & June even though he was on his second.  
And she was on her third.  

And in 1950s black & white America, 
talk about pulling a fork out of spoons.  

Sometimes it takes a merry-go-round 
to end up in bed with the right horse.  
To know the lifers from the kickers on the back end.  

The fact that she died and he died four months later.  
I’m surprised he lasted that long.  
He couldn’t live without her.  

And that is what love means to me.  
A simple hard loyalty you will not find anywhere else.  
It is not about sex or money or advantage or anything else you might understand.  

Watch them perform “Jackson” together, 
that is how a man and a woman should treat each other.  
Oozing with affection, but always done with humour.  
That element of relatable slip up that every mud puddle can understand.  

And when the wife and I drove through Nashville recently, 
we wanted to stop off in Hendersonville to see 
their house, but the place had burned down.  
Which is not a commentary on anything so much as it is a shame.  

We are all here standing beside the car for a short time 
and Johnny & June dared to give the wheel a good kick.  
They took their shot.
Which is enough to give me hope 
when I have so little else.

Marty the Zombie

It would be wrong to say that Marty
ever came home from the war.
His parents let him stay in the garage
even bought his drugs for him 
as long as they didn’t
have to see it.

And Marty got angry whenever 
he was drunk.
Punching holes in the drywall 
and sobbing uncontrollably.

Then he would get into his stash
to take the edge off
and lie on the floor of the garage 
like a zombie.

No longer able to talk or flick his lighter.
And he did this for 7 years.

And no one talked about the war.
The stars and stripes proudly adorning
the front porch.

Everyone just went to work.
And checked on Marty when they
got home.

Horne Lake Fishing Derby

My wife and I are driving by Horne Lake
and she points to the water and says
that’s where they used to dump everything.

All the run-off from mining 
medical waste
old cars

But that’s where they hold the fishing derby
each year, I say.

She says I wouldn’t believe all the things 
down there.

There are different lakes, 
but they choose the old dumping 
ground to hold their derby.

And each February
they are back out on the ice
in their hundreds.

A $100 entry fee
and a $30,000 prize
for the biggest 

All those huts 
and holes in the ice.

It is the highlight 
of the winter season.

I’m sure they catch a lot more 
than the fish, my wife says.

Looking out over the water,
I say nothing.

Banking Sharply Over the 
UNLV Campus

We are in the air again.  On our way out.
Climbing to altitude.  The bags checked and tagged
and hopefully in cargo.  Banking sharply over the 
UNLV campus.  And I think of all the planes I watched
leave from the ground.  It is early morning, but I’m 
sure someone is watching.  As we quickly fly out 
over nothing which makes the window seat useless.
You really are in the desert.  If we were to crash, the 
first responders would be four curious scorpions 
and a cactus short on water.  And the way home is different 
for everyone.  But I can tell I am on a plane full of losers
because it is quiet.  Just a cough or two and instructions 
from the stewardess.  The inflight movie just as awful 
on mute. Like climbing into a mass grave and 
asking for a tiny bag of pretzels.  A consolation prize.  
For sharing a bathroom at 37, 000 ft. with a few hundred
assholes that can’t be bothered to flush.  The world has done
them wrong and now they are determined to smell like it.
I hope this is the last time, I say, let’s find somewhere else to go.
She is already asleep.  Snoring down into her chest 
while I watch the backs of all the heads in front of me 
lose their hair as though they are still at the casino.

Bio: Ryan Quinn Flanagan is a Canadian-born author residing in Elliot Lake, Ontario, Canada with his wife and many bears that rifle through his garbage.  His work can be found both in print and online in such places as: Evergreen Review, The New York Quarterly, Nerve Cowboy, In Between Hangovers, Red Fez, and The Oklahoma Review.

Let's start with Johnny Cash and June Carter Cash's "Jackson":

I'm also going to include Roseanne Cash's "Etta's Tune":

Here is the tribute to Johnny Cash at the 1996 Kennedy Center Honors.  Roseanne Cash is among the artists in this medley:

I'll finish with more Johnny and June.  The first song is a cover of a Lovin Spoonful song, "Darlin' Companion":

I'll finish with their "Far Side Banks of Jordan":

Thursday, August 9, 2018

Joe Milford Returns!

Tonight I will post several poems by Joe Milford, a number of them being on classical and/or mythical themes.  These poems suit me well while I get ready for the fall semester and its classes.


under the belly of the rancid sheep 
i keep asking myself how the hell 
did I get here—how far from the groves 
of olives and the cliff where I sired 
my first daughter, and now, as I hang 
here under this beast, a barbaric one- 
eyed mongoloid wants to eat me 
and my brethren as I follow a madman 
through his rites of passage—they 
should have never had let him read 
Campbell—I am going to die for his 
new tattoos, his new scars, his new 
sexcapades in foreign lands—that wild 
boar should have killed him as a boy,  
but he was loved by the gods—yet 
the rest of us are not so privileged 
and can’t even pay our union dues 
without these regular suicide voyages 


consciousness is its own rape. 
endless recovery—the fence builder 
fighting the gatekeeper. 
I held the grain of your DNA in my teeth 
and chewed you like papyri. 
we all eventually knelt 
at the factory. tell me how you broke 
your cage—then tell me did you 
make armor or bombs with the scrap? 
I want to be a boy again; I was more 
of a man then. pin a holocaust 
to a constellation. extracting the nails 
from the walls of museums. we fear 
that what could be left is a simpering 
squidesque cthulian moistness underneath 
which has eyes unable to focus. keep  
scribing until our backs are broken. 
heaven is a guitar you can’t break  
and hell is the never ending guitar solo. 
we will have taquitos in Valhalla. 
we will put down our pens, our ink-stained 
feathers so that they can maybe make  
wings again. for now, we keep cutting 
off the heads of the hydra, but no one 
is cauterizing. 

homo xenomorph

mishmash of sundials, weathervanes
historic monoliths, grave pillars and austere
iron gates that the drones fly over
like Orwellian mosquitoes
the two lovers on the beach made of sand
dissipating like the half-life of a radioactive
element the salt that is us all
the white gold alchemical that it is
the ash to come that the feathers
of the peacock will emulsify from
that the fangs of the python will
condensate from and the drones’
batteries failing and they are calling
home calling the laboratories
we are there speaking more robot
than sand, more phosphates and
polymorphs than gastropods or sapiens
monks of the holograms in anti-gravity
bliss above city basins and sprawling
valleys and the two lovers made of
pixels dissipating in phosphorous
filaments quivering under droning
moth volleys and neon breaths
of urban halitosis and salt-lamp halos
illuminating that coast of your plans
and your placements of silverware
during times of war and your salutations
feed the correspondents freeing them
to navigate the cul de sacs to provide
further gunshot reports coming back
with drones lodged in their mouths
you fall like a birdling from the nest
and bubble into pinestraw not lucky
enough to die from the impact
of being spit from the great grid
lying there staring up at the incredible
intricate latticework as shrapnel shatters
marble all around you and the sundials’
shadows splintering across your
hands full of scattering nanobots
like salt or sand that can feel
like a man, like what was human

ancient aliens and history channel 2

if ancient alien reptilian giants
the Annunaki and the Nephilim
planted our DNA here millennia
ago, then their agenda led to
reality TV shows, and so, I really
am not that impressed with
interstellar geneticists

summer affair

she stripped off my armor
and made it into luxuriant furniture
and lounged on it topless
with that knowing smile

later, after kissing her
goodbye, a lizard stares
up from the edge of the oil spot
left by her car
and I try to say

it’s no omen


writing with pencils
made from the splintered ships
of Odysseus

postmodern edit

I can’t read birds or guts
To tell the future.
I’m no polymath.
I can’t remember the last time
I had butterflies in my stomach.
Tolerance is my favorite continent.
Piracy is my favorite city there.
I had a corporate venture last night,
And while all of you slept,
I replaced your hands with pianos
I replaced your eyes with planetariums
I replaced your mouths horns of brass
I replaced your ears with gramophones.
We can’t hear or see each other now,
But I do like our future.

Back to school means that it's time for me to go back to playing Art Blakey while I grade papers.  These songs will feature or at least include musicians born in the 1950s.

On this version of "Moanin'" from 1988, Robin Eubanks (b. 1955) plays trombone: 

This video is of a 1980 performance when Robin Eubanks, his brother Kevin (b. 1957), Bobby Watson (b. 1953), James Williams (1951-2004), and Charles Fambrough (1950-2011) were part of the Jazz Messengers:

Mulgrew Miller (1955-2013) appears on this version of "Tenderly":

I'll finish with a 1986 version of "Little Man" with Charles Fambrough and Donald Brown (b. 1954):