Tuesday, August 28, 2018

The Fall Begins with Sandi Leibowitz's Eurydice Sings

On Saturday November 10, speculative poet Sandi Leibowitz will be reading at Montgomery College's Rockville Campus.  The reading will be in SW 301, starting at 1 pm.  A workshop will follow after the reading.  If you are in the Washington DC area, I hope that you will be able to attend.  

Eurydice Sings by Sandi Leibowitz.  Flutter Press, 2018.  48 pp.  ISBN: 978-1721683536. $10.

In this bracing collection of poems, Sandi Leibowitz recovers fairy tales and myths from the Brothers Grimm, Walt Disney, and others who have reworked these stories, originally told by women, for popular consumption.  These fairy tales and myths draw from a marvelous range of traditions: French, German, Latin,  Japanese, Norse, and contemporary American.   Leibowitz herself shifts these stories to reveal the woman’s perspective in them, a voice often obscured by earlier editors’ project of promoting their national culture or cultural conformity, which, of course, include gender roles. 

This collection begins with “Crimson-Hooded,” a poem of address from the perspective of Little Red Riding Hood’s grandmother.  However, the grandmother is not a frail woman on her sickbed; neither is she a female victim rescued by the woodsman.  Instead, she confronts her granddaughter, revealing herself as a hybrid of wolf and woman, “not a wolf disguised as me,/ for I am my own disguise.”  The woodsman, the would-be rescuer, is already dead, already “gnawed. . . down to gristle” by rats, the grandmother’s familiars.  The older woman announces that this trip was a test to see if the young girl was “only/ obedient pup, fit for the whip/ . . ./ or wolf enough to sniff [her] own way.”  This poem sets the tone of women gaining a voice.  

Bracing, confrontational, these poems that follow build on worlds that seem familiar but contain unheard voices and unfamiliar perceptions.  “Sleeping, I Was Beauty” depicts the prince’s desire to silence Sleeping Beauty, the speaker of the poem whose “throat grows dustier/ than [her] father’s cobwebbed kingdom.”  Indeed, his kiss that, as the story goes, awakened her to life was, for her, also an initial attempt to stifle her, “his weight stopping [her] breath.”   With its short, constricting lines, “Hostile Country” portrays Apollo in the aftermath of Daphne’s transformation into a laurel tree. Expecting to be welcomed by nature as he has been welcomed by other women, the harasser is driven out while, in the last stanza of the poem, “oak, pine, and elm/ reach out roots/ to comfort/ the new laurel.”  “Eurydice Sings,” the title poem, epitomizes this theme of hidden voices in a familiar world as the speaker, Orpheus’ dead wife, attempts to convince her husband to remain in the underworld.  The poem shows the speaker’s prickly recognition that, even in a seemingly blissful conventional marriage, the wife is silenced.  As a result, Eurydice’s separation from her husband does not crush her although, as we know from the myth of Orpheus, it crushed him.  These seemingly familiar worlds also include our own, as we see in “To a Gentleman Who Is Visited” where a female ghost is drawn to the “high ceilings,/ wide closets, Hudson views” of a wealthy bachelor living in the Manhattan that we imagine and where we might choose to live, had we the money.

Other worlds may be less familiar to readers, for the poet is conversant with a variety of traditions.  Ishtar speaks in “The Gardener,” listing what attracted her to her lover Sargon and then noting what distanced her from him.  The form of this list-poem, a series of two-line stanzas, a form now common in literary poetry, adds a sense of self-knowledge and resignation that is missing in Gilgamesh’s depiction of a passionate, willful queen who sets the Bull of Heaven on Gilgamesh and Enkidu when they reject her.  Two poems concern the kitsune, a devious fox in the guise of a woman who figures in Japanese folk tales.  Others, such as the Jenahar of the Cormorant Queen in “What Gulfs Widen, What Seas Call,” may be wholly of the author’s invention, but this poem’s evocation of a beautiful woman in exile makes us believe that it is not and complements the other poems grounded in various traditions.  The poet uses diction, imagery, and techniques such as line length, stanza format, and the dramatic monologue to create these worlds.  She does not rely on simply repeating names or conveying well-known scenes.  As we have seen in “Crimson-Hooded,” “Eurydice Sings,” “Hostile Country,” and elsewhere, she undercuts these well-known scenes by presenting them from another, feminist perspective.

This book will certainly appeal to those who enjoy fairy tales, folk tales, and myth as they can find much to savor in Leibowitz’ poems, such as Eurydice’s fruits that “taste like honeyed peaches/ once you learn the hunger of the dead” or the kitsune’s “salty foretaste of the feast to come.”  It will also appeal to those who are less familiar with these genres as the poetry builds a world where the poems’ characters and settings are possible.  After reading “The Kitsune Goes Pub Crawling,” for example, one can believe in the encounter between a man and the mythological figure, particularly in his assumption that “[he’s] in control,/ that it’s [he] who’s brought [her]/ to the woods” even as her nip at his neck draws blood, “salty foretaste of the feast to come.”  After all, whether a poet is writing about a middle school classroom in Detroit, a deathbed in 19th-century Amherst, exile from imaginary Jenahar, or the appearance of a kitsune at a pub, that is what he or she does—build a world. 

And this is his "The Worst": https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2g6MsY8vD1A

Here is Wayne Shorter's version of "Black Orpheus" with Freddie Hubbard and Eddie Higgins: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=R4aJWz0ysDk

I'll add with Hirosho Suzuki's "Romance": https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BFmH7moCL2c

and then finish with Toshiko Akiyoshi's "Salted Ginko Nuts": https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3GjGsfV9gdw


Friday, August 24, 2018

The Summer Ends with Claudine Nash's Poetry

Tonight is the last entry before school starts, so I'd like to post Claudine Nash's poems, some of which draw on clothing imagery.  Of course, when some of us think about going back to school, we think about buying books, school supplies, and clothing.  Claudine's first two poems are especially appropriate tonight.  All three poems are from her new book, The Wild Essential.

A Kinder Suit

This year I want 
for nothing but 

a kinder cloth
to shield me against 
these blistering

I wish to shed 
the thoughts I wear 
as hair shirts, 

toss on layers 
of linen and 
soft knits, 
silks and lenient 

run my fingers 
along each thread 
then feel my mind 
breathe freely. 

By next season 
I will allow the wind
to loosen the beliefs 
that limit 
my movement, 

I will reach,

feel forgiveness 
wrap around me 
like skin.

Originally published in Scarlet Leaf Review

Silence Is the New Black

This morning 
I will dress 
myself neck 
to toe 
in silence 
then step into 
this field
to spin strands 
of still cattail
into a quietly 
patterned cloth.
I will wrap 
this fabric
around my mind 
like a turban
to swaddle
those fears that 
snap branches.
The lists that 
so sloppily spill 
noise on my 
will long last 
be hushed,
I will muffle 
the grievances 
that thunder 
under bone 
and scalp.
by thread, 
I will calm 
this tangle of 
until I hear 
nothing but 
then detect, 
rising into 
that space
where wind
meets breath, 
my voice.

Originally Published in Selfhoods: Varieties of Experiences


Baby, there’s more
moving through you 
than just the static 

You’ve got a symphony
swimming in those bones;
an act of wonder,
trying to work 
its way out.

Stop mumbling like 
your voice is nothing
but a still patch
of brambles and 
weeds. Baby, 

you’re a songbird
and this day’s sky
was meant for 
your music.

Come, stretch 
your neck and part 
your lips, Love.
Let the morning 

Originally published by Thirty West Publishing House – Broadside 

Hmm...I'm not surprised, but I see that Cassandra Wilson has
covered Van Morrison's "Tupelo Honey":  

Here is her version of "Sky and Sea (Blue in Green)":  

 Shifting gears because Ethan is reading, here is Frank Kimbrough's 

Mulgrew Miller, Woody Shaw, and others play on "Have You Met 

I'll finish with Miller's version of "Skylark":  


Tuesday, August 21, 2018

More Bill Cushing, Marcus Roberts, and Aretha Franklin

Tonight I'd like to continue with Bill Cushing's 1990 interview with Marcus Roberts.  Let's return to the days of the young lions of jazz.

Interview: Marcus Roberts, The Man (975 words): first published May 15, 1990 in RIO Magazine)

Marcus Roberts grew up in modest surroundings, one of two brothers and the son of a longshoreman and gospel singer. When he was eight years old, the blind boy literally bumped into a piano in his living room. It was the last time the instrument ever thwarted him, and he became the musician he is now. However, here is an introduction to the man. 

Rio: You won the first Jacksonville Jazz Piano Competition, which must have felt good to do so in your hometown—especially going up against other competitors such as Harry Connick, Jr. Then you won several others, including the Thelonius Monk competition in Washington, DC. This was almost like an apprenticeship before getting out on the road. Do you advise that route?

MR:The good thing about competitions, the way I’ve always tried to explain it, is that once you become serious about music to decide to make that part of your life forever, whether you win or not, that is not the last step. You have to treat it as something that’s going to solidify your development and push you to the next level of creativity. What you have to ensure is that you practice hard and take it seriously enough so that it’s going to push you to really bring the best out of yourself. In this way, whether you win or not, musically you’re at a much higher level than you would have been had you not entered.

Rio: Yet no obstacle or barrier seems insurmountable to you

MR:You can’t even set that up on yourself. You just view things as a set of circumstances, and you do whatever your range of possibilities permits. To me, if you’re tackling something that’s insurmountable, the question becomes: for what? And in keeping with that same philosophy, nobody knows what life has in store. There might come a day, God forbid, when I won’t be able to play, so if I have identity first as a man who has a philosophy of life or something that’s greater than you or music or whatever your vocation is, frankly, your identity is not as strong as it ought to be. You have to tie yourself into something that will perpetuate your identity at all times, both personally and professionally, so that regardless of what happens in your life, you will be strong enough to continue to grow and develop and have something to really offer the society that will help elevate your surroundings. 
Music is just one way of doing that.

Rio: Which is preferable to you:  performing live or recording in the studio?

MR: Performing live. See, when you’re in the studio, they got headphones to put on. Plus you don’t have the vibration of the people. In the history of jazz, you listen to studio versions of things as opposed to live versions, the live versions always sound a little more spontaneous and free. That’s because you aren’t thinking about recording once you settle into it during a concert. My attitude about music was that I didn’t get into it to necessarily get record contracts. I just did it because there was something about it I had a deep love for, and I knew I wanted it to be part of my life. Period.

Rio: Steve Pick of the St Louis Post-Dispatch said you are “capable of becoming a major force in the fields of jazz composition, arrangement, and improvisation;” Jay Cocks of Time magazine wrote that your “gift is to stay connected to past masters like Monk while extending the music’s possibilities.” How do you handle those sorts of accolades?

MR:Well, I’m flattered to hear it, you know, but I try to take it with a certain gracious attitude. I don’t really need that to keep perspective; all I have to do is put on “Clean Sweep” by Duke Ellington and then I know how far I have to go. When I put his recording of “Single Petal of a Rose,” I’m like, “Oh, well. I tried. I did the best I could.” 

Check out his version: We’re talking about a genius at 60 years old rendering one that he wrote for the Queen of England, which is just one of a series of pieces he did. And that’s cool because that’s part of what development is about. On one level, you always reassess where you are and you’re always grateful for the things that you have been able to achieve as long as they’re making you more strongly committed to continue to strive for another level of excellence and sophistication that, hopefully, will eventually enrich other people’s lives, other young musicians. 

Rio: You seem like the kind of person who doesn’t let failure bother you.

MR:It shouldn’t bother you because it’s not really failure unless you quit. That’s my concept of it: you’ve only failed if you quit trying. Success is the ability to work with whatever the obstacle is until you find the solution. Even if you don’t find the solution, your quest for the solution will take you even farther, perhaps, than your initial role may have been.

Rio: So, sometimes you discover new things you didn’t even know were there.

MR:Oh, you’ll definitely do that if you’re really trying to deal with it because that search is going to encompass other areas that you consciously are not aware of. When you do a record or play a gig, that brings something out of you, which helps set the next stage of development. That’s how I treat records, based on things I have to work on.

Rio: You said that you first heard Duke Ellington on the radio.

MR:Yeah, I was like twelve. I was looking for the All-Star game.

Rio: Sounds like you found the right station.

MR:Yeah, I sure did.

Here Marcus Roberts plays Duke Ellington's "Single Petal of a Rose":  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kxOEWMpmjw8

This version of "Solitude" is from Roberts' 1991 album Alone with Three Giants: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iKiT9qi8MwM

His trio plays "Black and Tan Fantasy" here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iKiT9qi8MwM

I'll finish with his version of Scott Joplin's "Maple Leaf Rag":  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QrICKR9PAB8

 Later this year (or perhaps early next year) I will be publishing some poems memorializing Aretha Franklin, but for now here is some music.

I was thrilled to see that YouTube has Fanny's "Queen Aretha."  Fanny was one of the earliest all-female rock groups, and its leader June Millington wrote this song:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KpcJQwrf4wE&pbjreload=10

You may have heard of the aria that Aretha Franklin sang at the Grammys.  Here it is:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HqECvv7ecPk

I'll finish with a live version of Aretha's "Eleanor Rigby" from 1971: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=H_yV6j6g_UQ

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:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OLCfakvd628

More recently (in 2017) the Marcus Roberts Trio (with Jason Marsalis on the drums) plays "They Can't Take That Away From Me": https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_zK2NwxEWzA

There the trio plays "I Got Rhythm": https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qloc8pegkvc  

I'll finish with his version of "Cherokee": https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=U7Yp32vmMfw

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":  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6FOUqQt3Kg0

I want to add her "I Say a Little Prayer":  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KtBbyglq37E

I'll finish with her "Ain't No Way":  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PB2Mu2zBzjw

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": https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hBY6Ckk0CNA. (The pianist, by the way, is Frank Strazzeri.)

The Swingtime Jazz Band covers "She" here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ALZJL0w8ZqQ. This band appears to be based in Bangkok.

Costello himself performs "I Want You" at a jazz festival in Ghent, Belgium:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xicbnw_D7UU

A while back he and Chet Baker perform "You Don't Know What Love Is."  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Q-ixB-NxP74. 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:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6-b6cYpYnWI