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Saturday, July 24, 2010

Jazz Fantasia

(Jazz at Montreux by Romare Bearden, 1911-1988,
American artist)

All over the world, jazz is recognized as a uniquely American art.

“First created by the descendants of African slaves, born of the blues in New Orleans, raised in Chicago and along the Mississippi, jazz has since visited hot Chicago and the cool West Coast, got run out of New York, spent April in Paris and a Night in Tunisia, and has even traveled to outer and inner space,” writes the American poet Kevin Young (born 1970), in his introduction to a collection of jazz poems.

“[J]azz was a sharp thorn in the sides of power-hungry men, from Hitler to Brezhnev, who successfully ruled in my native land,” recalls Josef Škvorecký (born 1924), the Czech novelist and essayist who lived under both Nazi and Communist oppression of his country. He now resides in Canada.

“[T]he essence of this music, this ‘way of making music,’ is not simply protest. Its essence is something far more elemental: an
élan vital, a forceful vitality, an explosive creative energy as breathtaking as that of any true art, that may be felt, even in the saddest of blues. Its effect is cathartic.”


Drum on your drums, batter on your banjoes,
sob on the long cool winding saxophones.
Go to it, O jazzmen.

Sling your knuckles on the bottoms of the happy
tin pans, let your trombones ooze, and go husha-
husha-hush with the slippery sand-paper.

Moan like an autumn wind high in the lonesome treetops,
moan soft like you wanted somebody terrible, cry like a
racing car slipping away from a motorcycle cop, bang-bang!
you jazzmen, bang altogether drums, traps, banjoes, horns,
tin cans — make two people fight on the top of a stairway
and scratch each other's eyes in a clinch tumbling down
the stairs.

Can the rough stuff . . . now a Mississippi steamboat pushes
up the night river with a hoo-hoo-hoo-oo . . . and the green
lanterns calling to the high soft stars . . . a red moon rides
on the humps of the low river hills . . . go to it, O jazzmen.

~ Carl Sandburg (1878-1967), American poet and writer and biographer of Lincoln

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