Friday, January 13, 2006

A jazz education

One of the books I'd wanted for Helena for a long time already, Charlie Parker Played BeBop, by Chris Raschka, she finally received for her birthday a couple months ago. It was first brought to my attention via Reading to My Kid (which blog is now sadly defunct, and has been for a year and a half — I should give up hope that it shall ever be updated — but for a few months it had served to guide me in enhancing Helena's first reading experiences). I later saw the book presented on Between the Lions (which website features text and illustrations abridged and adapted from the book).

The music of words.

Helena has yet to sit through an entire reading, but experience shows that it may take months for her to warm to a new book in her personal library. She may yet latch onto it.

My wonderful sister thought to bestow on us, along with this, one a bonus book:

Jazz ABZ : An A to Z Collection of Jazz Portraits, by Wynton Marsalis. This book blows me away.

It's targetted at readers aged 9–12 years, but it's wonderful read-aloud material to a much younger audience, and its appeal to adults who love poetry or jazz, but especially both, is obvious.

There's no question that Wynton Marsalis has an ear for music. Here he extends this ear to the words and adds his extensive musical scholarship to produce an alphabetic jazz encyclopedia.

For each letter of the alphabet there is a jazz legend whose name begins with that lettter — A is for Armstrong, B for Basie. A few entries stretch a little beyond the obvious — L is for Lady, Billie Holiday (Lady bountiful leading the lilting lullaby. / Lady of the Lake with letter-perfect delivery,); Z for Dizzy Gillespie.

Each portrait poem uses its letter to marvelous alliterative effect. "Mingus makes mighty, maddening, muscular music. / Maelstroms of romantic music like when the blues marries / meat-and-potatoes with multi-mathematic modulations."

One of the more ambitious entries is a performance poem that includes instructions for finger-snapping accompaniment:
ting tinky ting tinky ting tinky ting tinky
ting ch ting ch-ky ting ch ting ch-ky
Boom! ch Boom! ch Boom! ch - ch
- ch - ch Boom! Boom! Boom! Boom!
- - ch - ch Bam! ch ch

I am Abdullah Ibn Buhaina. They call me Art Blakey.
Icon imperial of the divine instrument of independence.
I am.


A beat poem homage to Sidney Bechet, "a sibilant ode to the saxophonist's virtuosic, improvisational, spontanous solo style," leaves me breathless:
...sardonic sultan of sarcasm and of scrappy
satirical sounds swung slowly or savagely scandalizing shallow society
softies with soaring scarlet scherzos, so scholarly, so scintillating,
so scurrilously so!...


The portraits mix biographical information with commentary on the artists' music and influence, each using a different poetical form specifically selected to mirror, or honour, their musical style. There is an appendix of straightforward biographical sketches and explanatory notes on the poetic forms and choices made for the representations. (For example, "What a good haiku must do is create a sharp, pure, and resonant image, like the deep-song sound of Thelonius Monk's piano and the short, distinctive themes that characterize his compositions.")

I'm grateful also for the suggested discography on the inside back cover to assist my jazz education.

The illustrations by Paul Rodgers are striking, in their way, noted as "evoking the spirit of pop art, Blue Note album covers, and 1920s advertising art," but I barely notice them — they're a forgettable backdrop to the mainstage concert of sound.

Regarding jazz, and most artistic domains, I don't know much, but I know what I like.

I love John Zorn's Ornette-Coleman-inpsired Masada (Alef). I listen to it repeatedly. It energizes me, lets my soul scream. I'm listening to it now, and I mention it only because I just got tickets!
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