Poets and jazz musicians carry an uncanny resemblance in personality aside from a ongoing hunger for creativity and personal expression. It’s such a hunger that fuels the relationship between the two art’s and the ongoing cross-fertilization and performances continue to resonate today. Poetry can also been looked to as lyrics for preconceived music. Look no further than the art songs of Franz Schubert. In a modern era of composition, often deemed the “kitchen sink” era for the lack of restrictions, poets and composers find ways to influence each other on the written page as opposed to the typical uncertainty of jazz/poetry fusion. In the following clips, “The Want Bone” by prized poet and educator Robert Pinsky is realized in two different ways: the improvised and the preconceived.
The sound above is from The Writers Harvest in 2009, an event fundraiser for world hunger which brought Pinsky himself to FSU. He requested to read with a jazz ensemble and saxophonist Adam Cambria stepped up to the plate. After forming a quartet to back Pinsky, the forces of spoken word and improvised jazz fused, culminating in a collage of vocal and sonic poetry.
Poet: Robert Pinsky
Band: Jamison Ross (drums), Nadav Spiegelman (bass), Evan Powell (piano) and Adam Cambria (alto sax).
In November 2010, Hardbop‘s own Alexander G. Ariff composed and interpreted “The Want Bone” in a completely new light. He looked deeper into to the undertones of the poem: yearning, longing, and coping with unnecessary desires. Utilizing musical text painting (the waves at the beginning of the piece, repetition of melodic and harmonic content) and the human voice, Ariff’s rendition of “The Want Bone” isn’t necessarily jazz or poetry. As previously addressed, the idea of creating a new song from a previously written poem isn’t new but after examining the cohesion of spoken word, jazz and the spontaneity of Pinsky’s 2009 reading of “The Want Bone”, Ariff decided to take a new route.
Composer: Alexander Ariff/Robert Pinsky
Band: Zenyth Manchione (voice), Nadav Spiegelman (bass), Brendan Polk (piano), Gerald Law (drums), Alexander Ariff (alto sax), Jim Alexander (tenor sax), Joe Goldberg (soprano sax), Stephen Mulligan (violin), John Thayer (violin).
“THE WANT BONE” by Robert Pinsky
The tongue of the waves tolled in the earth’s bell.
Blue rippled and soaked in the fire of blue.
The dried mouthbones of a shark in the hot swale
Gaped on nothing but sand on either side.
The bone tasted of nothing and smelled of nothing,
A scalded toothless harp, uncrushed, unstrung.
The joined arcs made the shape of birth and craving
And the welded‑open shape kept mouthing O.
Ossified cords held the corners together
In groined spirals pleated like a summer dress.
But where was the limber grin, the gash of pleasure?
Infinitesimal mouths bore it away,
The beach scrubbed and etched and pickled it clean.
But O I love you it sings, my little my country
My food my parent my child I want you my own
My flower my fin my life my lightness my O.