Allyn Ferguson on “Kenneth Patchen with The Chamber Jazz Sextet”

Written in 1958:

It happened in an offbeat bistro. Kenneth Patchen read his poems. The Chamber Jazz sextet underscored his voice. It wasn’t background music, but a weird cacophony. And the sounds supported each other. And cuts clean through the smog of smoke and talk and tinkle. Archie was there. He caught the strange electricity. He felt the communicable fever. He brings you the stirring mélange of words and music on this cadence record

The poet:

Kenneth Patchen was born. The place was Niles, Ohio. The date, Decemebr3, 1911. He attended a small school somewhere in Arkansas. From there he went to Alexander Meiklejohn Experimental College at the University of Wisconsin. After one year he left to work in a steel mill. Patchen was seventeen. All kinds of jobs followed. In recent years however, Paten has been a writer and a painter exclusively. At various times he’s lived in New York, Boston, Santa Fe, Phoen

ix, New Orleans and Conn. Currently he’s married and settled on the California coast.

The chamber Jazz Sextet was conceived with the purpose of synthesizing jazz and ‘serious music’. To further this end, the group uses the tools of jazz to the utmost. These tools naturally include the instruments basic to the jazz medium, musicians well schooled in the phrasings and interpretations, compositions and arrangements calculated to take full advantage of contemporary jazz sounds and techniques.

An extensive study of western music gives the group a free familiarity with established musical forms and they are not afraid of experiment with them. This comes from each of the six musicians being artists in his own right – a student as well as a player of jazz.

The Pact:

When first discussing the possibility of setting poetry to jazz, Kenneth and I agreed that the usual procedure of setting text to music would have to be abandoned. The final product, we felt should be conceived in terms of the poets interpretation of the text. It seemed evident, however, that the music would be quite unnecessary were there no attempt to bring about a meaningful union between the two mediums. We decided, therefore, to tape-record the readings and underscore them. The procedure would have the double value of retaining the spontaneity of the original reading while still allowing freedom of the creation of a significant musical entity

The music, then, was composed to the poet’s readings – and designed to fortify the emotional content of the poetry. Musical material was borrowed for only poem “the lute in the attic”. The song “when corrina to her lute softly sings” by Thomas Campion was used as a theme for variations. No history of this enterprise would be complete which did not record the fact that it was at the home of Richard Bowman, the great jazz fan and painter, that the poet and members of the band first met and discussed what might be done in this medium

3 responses to “Allyn Ferguson on “Kenneth Patchen with The Chamber Jazz Sextet”

  1. This is the most mind-expanding record I’ve ever heard. I first listened to it back in ’59, and am still entranced with the magic of jazz and poetry intertwined so perfectly. And Patchen’s works are awesome; his prose, poetry, dadaesque editing, sculpture, paintings, book covers. He was a genius in the class of Whitman, although a little more righteous.

    • Thanks, Ricardo. We lost my father, Allyn Ferguson, in 2010, and he was so special to us. We are compiling his enormous library & trying to reclaim songs/arrangements, etc….as an artist, he paid less attention to the publishing & copyrights than the writing of the music. He loved to just write, write and write.

  2. This was one of my favorite records as a little boy, so haunting and diverse. My father’s vinyl somehow became lost, and while I have not heard it for many years, I still often hear it in my head: the french horn, the syncopation, the ducks swimming round the rock, the killer waiting. To me it is one of the greatest recordings of all time.

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