Poetry by Michael Keshigian

April 1st, 2013



He stood alone on the small stage
in front of the dance floor at the club
with his saxophone in hand,
spying hundreds of eyeballs
that glowed
the reflection of spotlights,
all anticipating
an inspired musical improvisation.
But his sweaty palms keenly conspired
to inhibit his deliverance
as foot soldiers crossed his tongue,
kicking up the sand
in his arid mouth,
clogging the crucial input
of his salivary glands
which craved the cascading fountain
at the rear of the hall.
Frenzied thoughts floated in his head
and instigated a breathlessness
that rebounded rhythmically
off the acoustical tile behind him.
He feared that this hoax
as a soloist and performer
would soon be unveiled.
He dallied with the downbeat
as the audience coughed,
excruciating moments tensed
his trembling fingers.
Then, as if by instinct, he inhaled
a mammoth gasp
that chased away the uncertainty
while his expanding diaphragm
prompted velocity, vibration then sound,
a passionate, soothing sound
that filled the golden horn
as his jumbled spirit ascended off the floor.



There’s not just one, it depends on the style,
the performer and his instrument.
Like the one that’s the favorite
of trumpet players, you know,
the one with the crumpled face
and the pained look of focus
just before he blasts high C.
Every note in the upper range
becomes a new source of agony.
Then there’s the face
of philosophical perplexity,
the one used by trombone players
when they reach higher than they should,
eyebrows lifted against the hairline,
chin extended and tucked into the throat,
usually during a technical lick in numerous positions.
Of course, there’s the sax players
and their ballads, eyelids nearly closed,
head in a languorous droop
that sometimes lolls back
and swivels side to side
to help kick in an arousing vibrato.
And then the drummer
with his classic wild man look,
crazy faced with the fixed grin
and scary stare, like he’s about
to lurch off his seat, unlike
the piano player, the aristocrat
with his proud, confident posture,
convinced that for the next few hours
he and his ensemble own your soul,
how he notices you’ve immersed yourself
in the excitement and emotion of the music,
with your intense squint and locked grin,
that empathetic grimace
especially obvious when your head bobs feverishly
in a contagious yet effusive sign of approval.



Exhale a powerful breath
into its mouthpiece
and the gentle vibrations
upon its reed
create a timbre
which resonates
through the polished
ebony tube
and under fingers
deftly caressing
dull silver keys,
an audible enchantment
begins to spiral
into an array of colors
and transports body and mind
beyond the boundaries
of daily turmoil
to cure the soul of ills
and deliver a message
from the heart.



Barefoot in white slacks
and her husband’s sweater,
she plays the piano most seriously,
bungling Mozart with a grimace
then a grin,
the lamplight
flickered unnoticed upon her fingers.

The field from where her progeny
once thrived has withered,
grown voices and opinions
have fled the confines of the arena
where music,
like a tranquilized tiger,
swerves again.

Her foot presses pedals,
fingernails carelessly flit keys,
and in her womb
a musician is conceived.
The house is no longer empty,
half full with sound,
she nourishes herself.



His fingers blur
grenedilla wood
and improvises
ebony with silver
as the sweet colors
of a clarion call
pulsate the room
with a staggered step
and the rhythm
gets your body swaying
and fingers tapping
to the incantations
from his black magic wand
pointed skyward
like a unicorn’s horn
even the dim lights bop
to the two beat bounce
on the dark dance floor
while the Dixieland man
lost in his world
excites your soul.

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In this Issue

A Collection of Jazz Poetry – Spring, 2020 Edition There are many good and often powerful poems within this collection, one that has the potential for changing the shape of a reader’s universe during an impossibly trying time, particularly if the reader has a love of music. 33 poets from all over the globe contribute 47 poems. Expect to read of love, loss, memoir, worship, freedom, heartbreak and hope – all collected here, in the heart of this unsettling spring. (Featuring the art of Martel Chapman)


photo by Fred Price
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In a Jerry Jazz Musician interview, acclaimed biographer James Kaplan (Frank: The Voice and Sinatra: The Chairman) talks about his book, Irving Berlin: New York Genius, and Berlin's unparalleled musical career and business success, his intense sense of family and patriotism during a complex and evolving time, and the artist's permanent cultural significance.

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In the introduction to Maria Golia’s Ornette Coleman: The Territory and the Adventure – excerpted here in its entirety – the author takes the reader through the four phases of the brilliant musician’s career her book focuses on.


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Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division, Carl Van Vechten Collection
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Jazz History Quiz #138

photo by William Gottlieb/Library of Congress
Shortly following their famed 1938 Carnegie Hall performance, Benny Goodman’s drummer Gene Krupa left the band to start his own. Who replaced Krupa?


photo unattributed/ Public domain
In a Jerry Jazz Musician interview with The Letters of Cole Porter co-author Dominic McHugh, he explains that “several of the big biographical tropes that we associate with Porter are either modified or contested by the letters,” and that “when you put together these letters, and add our quite extensive commentary between the letters, it creates a different picture of him.” Mr. McHugh discusses his book, and what the letters reveal about the life – in-and-out of music – of Cole Porter.

Book Excerpt

The introduction to John Burnside's The Music of Time: Poetry in the Twentieth Century – excerpted here in its entirety with the gracious consent of Princeton University Press – is the author's fascinating observation concerning the idea of how poets respond to what the Russian poet Osip Mandelstam called “the noise of time,” weaving it into a kind of music.

Short Fiction

photo Creative Commons CC0
Short Fiction Contest-winning story #53 — “Market & Fifth, San Francisco, 1986,” by Paul Perilli


photo by Veryl Oakland
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photo Bret Stewart/Wikimedia Commons
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photo of Sidney Bechet by William Gottlieb/Library of Congress
In this edition of "Great Encounters," Con Chapman, author of Rabbit’s Blues: The Life and Music of Johnny Hodges, writes about Hodges’ early musical training, and the first meeting he had with Sidney Bechet, the influential and legendary reed player who Hodges called “tops in my book.”


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In the Previous Issue

Interviews with three outstanding, acclaimed writers and scholars who discuss their books on Irving Berlin, George Gershwin, and Cole Porter, and their subjects’ lives in and out of music. These interviews – which each include photos and several full-length songs – provide readers easy access to an entertaining and enlightening learning experience about these three giants of American popular music.

In an Earlier Issue

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“The Jazz Photography Issue” features an interview with today’s most eminent jazz portrait photographer Carol Friedman, news from Michael Cuscuna about newly released Francis Wolff photos, as well as archived interviews with William Gottlieb, Herman Leonard, Lee Tanner, a piece on Milt Hinton, a new edition of photos from Veryl Oakland, and much more…

Contributing writers

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