“The Birth of Jazz” — a poem by Russell MacClaren

November 1st, 2013



Syncopated sounds
mingle in bayous,
roll with Mississippi currents,
splash in Lake Pontchartrain.
The haunting melody
sleeps in pine forests,
nestles in the cypress,
sways with willows,
stands with oaks.
Alternating tempos
swim on ‘gator tails,
wade delta inlets
on great blue heron legs,
slither with snakes,
splash among mullet.
Rhythm-free as a tarpon-
soars with eagles,
wails on the hurricane.

Centuries of Spanish and French
searched in vain
to capture the elusive music.
Biding its own time,
the song
would pound through lowlands
on throbbing native drums,
echo around cotton fields
from soulful Negro lungs,
hide in marsh channels
to sail with cutthroat pirates,
dance in one room houseboats
on lively Cajun fiddles.

Conjured in voodoo hearts,
forged in wrought iron,
caught by steel-eyed fishermen,
brought to Storyville brothels,
French Quarter bars
and Dixieland dance halls,
a new sound is born.
The land and its people
cry the blues,
create the miracle
of Jazz!


Read more poetry by Russell MacClaren

Share this:

13 comments on ““The Birth of Jazz” — a poem by Russell MacClaren”

  1. There’s more to this work than being ‘just a poem’. It is atmospheric, bringing to life the sounds and scents that created Jazz. Also brought vividly to life are the forests, the deltas, people and wildlife. One’s imagination can really ‘live’ this!

  2. Wait…did I just read this? Because my memory just recorded it as super cool,realistically animated music video.

  3. Beautiful poem. The author is an artist painting with words. I really enjoyed the snapshot of our rich heritage with Jazz. Well done!

  4. I hear spontaneous, tuneful phrasing in “The Birth of Jazz”. Congratulations on a “Movin’ and Shakin'” poem, Ray! – K. L. Burns

  5. Russell,

    I truly enjoyed your poem. Thank you very much for sharing it with us.

    You left no stone unturned–
    you took us through each step
    taken by All of Life in Louisiana
    to describe this sacred journey–
    Jazz finding her way to
    what would be her Home.



Comment on this article:

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

In This Issue

Michael Cuscuna, Mosaic Records co-founder, is interviewed about his successful career as a jazz producer, discographer, and entrepreneur...Also in this issue, in celebration of Blue Note’s 80th year, we asked prominent writers and musicians the following question: “What are 4 or 5 of your all-time favorite Blue Note albums; a new collection of jazz poetry; “On the Turntable,” is a new playlist of 18 recently released jazz recordings from six artists – Joshua Redman, Joe Lovano, Matt Brewer, Tom Harrell, Zela Margossian and Aaron Burnett; two new podcasts by Bob Hecht; a new “Jazz History Quiz”; a new feature called “Pressed for All Time,”; a new photo-narrative by Charles Ingham; and…lots more.

On the Turntable

This month, a playlist of 18 recently released jazz recordings by six artists -- Joshua Redman, Joe Lovano. Matt Brewer, Tom Harrell, Zela Margossian, and Aaron Burnett


In this month’s collection, with great jazz artists at the core of their work, 16 poets remember, revere, ponder, laugh, dream, and listen

The Joys of Jazz

In this new volume of his podcasts, Bob presents two stories, one on Clifford Brown (featuring the trumpeter Charlie Porter) and the other is part two of his program on stride piano, including a conversation with Mike Lipskin

Short Fiction

Short Fiction Contest-winning story #51 — “Crossing the Ribbon,” by Linnea Kellar

“What are 4 or 5 of your all-time favorite Blue Note albums?”

Dianne Reeves, Nate Chinen, Gary Giddins, Michael Cuscuna, Eliane Elias and Ashley Kahn are among the 12 writers, musicians, and music executives who list and write about their favorite Blue Note albums

Pressed for All Time

In an excerpt from his book Pressed for All Time, Michael Jarrett interviews producer Creed Taylor about how he came to use tape overdubs during the 1957 Lambert, Hendricks, and Ross Sing a Song of Basie recording session


“Thinking about the Truesdells” — a photo-narrative by Charles Ingham

Jazz History Quiz #128

Although he was famous for modernizing the sound of the Tommy Dorsey Orchestra -- “On the Sunny Side of the Street” was his biggest hit while working for Dorsey (pictured) -- this arranger will forever be best-known for his work with the Jimmie Lunceford Orchestra. Who is he?

Great Encounters

In this edition, Bob Dylan recalls what Thelonious Monk told him about music at New York’s Blue Note club in c. 1961.


Jerry Jazz Musician regularly publishes a series of posts featuring excerpts of the photography and stories/captions found in Jazz in Available Light by Veryl Oakland. In this edition, Mr. Oakland's photographs and stories feature Stan Getz, Sun Ra, and Carla Bley.


Maxine Gordon, author of Sophisticated Giant: The Life and Legacy of Dexter Gordon, discusses her late husband’s complex, fascinating life.

Cover Stories with Paul Morris

In this edition, Paul writes about jazz album covers that offer glimpses into intriguing corners of the culture of the 1950’s

Coming Soon

"The Photography Issue" will feature an interview with jazz photographer Carol Friedman (her photo of Wynton Marsalis is pictured), as well as with Michael Cuscuna on unreleased photos by Blue Note's Francis Wolff.

In the previous issue

Jeffrey Stewart, National Book Award and Pulitzer Prize-winning author of The New Negro: The Life of Alain Locke, is interviewed about Locke (pictured), the father of the Harlem Renaissance. Also in this issue…A new collection of jazz poetry; "On the Turntable," a new playlist of 19 recommended recordings by five jazz artists; three new podcasts by Bob Hecht; a new “Great Encounters”; several short stories; the photography of Veryl Oakland and Charles Ingham; a new Jazz History Quiz; and lots more…

Contributing writers

Site Archive