FULL OF FAT From discarded crumbs, like falling stars onto stage horns and strings form dreams from blues and tears, where fear has no place and lies provides promises past midnight while jazz makes people hungry and rhythm tops off the soul like cities next to rivers smothering the seeds of … Continue reading “Two new Roger Singer poems”...
September 26th, 2018
Time is all time
for the player in cosmic space.
Undo the bolts & let fly
or jump back in the box
These are your reality implications
on any day of earth-clinging.
But as to the progressive continuance
of organic life on this orb,
September 19th, 2018
Nothing can spoil today, not even our Sue. It’s the third Saturday in September, 1978. I’m 11 years old and like every other girl in our street, (and some of the boys), I’ve waited months for this. I know all the singles off by heart, I’ve watched the videos on Top of the Pops, posters of John Travolta have replaced Starsky and Hutch on my bedroom wall, and finally, FINALLY, after hearing the songs all Summer, the people of England can go to the cinema and watch Grease.
All the Brook Street lot are going; kids from six different families with four of their mums; The Thompsons, the Maguires, the Connollys, the Yips, the Browns and us. I’m as excited as the rest of them, but the difference is, I can’t tell anyone who the flutters in my stomach are for.
We all get the bus together. It’s packed and we have to stand in the aisle, fingers slippery on the...
September 18th, 2018
sits on the end
of my bed
holding his alto sax.
and for pete’s sake! mr. traps:
buddy rich was also there,
getting his drum kit ready
by the end of the bed.
then ray brown’s there
and making a
September 13th, 2018
Baltimore, Maryland. 1960. DAVID, a white boy in his late teens, is standing in the rain under an umbrella, waiting for the morning school bus. There is a bench behind him. Enter CLARE, a black girl his age.
It’s so cold.
Long pause. DAVID is uncomfortable.
Would you mind sharing your umbrella?...
September 11th, 2018
In early morning silence,
breathing is audible.
Steam rises from tea.
A train’s whistle moans
in the distance, and I
whisper to the night
secrets I share with...
September 6th, 2018
there’s new Coltrane out
lost recordings tootin’ the devil’s horn
and while I’ve been leery
of these “new” releases, how
wrong can John Go?
even John on scat is pure...
August 29th, 2018
You’ve played this gig at the Tennyson Lodge at least a hundred times by now you figure—three years times twice a week, Wednesdays and Thursdays. You just took a solo and now The Kid is thumping on his oversized instrument, oversized by comparison to his body. He’s a five-foot-nothing of a chubby student bassist having joined the quartet two weeks prior. His dark, stylishly teased hair is stuck in place by product, his eyes just barely open and he rocks left to right in a manner offensive to you for some reason.
You don’t need a reason. You’ve been doing this long enough to call it like you see it and The Kid is nothing more than a vaguely promising hack. You might want to talk to him on break, get a better idea where his head is at, but meanwhile he’s wiggling around and you kind of hope he gets caught under a...
August 28th, 2018
Concert postings and colored stickers on the crossbeams,
black-clad cyclists crossing East River—
I remember when nobody pedaled
past your grim entrance—around 1985,
when Garden Cafeteria had to close
to keep the junkies out.
They even shut you down in ’88,
said you were
August 21st, 2018
In the underground of how it used to be, in days long ago when things were quite good, when the only bad thing, if you want to call it bad, was poverty, which was longstanding, a dull ache of years that traveled with you through good times and bad and sometimes sang you to sleep like a sad horn, bwa la la la (high note) bwa la la la (high note) bwa la la, in that time, the song of poverty that belonged to everyone belonged also to Noname.
Noname, pronounced Noh-nameh, ran the bleak streets then 60 years ago when the world was kinder, a better place, where murder was just, well, murder, and horror, ordinary, conceivable, and every person, regardless of how they appeared, who they were, part of a diverse evolving unique American gyroscopic system. Even the most jaded soul understood being different was natural, even if your difference was made of so many facets, no one thing stood alone and nothing alone could capture it–save poverty herself, true interpreter of shades and depths of differences, which we celebrated on saxophone streets, in piano bars and when looking to the heavens for inspiration in the form of...
August 14th, 2018
In July of 2012, Arya Jenkins’ short story “So What”—a story about an adolescent girl who attempts to connect to her absent father through his record collection – was chosen as the 30th winner of the Jerry Jazz Musician Short Fiction Contest. When that outstanding work was soon followed up with another quality entry with jazz music at its core, I invited her to contribute her fiction to this website on a more regular basis. We agreed to a commission of three stories per year, and tomorrow’s publication of “The Piano Whisperer” is her 15th story to appear on Jerry Jazz Musician.
I recently received word from Ms. Jenkins that Fomite Press, a small, independent publisher out of Vermont whose focus is on exposing high level literary work, will be publishing these stories in a collection titled Blue Songs in an Open Key. Publication date is...
August 13th, 2018
Gas lamps lined the street lifting their warmth out into the world to stave off the night. Their flickering orange reflected in the puddles along the curb and the cobble still shiny with rain long gone. A storm had passed. Leaves now settled in clumps along the gutters and at the feet of a slumped musician folded forward on a stoop. The curve of his instrument’s dark case towered above him, concealing an elegant bass within.
Brownstones framed the scene extending stoops from hidden entryways. A newspaper fat with rain hung over a wrought-iron rail, the upside-down words “Congress Overrides Veto of Taft-Hartley” visible even in the obscurity of predawn. A five-and-dime, closed for business until morning, hosted a shadowy window display advertising dry shampoo and...
August 6th, 2018
wind howls through trees round
corners shaking bushes windows eaves
lightning fractures night and all
you locked up in memory too fragile
to be handled comes tumbling out
July 26th, 2018
Chris Chisholm’s suit jacket landed beside his foot in a black pinstriped heap. He studied his fragmented reflection in a mosaic of mirrors, raised his eyebrows and his glass and said, “A toast!”
There was only one other person within view, within earshot. Phil the bartender stood beneath a clock whose hands were both pointed to the number one. “What’re we toasting, Chi Chi?”
Chris opened his mouth to say, “To Reggie!” But what came out were the lyrics of a Led Zeppelin song: “The cup is raised, the toast is made again…” He trailed off, humming, as if he’d forgotten the rest. He hadn’t.
Phil smirked and reinserted a rag into the glass he’d been drying. “Thanks a lot. Now I’ll have that love song stuck in my...
July 25th, 2018
When they came to build the wall, I played Mingus.
I stood in the blistering sun, watched them arrive, and did my best to blow my lungs clean out. They climbed down from hissing dew-sprinkled trucks, adjusted their hard hats, and went to work setting up the barricades. They ignored me completely.
They didn’t ignore me long. I was off-key, and I was loud. Ain’t always about hitting all the right notes, man. A clarinet’s gotta be raw. Real. None of that philharmonic fast food commercial stuff.
I could almost hear Tony taking the high notes right beside me. He would have, too. He always loved a good...
July 13th, 2018
Her name practically scats itself,
Say it out loud, and you’re on your way,
It’s a grand stand big band criss-cross delivery,
An overnight town to town swing set deluxe,
July 9th, 2018
Midnight and we sail on a boundless sea
nothing in sight but a vast pool of black
dimly lit by starlight sprawled without end
June 28th, 2018
Camp looked through glass doors and across the shoulderless highway. A patch of grass across the road was covered with white trailers washed clean by the rain. He stared out a side window at the brown back of a gas station. A red and yellow sign, mounted so high he had to twist his neck to see it, seemed like it should have been turning but sat still against a gray sky.
What do you find in a bus station? Long waits under dirty fluorescents, grimy floor and seats, gloom on scattered faces. Soup, coffee and candy vending machines. If someone could gather it up, all the pieces a bus station’s handed down through the years, you could start a museum. You could cover the walls with black and white photos, pictures of a million people. Pick out any one person, nobody special, just someone with some...
June 27th, 2018
Seen from above, the motion probably exhibited some coherence. Like how the particles on the surface of a liquid jiggled around each other. What did they call it? Brownian motion. Seen from a distance, the mass of people no doubt also swirled in patterns that had a great deal of regularity. Was there perhaps even a meaning in the group activity, a secret swaying cadence that couldn’t be discerned just from watching the constituent parts?
Carl found how he engaged in metaphysical speculations when in these situations distressing.
But God, you had to do something.
Or else this dance club, The Edge of The World, the apotheosis of all that he had come to hate during this year and a half spent in...
June 18th, 2018
sitting on the top of my dad’s tombstone
… in sedalia, missouri,
I was thinking
of how much
our horns together.
June 17th, 2018
“How dare you play it like that!”
I look up from my sight-reading piece, certain I had correctly executed all of the rhythms and notes, all of the articulations and embellishments. My questioning eyes found a passionate face, lined with wrinkles that were now quivering in angst.
“I don’t care if you play a couple wrong notes here and there, but to play it so flat like that… so dull… that is inexcusable.”
“Play it again.”
I started again, trying to sense the life behind the ink, and I felt like the blind fool who...
June 8th, 2018
The carpenter (whose hands have grown
too large for the twenty house town
he was born in) sticks out his thumb
and catches a jet to Los Angeles where
he drowns off the Santa Monica beach trying
to ride a wave to beautiful downtown Burbank.
His sister stays home and marries
the county’s star high school running back
who turns into the
June 2nd, 2018
“Who,” you ask.
“Chris Connor,” I repeat.
“Oh, sure, right,” you say
(with little enthusiasm.)
“You have to listen, really listen,” I say.
“O.K.” (an acquiescence).
I carefully place the vinyl record
on the Rek-O-Kut turntable.
May 15th, 2018
The wind blew all afternoon,
blue my mood, moody the blues
on the box, bleak and blue when
Robert Johnson took over the airwaves;
the wind blew louder and then
May 3rd, 2018
He had beautiful hands — hands with long, slender fingers meant to caress ivory piano keys. Knuckles, she knew, were never the most flattering part of anyone’s body — gnarled and raisin-like skin stretched over delicate bones. And yet, there was a certain beauty in the way his knuckles bent and flexed over the piano, so she protested bitterly when he became a mechanic to make ends meet.
“We’ve got bills to pay,” he said with a matter-of-fact shrug, “And I can always...
April 28th, 2018
One afternoon at the age of ten, lightning strikes.
Alone in our ramshackle wood-frame house in Hartford, I decide to listen to some of my parents’ 45 RPM records. I watch one slide down the fat spindle and plop onto the turntable to receive the tone arm and needle. The music starts and like a bolt captures not just my ears but my whole being. It’s a guy with a gravelly voice singing something about...
April 17th, 2018
April 15th, 2018
This is one of those parties I’ve heard about, thrown by people with new money in a house they don’t own; like Hipster Gatsby. This is not to disparage our host: he is a sincere human. When one finds one’s self in a cliché, the moment should be chronicled. I’m sitting on a mausoleum chair in the foyer of an upscale Seattle home with my glass of vodka perched on a music stand, chronicling.
The jazz musicians in the living room are playing “Some Day My Prince Will Come.”
“Oh, good, it’s the Disney segment,” I say to nobody in particular. The drunk woman who earlier complimented my...
April 10th, 2018
And a daughter is not enough or a son
or be a couple with someone who would stick thru all the shit
or the idea of a family
and god or the belief to a higher being is not enough.
The cheap girls and empty sex are always there but never
April 9th, 2018
Tansy steps up to the microphone, and the world shifts into slow motion. Behind her, the band pulsates, big brass, booming beat, and howling saxophones like foreplay. Before her, the shadowy movement of caliginous figures, backlit to opacity, a murky mob breathing as though one, daring her to entertain with the melodies stored in her throat and heart, perversely seeking the pleasure to be derived from her anticipated failure to enthrall.
The mike’s silver orb becomes her focus, its aura a tight dome that pulls at her breath, sucking the notes from her depths, the rushing air inverting her...
April 3rd, 2018
Snow & Ridge our rock n roll Mecca.
The Tastee Shoppe jukebox our holy of holies
best for miles around was our Kaaba
where Elmore James’s Dust My Broom
sent shock waves through my hormone addled brain
& Night Train by Rusty Bryant & his Carolyn Club orchestra
was a bump & grind fantasy of rockin’ & rollin’ ecstasy.
April 2nd, 2018
I was recently at a speakeasy in Tbilisi, drinking wine and tapping my foot in time with a jazz quartet, when I noticed a dishevelled French magician approach the mysterious black-haired girl I’d had my eye on for the past ten minutes. This irked me less than it might have, because the Frenchman was clearly a drunkard of dubious repute, and the girl was plainly uninterested in him, not deigning to respond to his advances with so much as a word. He performed endless coin tricks and card tricks for her, and loudly complimented her exotic...
March 26th, 2018
“Repeat after me: I will not hunt alligators while Désirée runs deliveries.”
Léon blinks at me, rich hickory eyes peering up from a face darker than any glancing touch of the sun could produce. He wriggles in a barely-perceptible fashion, bare heels grinding ringlets into the muddy deck, a creature of obstinacy and faux innocence whose smile mystically exiles all suspicion from my mind.
“’course, Dezzy,” he says. “There aren’t any alligators around right now, you know—they ain’t come out ‘til nighttime.”
“They don’t come out ‘til nighttime,” I correct him, swiping a hand over the top of his...
March 15th, 2018
Theirs’ was a kind of mediation between then and now
No, it was a meditation on their only freedom: the deliverance of their music
No, no: a melding. One musician calling out: another answering.
Or maybe, a metaphor for the chorus of life
The way Lady-Day lamented the brief glory of
February 27th, 2018
In anticipation of Valentine’s Day, I recently invited many of our contributing poets to submit work that combines the themes of jazz music and love, with the result being a collection of voices expressing their own contributions to the language of love…
Dozens of writers submitted over 100 poems, and the best of the submissions — 29 poems by 18 poets — are found on the following 12 pages. Advance through the selections by utilizing the page monitor at the bottom of each page.
Many thanks to everyone who submitted their work.
February 14th, 2018
the music’s so profound
so round & loud
& full of love
her word not mine
how stupid to argue over little
stupid to wrap ourselves around
February 6th, 2018
I like the jazz because it plays in different colors: deep green and blue, translucent purple, ivory black; city storefronts, magenta sunsets; watercolor splashes here and there like a yellow crocus on snow or an orange goldfish tail — sudden, surprising, but always carefully placed.
Like the way people come in different colors — they just don’t know it. People walk along in darkness daily, ignorant of the color that’s surrounding them or the beat their music plays. That’s what I’m lying here thinking about, in my dark bedroom between the folds of cotton sheets. Africans, Asians, Seminoles they all come in different colors — not their skins, but their insides. Each person glows from deep within, from a well that springs out of...
February 2nd, 2018
A wealth of excellent poetry has been submitted recently. Poems by Steven Dalachinsky, Michael L. Newell, John Stupp, Ron Kolm, and Freddington are examples…...
January 29th, 2018
Godmother of the gypsy tramp
half-breed goddess, unparalleled queen
of less is more, effortless weaver
of that old black magic—
your strength lay in the space between
the screaming sax and the scatting singer.
If midnight blue velvet were sound,
January 24th, 2018
(in response to an invitation
musical and raucous from the fingers
of Wild Bill Davis tickling the keys
of his organ seeking a musical response
by someone and something of equal stature)
Illinois I say accepted the challenge and blew
some blue some very blue blue blue notes
that set listeners
January 19th, 2018
Poetry is a courageous art form. No poet can possibly succeed without the willingness to create a completely transparent window into his or her soul. A poet rarely achieves by faking it.
A successful poet’s thoughts are naked to the world, and this full-on exposure — because it is so often blunt and painful for the poet — leaves the reader with a reasonable understanding of lives led and footsteps taken (or not). These revelations build a rewarding and intimate connection.
I have never met or spoken to Mike Faran, whose poetry I occasionally publish on Jerry Jazz Musician. I only outwardly know him by the short biography he sent me — retired lobster trap builder from Ventura who has had some work published in journals around the country. That’s it, really. I don’t even have a photo of him.
He has periodically sent me emails with a poem or two attached to them, seeking my interest in publishing them. (“Here is another poem that I hope will meet with your approval.”) Although I haven’t published them all, they almost always...
January 17th, 2018
Miles boils his bitches brew
in a night of worlds much blacker than black
His demons and angels let out slack
January 14th, 2018
The winter I ran away, I moved into a garret in Provincetown, where I wrote poetry under the light of a candle far into the wee hours. Out my window, two stories up, I could see snow glistening on slanted rooftops that led like an uneven staircase to the bay. Below me, a twisted narrow path led to Commercial Street, peaceful and stark as an unwritten page. It was 1973 and I had run to the end of the world as I knew it to find freedom.
I knew Provincetown from spending summers with my dad and Grandma Tess in her cottage in Truro. It seemed she’d lived most of her life since Grandpa’s passing as a beachcomber. I liked following behind her when we collected...
January 8th, 2018
The slow tumble of snow past
my partially open window
recalls the year in Amman
I sat for hours watching
a bleak whiteness deepen
all through the abandoned farm fields
surrounding my apartment
while the cool sound of Miles
gave shape and form to my grief
thousands of miles from
December 19th, 2017
It’s like talking of a lemon light, a blue mist,
a pale moonlight. In this case a pink rain.
It was something to do with Christmas
and I was leaving the supermarket,
buzzed, bugged, by muzak’s soothe and slink.
I walked out, into December,...
December 14th, 2017
like notes from
Jan Garbarek’s saxophone
as we stood in Raekoja Plats
drinking mulled wine and marveling
at the size of the Christmas tree.
It was crowded and festive; somewhat loud
sure, there was a...
December 12th, 2017
December 6th, 2017
Near the end of high school I thought myself sophisticated, a fan of Pink Floyd and King Crimson and Kevin Ayers, but at a Weather Report Concert in 1972 I had a nearly religious conversion. It was as though a stranger had run up to me and said, “hold this for minute” and ran off. Then the music exploded. I had never heard anything like this. Everything changed.
It was as though I grew hair in secret places and a new appendage. I became a different creature. After that night few of my suburban DC white friends’ guitar and lyrics-oriented ears could hear what mine could; the joy and heartbreak in this unfamiliar and ebonic timbre, this canvas painted in horn, acoustic bass, and polyrhythm; this blues, this brokenness, this homesickness.
There it was, though, for anyone who had ears for it—there, in the absence of verse, in the uncertainty and unpredictability of lengthy solos, in the timelessness of power beyond the moment from which...
December 1st, 2017
Jerry Jazz Musician is fortunate to have had hundreds of accomplished writers and poets submit their work for consideration of publication during this calendar year. Thanks to everyone who thinks enough of this website to desire sharing their creative vision with our readers. The works published are outstanding examples of the connections that exist between jazz music, its culture, and the literary arts.
I am proud to report that I have nominated six exceptional published pieces for the prestigious Pushcart Prize, and they are...
November 29th, 2017
Gifts and Messages. Which
the more important?
me listening feels
more like I’m playing that
swooping of sax waiting counterbal-
answer slowly fading
November 24th, 2017
Tonight I’m spinning
the ugly, unhip
jazzmen of Beehive records,
sweating in their transition shades,
mustaches sincere and wide,
collared tapestry shirts,
hair erupting from ears and noses
and they’re killing—
bellicose ogre grunts
November 22nd, 2017
At risen angles my furniture sits
each chair fills with blood
with a pulse that could strike, may cease.
Blue couch slants toward vibration
my black arms embracing, hold on
for the dark clots of bass hammering
initials into the
November 19th, 2017
This was all her fault, Sarah thought, as she watched the Victory Lounge clear out. She should have known Branchville wasn’t ready for improv jazz. But the bass player, Tommy Williams, had been so supportive after the workshop with the graduate wind students. Sarah had gotten so interested in the group’s ideas about jazz and improvising that she had gone straight to the practice room after the workshop and found their website. Earbuds in both ears, she was improvising to one of the rhythmic bass tracks there when she happened to raise the bell of her clarinet on a long high note the way she’d seen the quartet’s wind players do, and there was Tommy knocking on the door.
He had been so just what a jazz bass player from Chicago should be, Sarah thought, with his dusky skin and his smoky voice, and his rakish fedora tipped over one eye. And at the same time he had been so genuinely...
November 18th, 2017
From red kite country, driving South,
Dai Grandpa, fresh from yesterday,
such yesterday. Only when the
June sun sank, had Dai – dudein’
up my shirt front, puttin’ on
the shirt studs – reached evening’s land
– and such a yester-e’en. (Dai caught
the breeze, his ship came home.)
He breakfasts now in wild kite
November 13th, 2017
Henry Bell wished the actress on the TV interview show wouldn’t smile so much. Most show folk, he thought, were not memorable. They were things, as he had written in one of his songs, made on the cheap from neon and crepe. Sometimes he believed it too. Then he’d remind himself that human beings wrote all kinds of wonderful tunes, like “The Wind” — the number that had made his mind reel when he was very young and made him think he could write songs.
“The Wind” was eight, maybe nine, minutes of continuous jamming colored in with jazzy chords, an understated vocal and poetry. As a kid, listening to Dick Summer’s Subway show late at night on his transistor radio, stuck under the pillow to muzzle its volume, he thought he could trek into “The Wind” and the journey through its changes would be endless.
Now, nearly forty, he wasn’t a kid anymore, and jazz-inflected rock music wasn’t his thing. At some point too, he’d decided that Circus Maximus was a pretty dumb name for a...
November 11th, 2017
we all were
three fifteen year olds
along with one of our fathers.
the only white guys
in the club.
it was at dino’s club
in st.louis, in the fall of 1962
at the corner of
November 10th, 2017
At first, I simply sit on the front steps of my building, letting the summer sun bake my knees while I’m planning my getaway, trying to decide which subway to take to get to Caroline’s place faster. I know nobody will miss me. Nobody will even notice. Not like the first time I ran away.
The first time I ran away – OK, maybe I didn’t exactly run away, as the only thing I did was leave my house in the morning to go down to New Utrecht Avenue to sit in a subway station. But I didn’t come back. I wasn’t going to. I sat there all day, until it got late and dark, and eventually even darker and so late that it was time for my mom to come home. And when she did and saw that I’m gone, she called the cops and they found me instantly. Picture a pink haired girl sitting on a bench in an all Hasidic neighborhood. Not a rocket science to spot my cotton candy stack of hair even in the middle of a dark subway station. So I was brought home that same night, safe and sound, and feeling like an...
November 5th, 2017
September 28th, 2017
This truly foreign language
absorbs me into its differences,
rosetta stone hidden
in a cave of similarities
certain words share
with those of spanish
September 16th, 2017
Allie drove her taxi with a smart ass attitude, smacking gum ceaselessly, and wore a Yankees cap backwards on her head on the job, even though she’d never watched a baseball game in her life, didn’t even like the game. Her dad had named her after a pitcher who’d won five straight World Series and Allie was always grateful that pitcher hadn’t been named Lefty or something like that.
Allie’s father had been the true baseball fan and Allie wore his cap in his memory. His real gift to her was love of music, jazz in particular. In her cab, she listened to WBGO, 88.3, remembering times she hung out with her dad in the garage listening to Miles Davis, Chick Corea, Wayne Shorter, experiments in sound, beautiful chaos while he fixed things. The garage was Bert’s space and his peace, or rather, the music was, and the smoke and silence that rose between them accentuated this. Whenever the strangers she drove around asked about her father, Allie always told them, “He went the way of the Marlboro man.” Cancer.
It surprised people to hear that she, a Millennial should enjoy jazz. “Jazz was like my Gerber food,” she liked to say. As a teen she dug hip hop enough to explore its fusion with jazz, but the fusion didn’t...
September 8th, 2017
all day a light breeze baptizes the landscape
gentle and captivating as a Paul Desmond solo
bushes rap windows and walls with rhythms
unusual and unexpected that Joe Morello would
approve would groove to and trees sway with...
September 1st, 2017
In the hazy glow of streetlights through the window
the jazz man sits
drinking in the music
sipping slowly with his mind
He thinks of all the past loves
the broken promises
August 24th, 2017
Wade missed the sweat. The sticky air that hugged you like a fat friend. The languid, dirty stench of swampy gutters. Of Bourbon street piss and puke. Of Dat Dogs at three in the morning, and the street mutts that cawed at the Mississippi. The rats and cockroaches scuttling around your shoes. The humidity. The heat.
He missed all of it.
New York was cold. Not just the weather, but the people, too. Hardened pedestrians crushed the MTA platforms like stone statues, eyes glazed onto their phones or the wall or the floor. No smiles. No inward space given away to strangers. They hugged into their...
July 18th, 2017
piano dances listeners down the street
feet must move to keep up
crowds gather round
street life jumping this way and that...
July 1st, 2017