Saturday, April 02, 2016

NPM Celebrations - Jazz Appreciation Month

April is Jazz Appreciation Month (JAM). This monthly celebration was created at the Smithsonian's National Museum of American History in 2002 to "herald and celebrate the extraordinary heritage and history of jazz." April was chosen because many important figures in jazz  were born in, such as in Lionel Hampton, Ella Fitzgerald, Duke Ellington, Billie Holiday, Tito Puente, and others.

"Jazz is a heartbeat—­its heartbeat is yours." - Langston Hughes

One of the earliest poems with jazz as a subject was written by Carl Sandburg.

Jazz Fantasia
from  Smoke and Steel. 1922.
by Carl Sandburg
Drum on your drums, batter on your banjoes, sob on the long cool winding saxophones. Go to it, O jazzmen.  
Sling your knuckles on the bottoms of the happy tin pans, let your trombones ooze, and go hushahusha-hush with the slippery sand-paper.  
Moan like an autumn wind high in the lonesome tree-tops, moan soft like you wanted somebody terrible, cry like a racing car slipping away from a motorcycle cop, bang-bang! you jazzmen, bang altogether drums, traps, banjoes, horns, tin cans—make two people fight on the top of a stairway and scratch each other’s eyes in a clinch tumbling down the stairs.  
Can the rough stuff … now a Mississippi steamboat pushes up the night river with a hoo-hoo-hoo-oo … and the green lanterns calling to the high soft stars … a red moon rides on the humps of the low river hills … go to it, O jazzmen.

Early poetry on jazz did not mimic the rhythms and syncopations of jazz music. It wasn't until the Harlem Renaissance when Langston Hughes embraced the nuances of jazz in his poetry. Today jazz poetry is defined by as "a literary genre defined as poetry necessarily informed by jazz music—that is, poetry in which the poet responds to and writes about jazz."

But what is jazz?
Here's a hint.

When I started researching this celebration, I came across a book in our music library entitled The First Book of Jazz (1955). It was written by Langston Hughes and illustrated by Cliff Roberts. Hughes used the story of Louis Armstrong to highlight the history of jazz. Hughes said, "The story of Louis Armstrong is almost the whole story of orchestral jazz in America." In addition to describing the various musical forms that contributed to the development of jazz, Hughes also described the ten basic elements of jazz: syncopation, improvisation, percussion, rhythm, blue notes, tone color, harmony, break, riff, and the joy of playing.
This is a pretty amazing book that provides a terrific introduction to jazz. You can learn more about this title at We Too Were Children, Mr. Barrie and the Open Culture site. You can also see some terrific images of the illustrations at The Invisible Agent.

Since many consider Langston Hughes to be the standard bearer for jazz poetry, let's start here.
You can read more about this performance at the National Endowment for the Humanities blog entitled Art Works.

In addition to the poem performed in the video, this is one of my favorite jazz poems by Hughes. You can read a bit about it Modern American Poetry.

The Cat and the Saxophone
by Langston Hughes

No, make it
corn. You like
don't you, honey?
Sure. Kiss me,
I'm your
sweetie, ain't I?
Then let's
do it!

You can learn more about Langston Hughes and Jazz poetry at Perspectives Through Poetry: The Life & Legacy of Langston Hughes.

Another favorite jazz poem of mine is We Real Cool by Gwendolyn Brooks. You can hear her read it at The Poetry Foundation.
While not a book of jazz poetry, Jazz Baby (2007), written by Lisa Wheeler and illustrated by R. Gregory Christie, is a fabulous story in verse of the day in a life of a baby. Throughout the day, family, friends, and neighbors all take part in a jazz-themed dance party. The rhythm and meter are suitably bouncy and so much fun. Here's an excerpt.

Mama swings high.
Daddy swings low.
Swingin'-singin' Baby says,
"Go, Man, Go!"

So they Boom-Boom-Boom
And they Hip-Hip-Hop
And the bouncin' baby boogies
with a Bop-Bop-Bop!

You can watch and listen to Alina Celeste, a family musician and teaching artist, read this title.

If you are looking for some additional children's poetry books on jazz, check out J is for Jazzy, a post from my 2013 National Poetry Month Project.

That's it for today. I hope you'll join me tomorrow for our next celebration.

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