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Jazz poetry 
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Post Jazz poetry
I'm writing a book about jazz that tells its history, impact legacy on the world and especially the US. It is a collection of short stories, stream of thought essays, poetry and non-linear histories that cover not only the music, the instruments and personalities but the occultism, hidden histories and little known facts from which this music sprang.

Here is an excerpt--some doggerel I wrote about a cutting contest. I don't normally care for jazz poetry because it's often sterile, spoken word stuff. I try to make mine real poetry:


In the age o’ saints and sinners back in 1949
For all o’ you beginners long before your time
On 52nd and Broadway sat Birdland, little boppin’ place
The old-timers still remember the battle o’ the bass
Where ol’ Bopsy fell upon his sword and RC became the king
And if you ask around, oh lawd, they’ll tell you a thing…or two, yes they will

‘Twas in the spring when I hit the Apple, arrivin’ there pretty late
I said, “Hey, man, tell me whose the chap’ll help me set the story straight?”
They said, “’Bout who?” I said, “’Bout Bopsy and RC, man, and how they was the pair.”
They pointed, “Oh, well now, go talk to Big Cec. He’ll tell ya. He was there.”
And in the back he sat, his feet up, hat down over his eyes
“Jes buy him some good hootch,” said one, “or all you’ll get is lies.”

So I told the bartender to set me up with two glasses of Bushmill’s Black
And stepping around the dancing couples I made my way out to the back
I set a glass before him then I slapped him on the arm
He jerked up and pulled back his hat, his eyes filled with alarm
He glared at me as I took my seat with a scowl as wide as a mile
But the sight of Black Bush on the rocks replaced it with a smile—big ol’ grin, it was.

I held my glass up, “Cheers,” I said. And it went down smooth, I tell ya.
“Cheers,” he said then he tossed it down, exhaled and said, “Oh, hell yeah!”
“Big Cec,” I said, “I’m here to ask ya ‘bout the battle o’ the bass.”
And I knew right then I struck a nerve by the strange look on his face
“Gonna take more whiskey to get that story,” he said, his voice had an awful sound
So I signaled the barmaid, held up two fingers and bought another round.

The drinks arrived, we again imbibed then Big Cec looked me in the eye
“Was the night to remember,” he said real soft and he looked about to cry
“They was cuttin’ some heads that night,” Big Cec said. “A contest for the ages.
Like two gladiators facin’ off. Jes’ release ‘em from they cages.”
Then he stopped talking and looked morose and I got not another line
So I said, “Big Cec, I need to know what happened back here in ’49—and I’ll even buy ya another round, yes I will.

He stared at his glass through a red-eyed squint and said it happened right over there
He nodded towards the stage so gay and bright like it didn’t have a care
“Ol’ Bopsy Smith was beatin’ his bass. He was a big man, like an ox.
And when he laid his hammers down, buddy, the notes jumped right outta that box!
The band was cookin’ and they was a-lookin’ jes all as happy as could be
For they knew to a man they was a lucky band to have a bassman such as he—and he weren’t bad on baritone sax neither!”

“Bopsy’s bass was a big, tall monster made o’ slabs o’ mighty spruce
And when he slapped the strings, the rafters rings, you’d o’ thought all hell broke loose
It was stained dark brown and it made a sound like a growling dragon-beast
Had deep sustain like a moanin’ pain that you thought would never cease
And Bopsy played that bass like a rodeo rider hangin’ on for all he’s worth
While that buckin’ bronco bass o' his quaked the mighty earth—and the air shook too, yes it did!

All big and dark brown that ol' bass was and Bopsy called it Ella
"Like a big, fine black woman with gorgeous voice and I'm her one and only fella!"
And when he stroked her strings, how she did sing and croon her love for Bops
I tell you to the letter there was no one better, ol’ Bopsy was the tops
He didn’t just play the bass, he conquered it and bent it to his will
I sat here many a night jes listenin’ cuz to hear it was a thrill

The band was called the Troubadours of West 52nd or just Troubadours for short
They played for drinks, they played for tips, sometimes they played for sport
And sometimes they played just to prove to all they was the best damn band around
Playin’ and a-slayin’ at all the clubs where jazz was played mid-town
Birdland, Carousel, Three Deuces, they surely played em all
They played em good, they played em bad and they played em great and small

And that’s how the name o’ Bopsy Smith hit the jazz world like a truck
The King o’ Bass, the Sultan o’ Slap, the Emperor o’ Pluck
And there I sat night after night jes’ watchin’ his fingers move
He could walk the bass like you walk a dog and make the music groove
He play that bass like a motherfucker and I couldn’t help but watch
He was loaded with talent, loaded with music and loaded up on scotch—and bourbon too if ya buy him some.

When Bopsy played it was pure poetry
Melodic lines as languid as can be
The audience sat transfixed as marble busts
As the golden tones captivated me

They sang in ruby-throated whispers soft
As pearly raindrops on summer leaves
I saw the autumn hills of my Missouri
Home and felt the black loam as it heaves

Then Bopsy transferred me to the delta
Where my grandpa plowed furrows in the dirt
Where cotton burst out like so much popcorn
Without his sweat you’d have no socks or shirt

Ya see, he took me back to that dreamtime
As only Bopsy could, he was the man
A time before klan ropes hung from the trees
And you could walk your sweetheart hand-in-hand

He made ya feel like a natural man
As he lifted you above the clamor
Of the life that was consigned to us
Devoid of mercy, prestige or glamour

And you soared on those fine bass notes
And you soared above the clouds and the sky
Until he lowered you gently to earth
To know such beauty makes you want to cry

Bopsy looked upon the crowd, sweat glistened on his brow
We clapped like mad, such a time we had, as Bopsy took his bow
“Ladies and gentleman,” he said, “I introduce to you, my star pupil named RC”
RC stood up but I sat down, they was all the same to me
A student’s a student, that’s what I thought as RC took the stage
Just a young kid really, not much to see, but kinda big for his age

Bopsy offered up his bass, RC nodded to the band
They started playing “Satin Doll” as he took that bass in hand
I’ve heard this one played a million ways. “This better be good,” said I
Then the intro ended, the first theme began and I thought that I would cry
RC played the bass like a storyteller fixin’ to spin a tale
I fell into a swoon when he wowed the room with an ascending whole note scale

He built the tension then unwound it at an even steady pace
He was livin’ what he was playin’ by the look upon his face
There must have been some tragedy somewhere in his past
For a solemn tear rolled down his cheek, so tiny yet so vast
He caressed that bass and she sang his pain, a bereaved lover sure
Whoever she was he missed her dearly with a longin’ that has no cure

We sat at our tables mesmerized by the magic of it all
As RC transmuted Bopsy’s Ella into his Satin Doll
I cast a glance at Bopsy’s face and was bewildered by what was there
A look o’ anger or jealousy was present in his stare
Taken aback was I, said Cec, for Bopsy was no fool
Neither me nor anyone I know had ever seen him lose his cool

When RC finished, Bops strode up and he snatched that bass right back
He signaled the band to Begin the Beguine, he was takin’ out the slack
He thumped that bass so hard, man, he shook the goddamn floor!
You could see in his eye that he was on a mission as the crowd yelled out for more
He broke into a manic solo with a furious triplet assault
That woulda broke the fingers of another bassist who thought he was worth his salt

Then Bops shoved the bass back into RC’s hands “A-Train!” RC yelled
Then the band unloaded Ellington—oh, man, those motherfuckers gelled!
Then the train whipped outta the station with ol’ RC as engineer
His fingers slappin’ in a frenzied rhythmic locomotion in high gear
He dashed off a high speed solo of risin’ and fallin’ thirds
All a-clackin’ and roarin’ those iron notes pourin’ like nothin’ you ever heard

Then he thrust the bass back to Bopsy before any of us could even clap
Bopsy yelled, “Scrapple!” and with that he commenced a lowdown, mean-ass scrap
He started it off in two-feel and then he started walkin’ it super-fast
He ascended up higher like that bass was on fire then descended with a mighty blast
“Bow!” he yelled for his solo and commenced to sawin’ away hot
He played Bird’s sax part like it was written for bass and hit every note on the dot

Then he thrust the bass back to RC and said, “Top that, you string-slappin’ coon!”
RC grabbed a bow from a quiver and launched us one and all to the moon
First he was harsh and raspy and then he was cool and mild
Then tore off some Bach and Beethoven with a jazzy feel that drove everyone wild
Then RC launched into an etude with both verticality and beat
And finished it off with Rachmaninoff that brought the whole house to their feet

Bopsy raised his bow up sword-like and with a mad yell rushed onto the stage
He looked determined to run RC through, he was filled with a terrible rage
RC’s eyes got big as milk saucers as he backed away raising his bow
Bopsy jabbed at the air like D’artagnon while RC parried the blow
They surged back and forth like two fencers with bloodlust in their eyes
Fighting over the love of a woman and ol’ Ella was the prize

The whole audience stood in shock, we thought maybe this must be a joke
But the duel went on with the clacking of the sticks as each man laid down the strokes
RC still held the bass in one hand as though her honor he must defend
From untoward advances and ill-thought romances of someone he considered a friend
And Bopsy swiped and RC ducked and with grace pirouetted away
Bopsy lunged once again and RC took a swipe as though this was his dragon to slay

The band jes’ stood and stared like zombies ‘til Bopsy yelled out, “Dicty Glide!”
And then they launched like mad into the number and took the audience along for the ride
In time to the music the two men dueled as though working out a choreographed dance
At times a comedy, at times a tragedy, at times a Shakespearean romance
Bopsy backed RC into a corner and he looked like he needed a rest
Bopsy charged, tripped over a mic stand, fell, and the bowstick pierced his breast

All of us gasped and RC cried out, “Bopsy!” as his blood slowly covered the stage floor
RC set down the bass and rushed to his teacher and knelt with his knees in the gore
“Bopsy, man, Bopsy!” RC cried as the tears streaked their way down his cheek
We sat Bopsy upright and called his name softly to see if perhaps he might speak
He opened his eyes and smiled a bit as the blood leaked past his lips
Then he reached up his hand and caressed RC’s head with his calloused old fingertips

“Dontchu cry, son,” he whispered so soft and cool as only ol’ Bopsy could
“I’m leavin’ this world the only way I wanted, the only way I feel that I should.
You carry on, boy, because now you’re the king, my hat’s off to you so take care.
And you take Ella widya, boy, I want you to have her. You won her fair and square.
For my funeral, dress me up in my best pinstripe suit—that’s better than a burial shroud
And go far and wide and spread my teachin’s, you made me jealous but you made me proud!”

Then Bopsy’s eyes got that faraway stare and his last breath escaped from his chest
“Bopsy, don’t leave me!” young RC cried and buried his face in his breast
“There’s nothing you can do for him, son,” I told him, “But now, man, you gotta go!
Cuz the cops’ll be here any minute and you don’t wanna be movin’ too slow.”
He said couldn’t live with what had happened because the rest of his life it would haunt
“It ain’t your fault,” I told him, “You didn’t do nuthin’, kid, and that ain’t what Bopsy would want.”

“Now go on, get outta here!” I yelled as I pushed RC towards the door
“And take this bass with you, he wants you to have it,” and I picked it up off the floor
The side was streaked across the grain where it had laid in Bopsy’s blood
On the floor of the stage that now looked to be awash in a crimson flood
With an anguished gasp he grabbed the bass and he dashed on out the back
And ever since then, he’s left a trail that’s been far too hard to track.”

“Big Cec,” I said, “I have to know—what happened to that bass?”
“Dunno, man,” said Cec, “RC’s still runnin’ and drags her around place to place.
They seen him in Jersey, some seen him in Dee-troit, he haunt the circuit like a travelin’ ghost
They even say he livin’ in Europe and one guy swears he’s on the West Coast
I don’t know where he playin’ or where he be stayin’ but there’s one thing that I do not doubt
He’s tried and tried to clean that blood off that bass, they say he never could get it all out.”

“Happened right there on that very stage eight years ago to this day
But I still see the blood, I still hear the cries and I can still hear ol’ Bopsy play
Cec brushed back a tear and took a drink and said, “Jazz lost a bright star that night.
I shouldn’t be cryin’ but preservin’ his legacy, try’na do what is right
But I miss him bad, best friend that I had and his death cuts me deep to the bone
World’s not quite the same, they don’t remember the name o’ the finest man that I ever known.”

Cec flopped his head into his hands and covered his face his fingers
I laid my hand upon his shoulder and left it there to linger
He sobbed a while to my words of comfort I wish I could have done more
“I’m so tired,” he moaned and the sobbing subsided as he then commenced to snore
So I left him there slumped in a chair jes cackin’ away on his seat
To dream about Missouri’s dry autumn hills and the Delta’s damp dusty heat

Sun May 21, 2017 9:44 pm
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