April: National Poetry Month and Jazz Appreciation Month

National poetry month

The April is a month of special celebrations. In addition to being National Poetry Month, April has been set aside as Jazz Appreciation Month, and so these celebrations come together in a personal way, as poet who is strongly influenced by all manner of music, but especially jazz.

As a distinctively American musical form, jazz expresses a wide range of emotions, from sheer joy and ecstasy to deepest sorrow and pain. Central to this musical expression is improvisation, a spontaneous interchange between soloists and ensemble, often with “call and response” and other characteristics that give jazz a uniquely American flavor.

With its origins in the South in the early part of the 20th Century, jazz developed most notably in New Orleans, which brought together a delectable medley of sounds, a kind of “Cajun, creole, gumbo”, a sumptuous blending of music from diverse cultural populations: Caribbean, Mexican, German, Italian, French, Native American, African and others. The music blended ragtime, marches, with a heavy dose of the blues, along with European light classical music and other musical forms.
Jazz Appreciation Month

I first began writing poetry in the late 1960s when I was drafted into the US Army, as a pharmacy instructor stationed at Ft. Sam Houston, Texas. As I reflect upon the beginnings of my writing poetry, I recognize that some of the initial inspiration to write came from music. While I was in the Army, I attended a concert, featuring Ravi Shankar, the renowned sitarist from India. This was my first exposure to sitar music, and I sat enraptured as Mr. Shankar explained the structure of musical compositions called ragas, which involve a good amount of improvisation.

As I listened to the performance, I thought of the similarities between this variety of Indian music and jazz, and I thought, “This ain’t nothin’ but jazz. This is a show nuff jam session.” After the concert which proved to be a profoundly moving worship experience, I consciously determined to express the essence of my experience in a poem which I entitled “Sacred Jazz” which later became the title poem of the collection Sacred Jazz: Music, Mood and Mind.

Sacred Jazz: Ravi Shankar in Concert

come
remove your shoes
come
sit with me under the canopy

unwind
your mind
ascend
with incense
and with me
absorb the sounds
of sacred jazz

dig this Indic jam session
set of rare rapport
improvisation

evening raga

rag raga rag a song of India

Indo-oriole
Skitting skatting

riffing
taking off

Alap blues ala Shankar

Alap all blues

serene somber soul-subduing

Alap Jor Jala

sitar and tabla
constant encyclic tamboura

all dialogue transcending speech
in effort
to reach
the Divine

come
remove your shoes
come
sit with me under the canopy

As the month of April continues to unfold, we continue to celebrate poetry and appreciate jazz all year long. We conclude with a medley of Christian jazz instrumental music: I Love You Lord Today/There Is None Like You (Instrumental)

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