Live Review: Jazz and poetry

The Troubadour in Earl’s Court was, predictably, packed for “Stanzas and Swung Rhythm” aka jazz and poetry last night. The star turns were recently moved-on-to-arts-panjandrum-from-Poet Laureate Andrew Motion, recently decided-not-to-take-up-the-post-of Oxford Professor of Poetry Ruth Padel , plus two Welsh poets, and the Frank Harrison Trio.

Thank goodness for Ulster-born organizers like Anne-Marie Fyfe. She’s been running Coffee-House Poetry for 12 years. She’s worked with Harrison’s trio at the Wick Festival in Scotland,so the idea of interspersing jazz and poetry at the Troubadour was hers. She has some problems to overcome with her sound-twiddlers, but she ran the gig very well indeed.

First the jazz. Some esteemed music commentators might have had real problems last night, possibly found that the music was bordering on a criminal offence.

Because Frank Harrison, Jeremy Brown and Steven Keogh were…… wait for it……. down in a poorly-lit basement… tinkling standards. I was there. And that is what they did.

On another evening, with a different crowd, they could have kicked up a storm, crossed genres, done edgy. But last night they were responding to the respectful, restrained, hushed no-applause-after-solos vibe of the evening. That’s how jazz musicians fit in, adapt, respond, provide the right commentary.

So I didn’t get a full sense of Harrison’s range. And that was also because he would have certainly have done better on something with a fuller sound and more sustaining capacity than last night’s borrowed keyboard. However, Harrison does create beauty in melodic line, and leaves space. On “Some day my Prince” he was going to some curious and colourful chromatic places….. Steven Keogh on drums and Jeremy Brown on bass were individually and collectively faultless throughout.

The poetry? Writers need to find uncertainty and ambiguity or there’s nothing to write about. Some, like the Welsh seemed to find it in the present, in the act of writing. So they were asking a lot of rhetorical questions about the present, about the act of writing poetry.

Motion was digging into his pre-panjandrum youth and six pints an evening memories for his uncertainty and ambiguity. Padel was mining the seam of questions posed by the life and love of her famous ancestor Darwin. Padel’s delivery was curious. It swapped slightly jarringly between the businesslike university lecturer didactic. And the artitically sensitive with lots of expressive pauses.

And what about jazz and performance poetry together? I’m sure there are many ways it can work. There is a sympathy factor between these two communities. Both are art forms which rely on practitioners spending years and years perfecting their craft by in their own headspace. I’ve been enjoying the work Tim Whitehead has done with Michael Rosen. And I hope the Keogh’s Global Music Foundation and poets develop some work together. The results are bound to be interesting.

Categories: miscellaneous

3 replies »

  1. Hi –

    I read with interest your stuff about Ruth Padel, with whom I have also been doing some work. Dave Gordon and I have been running a jazz and poetry unit called Riprap for about the last 8 years, having played the Festival Hall on National Poetry day, and we're doing the TS Eliot Festival on the “7th of June with Grevel Lindop (Ruth pulled out)

    check it out at http://www.kevinflanagan.net

    and, if you like it, give it a mention.


    Kevin Flanagan

  2. There are a few great collaborations between jazz musicians and poets out there, but I think my Utter:Jazz Collective does something very different.

    The music is not a composed score played behind/around the poems – instead the musicians improvise freely to poems as they are read aloud. They don't know the poems in advance, but instead respond to the images, emotions and stories as they emerge.

    Poems are interspersed with songs (standards & originals) and the poems we use are sometimes originals or by top poets including Jo Shapcott (President of the Poetry Society), Jackie Kay, Ian Patterson (just won the Forward Prize).

    The Utter:Jazz collective is currently doing a Jazz Services tour – performing at a mix of arts centres, jazz clubs and literary festivals. (Nearly started a poetry riot at the Cheltenham Literary Festival – great fun…)

    Some amazing musicians make up the Collective, including Robert Millett (co-incidentally recently did the Michael Rosen project too), Jonny Gee, Tristan Mailliot, Ivo Neame, Jim Hart…

    Check it out at http://www.myspace.com/utterjazz

Leave a Reply