Bad Jazz — a poem

Bad Jazz — a poem August 17, 2011

I ate dinner at an overpriced steakhouse today. I tried to redeem the expensive mediocrity by sitting on the patio to enjoy a vocal jazz combo, over an overpriced cup of coffee. I’m no jazz policeman, but the quartet was depressingly awful and the whole scene made me feel even worse.

I took it all out in this rant of a poem entitled, “Bad Jazz.”

Bad Jazz

Not an eye closed;

sweatin’ the sheet like it’s goin’ somewhere.

“Body and Soul? No. I don’t know it.”

Hot rod misses the cymbal, hi hats slap flatly—if at all.

Solos torture themselves to stay inside the lines (playing those expensive, canned lessons Daddy bought you);

changes plod along like uninspired elephants, headed to meet some poachers.

Vibrato rolls gently, generically, without a plume of smoke,

and the phrasing of Mary Poppins (“It’s a jolly holiday with you, Bert”).

Not to worry, everyone can hear but no one’s listening; I’m trying not to listen.

Claps come belated, politely—if at all.

Don’t cry Miles: No one fucking knows you here; rest in peace.

“Thanks so much, that was Day by Day”

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  • Mark Gordon

    As I read your poem/rant, I couldn’t help thinking about a passage from Kerouac’s “On the Road,” in which Sal Paradise and Dean Moriarty take in George Shearing at Birdland. Unfortunately, all jazz experiences can’t be this good:

    Dean and I went to see Shearing at Birdland in the midst of the long, mad weekend. The place was deserted, we were the first customers, ten o’clock. Shearing came out, blind, led by the hand to his keyboard. He was a distinguished-looking Englishman with a stiff white collar, slightly beefy, blond, with a delicate English-summer’s-night air about him that came out in the first rippling sweet number he played as the bass-player leaned to him reverently and thrummed the beat. The drummer, Denzil Best, sat motionless except for his wrists snapping the brushes. And Shearing began to rock; a smile broke over his ecstatic face; he began to rock in the piano seat, back and forth, slowly at first, then the beat went up, and he began rocking fast, his left foot jumped up with every beat, his neck began to rock crookedly, he brought his face down to the keys, he pushed his hair back, his combed hair dissolved, he began to sweat. The music picked up. The bass-player hunched over and socked it in, faster and faster, it seemed faster and faster, that’s all. Shearing began to play his chords; they rolled out of the piano in great rich showers, you’d think the man wouldn’t have time to line them up. They rolled and rolled like the sea. Folks yelled for him to “Go!” Dean was sweating; the sweat poured down his collar. “There he is! That’s him! Old God! Old God Shearing! Yes! Yes! Yes!” And Shearing was conscious of the madman behind him, he could hear every one of Dean’s gasps and imprecations, he could sense it though he couldn’t see. “That’s right!” Dean said. “Yes!” Shearing smiled, he rocked. Shearing rose from the piano, dripping with sweat; these were his great 1949 days before he became cool and commercial. When he was gone Dean pointed to the empty piano seat. “God’s empty chair,” he said. On the piano a horn sat; its golden shadow made a strange reflection along the desert caravan painted on the wall behind the drums. God was gone; it was the silence of his departure. It was a rainy night. It was the myth of the rainy night. Dean was popeyed with awe. This madness would lead nowhere.

    Incidentally, I found the passage at a site called Jazz Police. Maybe you should report the combo you had to endure!

    • Well, I also have my issues with the Jazz Police, who tend to be be-bop snobs who see anything that doesn’t swing as not “true jazz.” But this was very, very cool. Wish I would gave been there, but who doesn’t wish they could catch a show at Birdland every day of the week?



      • Mark Gordon

        I’m a bit of a cool jazz snob myself. Miles, Chet Baker, Gil Evans, Gerry Mulligan, Brubeck.

  • Rodak

    My tastes in jazz are quite eclectic, but I love every musician listed by Mark Gordon above. One of my favorite jazz albums is George Shearing playing behind Dakota Staton.