Wednesday, June 5, 2013

1st Annual SFJAZZ Poetry Festival: A Meeting of Rhythm & Improvisation

This week, we conclude our first season in the new SFJAZZ Center with the 1st Annual SFJAZZ Poetry Festival in the Joe Henderson Lab. The four-night run of the festival, which begins this Thursday, was curated by SFJAZZ Poet Laureate Ishmael Reed and features a diverse cast of poets that include the current California state poet laureate Juan Felipe Herrera, the celebrated feminist poet Lorna Dee Cervantes, the elegant Beat Generation writer Michael McClure and numerous others. Not only will the festival feature some of the most prominent poets the Bay Area has to offer, many of the readings each night will include improvising instrumentalists in an attempt to highlight the strong connection between poetry and jazz.

Even though this is our first festival that focuses solely on the powerful combination of the two expressive art forms, poetry and jazz have had a rich history together dating all the way back to the 1920s when we saw the first emergence of "jazz poetry", the rhythmic improvisational poetry style adopted by notable poets like Ezra Pound, T. S. Eliot, E. E. Cummings, and Langston Hughes. This melding of art forms continued to evolve during the fifties and sixties, especially with Beat Generation poets like Jack Kerouac, Allen Ginsberg and LeRoi Jones (now known as Amiri Baraka) who often included musical accompaniment during their poetry readings. The seventies saw artists like Gil Scott-Heron and The Last Poets become leading voices of their generation by incorporating jazz, spoken-word and poetry into their music. For almost 100 years, the collaboration of poetry and jazz has been a strong form of artistic expression that is rooted deeply in American culture, making this new annual Poetry Festival a very exciting yearly event.

As we gear up this week for the 1st Annual SFJAZZ Poetry Festival, here are just a few audio excerpts of notable recordings that have combined jazz and poetry.

Gil Scott-Heron - "The Revolution Will Not Be Televised" (1971)
Arguably the most popular song to ever incorporate poetry and music. Due to the overall success of the recording and it's politically driven lyrics, the song's title became a popular slogan among the 1960s protest movements in the United States.

The Last Poets - "Bird's World" (1972)
One of the many powerful recordings by this group, which like Gil Scott-Heron been credited as one of the earliest influences on hip-hop music.

Frank Foster - "The Loud Minority" (1974)
Dee Dee Bridgewater's powerful use of poetry on this song is arguably saxophonist Frank Foster's most defining recording moment as a bandleader.

Jujus & Sarah Webster Fabio - "Sweet Songs" (1976)
This lesser known recording features poet and educator Sarah Webster Fabio, who taught at the University of California, Berkeley. During her time there, she played a pivotal role in establishing the universities' first Black Studies department.

Billy Harper featuring Amiri Baraka - "Knowledge of Self" (2008)
A more recent example of the two art forms coming together featuring the highly acclaimed and controversial poet Amiri Baraka, is considered by many as one of the most respected and most widely published writers of his generation.

To learn more about the 1st Annual SFJAZZ Poetry Festival and/or purchase tickets, visit the SFJAZZ website.

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