Poetry by Tom Winer

February 22nd, 2012

 

 

 

MONK WAS RIGHT
( A letter to Thelonius Monk )

Dear Thelonius,

I first heard you
In the darkness of stinky music rooms, toe-tappers’ tombs
where out-of-tone tunes played,
and where you prayed to the God of old blue smoke
to please choke the life out of those who said jazz was a joke,
dreamed up by folks whose minds were encrusted, undusted,
not to be trusted with their flakey thoughts in their spacey heads,
which, heavy as dead lead, lay on torn silent acetate sheets
littered with sharp shards of shattered musical notes that scratched their skin
trying to smother the curiosity trapped within,
eating indifferent crumbs left by audiences feasting on funky handfuls of
stale intellectual crackers which they scattered like frantic finger-popping roaches
that scampered across the mattresses of the world’s old, lumpy, collective conceptual beds.

Thelonious,
You watched as people misunderstood you
whose underused brain muscles hurt like the ones in their ass
when they sat for too long on seats made of fiberglas
on the number 5 bus at 4 A.M.
across from 3 half-drunk kids who knew more about Dowop
than Bebop and had 2 cents between them,
cursing out the 1 lone, cynical driver
who’d rather pass gas than treat them with any class
or care when they emptied their last glass
or breathed their last gasp,
or wonder where their stop is,
or – God forbid – ask.

Thelonius,
You staggered down ignorant streets wet with sweat
dripping from the furrowed brows of foreheads concealing brains
not allowed to think in the abstract
or subtract tired old musical facts that were
written on the tacky backs of flowered shelf paper
pasted inside the mental medicine cabinets of bored, middle-class white people,
who were drinking over-priced watered, flat shots from fifths of cheap Scotch
listening to flatted fifths playing from inside a tenor saxophonist’s hot crotch,
trying not to watch while he tried to control his nervous artist’s twitch
or scratch an improvisational itch which ( and here’s the hitch )
he coudn’t reach. ( ain’t that a bitch?)
until he finally sighed, cried, and eventually died,
as his heart bled all over the dry reed in the mouthpiece of his horn
where his ideas were supposed to be born,
when all he really wanted to do was blow riffs and musical kisses,
like Sonny’s or Duke’s or Bird’s or Diz’s.

Thelonious,
What’s that you were doing, some kind of dance?
Did they hate it in America? Did they love it in France?
Did they say you were just some nut with ants in his pants,
a wannabe savantabe in a psychotic trance?
Did the public toss you withering glances
while the critics offered you no second chances
as they tried to keep pace by filling blank space and saving face smugly writing while hiding
behind effected strained stansas
stuffed with pompous observations no hipper than a farmer with a banjo in Kansas.

Thelonious,
I visited clubs that you haunted and felt like a ghost in,
while suspended in space as if hanging by clothespins,
like a cheap sink-washed shirt drying in the hot city air
flapping in a wind that blew in from God knows where
places far away that you’d never been to
’cause they weren’t scenes you’d ever been into,
when you’d rather be swingin’ with all of those cats
who knew who you were and dug where you’re at,
with your coocoo vignettes and weird pirouettes
half-smoked cigarettes and crumpled-up hat.

So Thelonious,
you’ll be this mad genius, is that your plan?
Hey, I can dig it, like crazy, man.
You won’t walk, you’ll stumble,
you won’t talk, you’ll mumble.
in the face of your greatness
you’ll be non-verbally humble
You won’t speak with everyday words,
you’ll use weird voicings and harmonies to get heard,
played from charts you’ve written in crayon
from a soul of pure silk
for a crowd made of rayon,
with everyone wondering what prayer rug you pray on
while enduring the bed of aesthetic nails that you lay on.
Like a Crow pecks for food in a musical cornfield
you’ll peck for the truth asking:
How do the horns feel?
and what does the bass think and are all of the reeds
being blown with the funk and the flava they need
to convey all the colors that explode in your head
before they burn through your soul and leave you for dead.

And now, Thelonious,
in the years since you’re gone,
the musical mountains you moved are the ones I still climb on
With your stiff stick-like fingers you slapped at the keyboard
spreading torn-cornered coolness from seaboard to seaboard
It must have been hard for you, a child in the cold
alone in a dark backyard with noone to hold
But like a man wears a wig when he loses his real hair
your ballet grew sick so you danced in a wheelchair
And nobody minded that you were losing your grip
’cause we were all blinded by how brilliant and hip
you remained as you blew to your final goodnight,
and proved they were all wrong
because Thelonious, you were right

 

 

Share this:

Comment on this article:

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

In This Issue

painting of Clifford Brown by Paul Lovering
A Collection of Jazz Poetry — Spring/Summer, 2024 Edition...In this, the 17th major collection of jazz poetry published on Jerry Jazz Musician, 50 poets from all over the world again demonstrate the ongoing influence the music and its associated culture has on their creative lives.

(featuring the art of Paul Lovering)

Publisher’s Notes

photo by Rhonda Dorsett
On turning 70, and contemplating the future of Jerry Jazz Musician...

The Sunday Poem

photo via NegativeSpace
“Why I Play Guitar” by C.J. Trotter...

Click here to read previous editions of The Sunday Poem

Poetry

“Revival” © Kent Ambler.
If You Want to Go to Heaven, Follow a Songbird – Mary K O’Melveny’s album of poetry and music...While consuming Mary K O’Melveny’s remarkable work in this digital album of poetry, readings and music, readers will discover that she is moved by the mastery of legendary musicians, the wings of a monarch butterfly, the climate and political crisis, the mysteries of space exploration, and by the freedom of jazz music that can lead to what she calls “the magic of the unknown.” (with art by Kent Ambler)

Interview

The Marvelettes/via Wikimedia Commons
Interview with Laura Flam and Emily Sieu Liebowitz, authors of But Will You Love Me Tomorrow?: An Oral History of the 60’s Girl Groups...Little is known of the lives and challenges many of the young Black women who made up the Girl Groups of the ‘60’s faced while performing during an era rife with racism, sexism, and music industry corruption. The authors discuss their book’s mission to provide the artists an opportunity to voice their experiences so crucial to the evolution of popular music.

Book Excerpt

An excerpt from Emily Jon Tobias’ MONARCH: Stories, and a reflection on our friendship

In Memoriam

photo via Wikimedia Commons
A few words about Willie Mays...Thoughts about the impact Willie Mays had on baseball, and on my life.

Poetry

photo of Earl Hines by William Gottlieb/Library of Congress
Pianists and Poets – 13 poems devoted to the keys...From “Fatha” Hines to Brad Mehldau, poets open themselves up to their experiences with and reverence for great jazz pianists

Art

photo of Archie Shepp by Giovanni Piesco
The Photographs of Giovanni Piesco: Archie Shepp...photos of the legendary saxophonist (and his rhythm section for the evening), taken at Amsterdam's Bimhuis on May 13, 2001.

Poetry

CC BY-SA 4.0 , via Wikimedia Commons
“On Coltrane: 4th of July Reflections” – a poem by Connie Johnson

Click here to read more poetry published in Jerry Jazz Musician

Calling All Poets!

News about a Jerry Jazz Musician printed jazz poetry anthology, and information about submitting your poetry for consideration

Short Fiction

pickpik.com
Short Fiction Contest-winning story #65 — “Ballad” by Lúcia Leão...The author’s award-winning story is about the power of connections – between father and child, music and art, and the past, present and future.

Click here to read more short fiction published on Jerry Jazz Musician

Interview

photo of Louis Jordan by William Gottlieb/Library of Congress
Interview with Tad Richards, author of Jazz With a Beat: Small Group Swing, 1940 – 1960...Richards makes the case that small group swing players like Illinois Jacquet, Louis Jordan (pictured) and Big Jay McNeely played a legitimate jazz that was a more pleasing listening experience to the Black community than the bebop of Parker, Dizzy, and Monk. It is a fascinating era, filled with major figures and events, and centered on a rigorous debate that continues to this day – is small group swing “real jazz?”

Playlist

photo of Coleman Hawkins by William Gottlieb/Library of Congress
“The Naked Jazz Musician” – A playlist by Bob Hecht...As Sonny Rollins has said, “Jazz is about taking risks, pushing boundaries, and challenging the status quo.” Could there be anything riskier—or more boundary-pushing—than to stand naked and perform with nowhere to hide? Bob’s extensive playlist is comprised of such perilous undertakings by an array of notable woodwind and brass masters who have had the confidence and courage (some might say even the exhibitionism) to expose themselves so completely by playing….alone.

Feature

Excerpts from David Rife’s Jazz Fiction: Take Two – Vol. 3: “Louis Armstrong”...A substantial number of novels and stories with jazz music as a component of the story have been published over the years, and the scholar David J. Rife has written short essay/reviews of them. In this third edition featuring excerpts from his book, Rife writes about four novels/short fiction that include stories involving Louis Armstrong.

Trading Fours with Douglas Cole

The cover of Wayne Shorter's 2018 Blue Note album "Emanon"
Trading Fours, with Douglas Cole, No. 20: “Notes on Genius...This edition of the writer’s poetic interpretations of jazz recordings and film is written in response to the music of Wayne Shorter.

Click here to read previous editions of Trading Fours with Douglas Cole

In Memoriam

Hans Bernhard (Schnobby), CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons
“Remembering Joe Pass: Versatile Jazz Guitar Virtuoso” – by Kenneth Parsons...On the 30th anniversary of the guitarist Joe Pass’ death, Kenneth Parsons reminds readers of his brilliant career

Book Excerpt

Book excerpt from Jazz with a Beat: Small Group Swing 1940 – 1960, by Tad Richards

Click here to read more book excerpts published on Jerry Jazz Musician

Jazz History Quiz #173

photo of Louis Armstrong by William Gottlieb/Library of Congress
Described as a “Louis Armstrong sound-alike on both trumpet and vocals” whose recording of “On the Sunny Side of the Street” was so close to Armstrong’s live show that some listeners thought Armstrong was copying him, this trumpeter (along with Bobby Stark), was Chick Webb’s main trumpet soloist during the 1930’s. Who is he?

Community

photo via Picryl.com
.“Community Bookshelf, #2"...a twice-yearly space where writers who have been published on Jerry Jazz Musician can share news about their recently authored books. This edition includes information about books published within the last six months or so…

Contributing Writers

Click the image to view the writers, poets and artists whose work has been published on Jerry Jazz Musician, and find links to their work

Coming Soon

An interview with Larry Tye, author of The Jazzmen: How Duke Ellington, Louis Armstrong, and Count Basie Transformed America; an interview with James Kaplan, author of 3 Shades of Blue: Miles Davis, John Coltrane, Bill Evans, and the Lost Empire of Cool; A new collection of jazz poetry; a collection of jazz haiku; a new Jazz History Quiz; short fiction; poetry; photography; interviews; playlists; and lots more in the works...

Interview Archive

Ella Fitzgerald/IISG, CC BY-SA 2.0 , via Wikimedia Commons
Click to view the complete 25-year archive of Jerry Jazz Musician interviews, including those recently published with Judith Tick on Ella Fitzgerald (pictured),; Laura Flam and Emily Sieu Liebowitz on the Girl Groups of the 60's; Tad Richards on Small Group Swing; Stephanie Stein Crease on Chick Webb; Brent Hayes Edwards on Henry Threadgill; Richard Koloda on Albert Ayler; Glenn Mott on Stanley Crouch; Richard Carlin and Ken Bloom on Eubie Blake; Richard Brent Turner on jazz and Islam; Alyn Shipton on the art of jazz; Shawn Levy on the original queens of standup comedy; Travis Atria on the expatriate trumpeter Arthur Briggs; Kitt Shapiro on her life with her mother, Eartha Kitt; Will Friedwald on Nat King Cole; Wayne Enstice on the drummer Dottie Dodgion; the drummer Joe La Barbera on Bill Evans; Philip Clark on Dave Brubeck; Nicholas Buccola on James Baldwin and William F. Buckley; Ricky Riccardi on Louis Armstrong; Dan Morgenstern and Christian Sands on Erroll Garner; Maria Golia on Ornette Coleman.

Site Archive