Three poets inspired by jazz divas

July 15th, 2021

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You Go To My Head” — a portrait of Sarah Vaughan by Christel Roelandt

painting of Sarah Vaughan by Christel Roelandt

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Channeling Sarah Vaughan,
…………The Divine One 

My mouth hungry
ravenous lips slathered
with Radiant Ruby gloss
I dine on the very edges
of the celestial universe.
Ingest illumination
until my voice box
awakens antiquities,
beguiling even the moon.

I multiply in the sky.
I am a constellation
of modulating mirrors.

I scat from note to note
one cadenza at a time.
I shatter nebulas
with molten melismas.
I fracture asteroids
with arpeggios borrowed
from the curve of the constellations.
Coloratura soprano
channeling the chromatic cosmos.
A leitmotif of hymns
composed of phosphorescent fusions
and glittering glissandos.
I weave milky galaxies
of buoyant luminaries,
of syncopated stars.

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by Marianne Peel

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Two Black Beauties with Presidential Stage Names
………………(plus one admirer)

I. Abbey Lincoln

Raised Anna Marie Wooldridge,
your early Abbey Lincoln gems
are heartfelt torch-song blues
including one you wrote: “Let Up”
a list poem’s worth of “ups”
when loving faltered, affair wound down
Then you became fed up with black and blue,
sang into power civil rights
with Freedom Now Suite: We Insist!
commemorative of 100 years pretend Emancipation.
Constant terror and coercion met your namesake’s proclamation.
Your 1960s “Triptych” screams, your charismatic beauty
proved to silhouette and demonize slavemasters’ lust.
You project integrity in face of deafening white mistrust,
our lame excuses, wounded pleas for moderation.
Embracing Mother Africa, Aminata Moseka you became,
a woman who persisted decades prior to the meme
From a black female center, you sang your own extreme,
insisting on our common sisterly refrain
choral all who are sick ’n tired of living in polarity of pain.

II. Dinah Washington

Commemorating August 29: occasion of
your birthday, Ruth Lee Jones, I must, of course
acknowledge some misfortune —
that natal day you shared with Charlie Parker,
along with jazz of premature departure
Yours, accidental, overdosed on diet drugs plus booze

Successor to The Empress, Bessie Smith
You, Dinah Washington, The Queen,
another pioneer of equal opportunity —
…..ask Texas alto saxist Bert Etta Davis,
…..your road show “Lady Bird”
…..or your orchestra’s arrangers:
…..trombonist Melba Liston, pianist Patty Bown

To sing the blues you had to
BE the blues,
to write the blues
you sang
your SELF unsilenced
THAT is your success

With sisters who adored you in your time
I hear between your lines
messages not even your accompanists suspected —
…..conversations lovers only hear
…..assertions fraught with possibility . . .
…..Sang you Miss D: “Ask A Woman Who Knows”
…..“What a Diff’rence A Day Makes”

III. Me

Admiring jazz women, that’s what I do,
white ally armed with
neither bullets nor excuses.
I love the subtleties in lyrics sung by these two
responsive, resolute, wise
and capable chanteuses.

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by Catherine Lee

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The Girl from Ipanema, Washakie Center, the University of Wyoming, 1969
…………………………………………..After Diane DeCillis*

Sunday dinner at Washakie Center was a washout.
……We had a rule: if you can’t differentiate the meat
from the cheese or the spinach they dished out,
……Don’t Eat It! UW was an agricultural school, a haven
for the semi-literate progeny of Wyoming ranchers who,

in between beer chugging contests and squiring wads of snuff
……against their lower lips and incisors, learned modern
techniques of breeding cattle, but who secretly believed that
……“animal husbandry” was the study of freaky relations
between a cowpoke and what he poked. The so-called “steaks”

served at the Washakie Center to us dorm-bound undergrads
……brindled with iridescence reminiscent of industrial
spill-bubbles or the necks of grackles. Clearly those noxious slabs
……were the result of insemination experiments gone awry.
As we watched waitresses, yes waitresses, carry platters of inch

and a half thick USDA prime into the private dining room of UW’s
……football and basketball teams, we leered at our thin slices
of mystery meat and imagined steers collapsing, one by one, after
……white-coated gentlemen injected them with the foggy effluvia
of their looney laboratory ludicrousies. We feared that those

experimental errata landed on our plates! While enduring such
……anxiety-laden repasts we were forced to listen to an unending
loop of Muzak that featured The Girl from Ipanema every seventh track.
……Naturally we associated this gorgeous piece with the culinary
catastrophe cast upon us every Sunday. It took years for me

to appreciate Gilberto’s slightly off-key lilt, the brilliant backing
……of Mr. Cool’s smokey sax, and the sacred mesh of their
sexy call and response—years to cast-off the sense that
……The Girl from Ipanema comprised the soundtrack of
an agricultural conundrum of cosmic proportions.

…………………………..*”The Girl From Ipanema Visits Detroit, 1964,” in Diane Decillis, When the Heart Needs a Stunt Double, Wayne State University Press, 2021.

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by Charlie Brice

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After having taught middle and high school English for 32 years, Marianne Peel is now nurturing her own creative spirit. She has spent three summers in Guizhou Province, teaching best practices to teachers in China. She received Fulbright-Hays Awards to Nepal (2003) and Turkey (2009). Marianne participated in Marge Piercy’s Juried Intensive Poetry Workshop (2016). Marianne’s poetry appears in Muddy River Poetry Review, Belle Reve Literary Journal, Jelly Bucket Journal, among others. Marianne is also a veteran musician, playing flute/sax and singing in various orchestras, bands, choirs, and jazz bands her whole life. She has a collection of poetry forthcoming in 2020 from Shadelandhouse Modern Press.

[email protected]

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Catherine Lee reads solo and performs with improvising musicians “on poem” when she can. Five of her annotated jazz-related poems were featured in the July 2020 “Music” Issue 5 of Northampton Poetry Review, pages 63-74. Her multimedia poetry, documentary videos, and radio specials are archived on Soundcloud and VIMEO. Find artist-handmade, numbered, limited edition chapbooks (We Free Kin and A Rested Development) with music CD at Jazz-Ovation-Inn.com.

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Charlie Brice won the 2020 Field Guide Magazine Poetry Contest. His chapbook, All the Songs Sung (Angel Flight Press), and his fourth poetry collection, The Broad Grin of Eternity (WordTech Editions) arrived in 2021. His poetry has been nominated for the Best of Net Anthology and three times for a Pushcart Prize and has appeared in The Atlanta Review, Chiron Review, The Paterson Literary Review, The Sunlight Press, Sparks of Calliope, and elsewhere.

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Christel Roelandt  is a Belgian painter from Ghent in Flanders who now lives in Beirut. Her work focuses on the human form; faces and nudes, and she finds inspiration by all things beautiful and often by books, music and films.

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Listen to the 1957 recording of Sarah Vaughan singing “Pennies From Heaven”

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Listen to the 1959 recording of Abbey Lincoln singing “Let Up”

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Listen to the 1959 recording of Dinah Washington singing “What a Difference a Day Made”

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Listen to the 1963 recording of Astrud Gilberto singing “The Girl From Ipanema”

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