3/28/2008 2:54:31 PM
Celebrate Life with Jazz Music Appreciation and National Poetry Month 2008
Poetry and Jazz Music have been friendly kissing cousins at least since the 1920s during the United States’ great jazz age and the very famous worldwide Harlem Renaissance. That was when the great author Langston Hughes and others thrilled themselves and their friends by reciting and recording poetry to the beats of jazz. Many more––Jack Kerouac, Nikki Giovanni, Amiri Baraka, Sekou Sundiata, June Jordan, etc––later followed their example.
With that in mind, it makes sense that the Academy of American Poets kicked off the first National Poetry Month in April 1996, and that the Smithsonian Institution followed suit in April 2002 with a “Jam Session” headed by famed New Orleans son Branford Marsalis. In April 2003, the Jam Session was officially recognized by the U.S. Congress as Jazz Music Appreciation Month.
Some might say, “Yeah, well, that’s nice and everything but why bother to celebrate?” Excellent question. Here are some answers:
Probably no other single literary genre provided as great an outlet for the expression of grief, outrage, fear, despair, and love that followed the horrendous massacres of September 11, 2001, as poetry did. It blossomed in blogs, transformed city walls, and gave birth to a full-fledged spoken word movement complete with CDs, DVDs, open mic slams, chap books, anthologies, YouTube rants and raves, and entire online communities dedicated to the culture of poetic craftsmanship.
In short, poetry helped to unify hearts and souls in the New Millennium the way jazz did in the last century and is starting to do again in this one. As a musical, intellectual, and spiritual art form, jazz is about the cultivation of a sensibility that allows you to entertain creative possibilities and then apply those possibilities to good effect––either spontaneously during performance or in a more studied manner while recording. We can make a similar statement about poetry.
In many ways, the celebrations are already underway. The Grammy Awards made the bold and brilliant move this year to present legendary jazzman Herbie Hancock with the album of the year for “River: The Joni Letters.” It marked the first time in almost half a century that a jazz album won the coveted prize. The increasing strength of the music can be seen and heard in both of singer Carmen Lundy’s last two CD releases: “Jazz and the New Songbook,” and “Come Home.” And of course the Smithsonian Institution is still faithfully spreading the gospel of jazz with events in 2008 around the globe.
Along similar lines, independent literary artists and the Academy of American Poets are already set for a spectacular National Poetry Month. One particularly fun way to observe the celebration is with the first “Poem In Your Pocket Day.” According to Academy folks: ”On April 17, Americans will mark the first national Poem In Your Pocket Day by carrying poems and sharing them with co-workers, family, friends, and even strangers. Celebrating the power of the poem to both transport a reader and be transported by one, the day will include events at bookstores, libraries, schools, parks, and workplaces throughout the country.”
So, again, why celebrate National Poetry Month and Jazz Music Appreciation Month in April 2008? Because poetry and music help us celebrate life, and where in today’s world can we not stand to see more celebrations of life instead of more life getting destroyed?
by Author-Poet Aberjhani
author of The Bridge of Silver Wings
and Encyclopedia of the Harlem Renaissance