Click Image to Visit the Pecan Grove Press Web Page for Poetry from Paradise Valley


Poetry From Paradise Valley

Pecan Grove Press has released an anthology of poems, a sampling of works published in Valparaiso Poetry Review during its first decade, from the original 1999-2000 volume to the 2009-2010 volume.

Poetry from Paradise Valley includes a stellar roster of 50 poets. Among the contributors are a former Poet Laureate of the United States, a winner of the Griffin International Prize, two Pulitzer Prize winners, two National Book Award winners, two National Book Critics Circle winners, six finalists for the National Book Award, four finalists for the National Book Critics Circle Award, two finalists for the Pulitzer Prize, and a few dozen recipients of other honors, such as fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation, the National Endowment for the Arts, etc.

Readers are encouraged to visit the Poetry from Paradise Valley page at the publisher's web site, where ordering information about the book can be found.

Best Books of Indiana 2011: Finalist. Judges' Citation: "Poetry from Paradise Valley is an excellent anthology that features world-class poetry, including the work of many artists from the Midwest, such as Jared Carter, Annie Finch, David Baker, and Allison Joseph. It’s an eclectic and always interesting collection where poems on similar themes flow into each other. It showcases the highest caliber of U. S. poetry."
—Indiana Center for the Book, Indiana State Library

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Bill Evans and Sebastian Matthews

Next spring will mark the 50th anniversary of a monumental moment in jazz history, the production of an album that has stood apart from its contemporaries like no other. For nearly half a century, Kind of Blue, recorded by the Miles Davis Sextet, has maintained its reputation as a groundbreaking achievement and a work that has greatly influenced those generations of jazz musicians who have followed. In Ashley Kahn’s book chronicling the recording, Kind of Blue: The Making of the Miles Davis Masterpiece, the author refers to this release as the “premier album of its era, jazz or otherwise. Classical buffs and rage rockers alike praise its subtlety, simplicity and emotional depth. Copies of the albums are passed to friends and given to lovers. The album has sold millions of copies around the world, making it the best-selling recording in Miles Davis’s catalog and the best-selling classic jazz album ever.”

At the time of this recording, the Miles Davis Sextet consisted of Davis (trumpet), Julian “Cannonball” Adderley (alto saxophone), Paul Chambers (bass), James Cobb (drums), John Coltrane (tenor saxophone), and Bill Evans (piano). Wynton Kelly substituted for Evans on one of the tracks. Of the band’s members, Bill Evans seemed the most curious addition. When Davis had invited Evans to join the combo, the pianist was not as well known as the others in the group. Evans, born on this date (August 16) in 1929, was in his late twenties, and he had been appearing in some clubs as a sideman or had performed as a session player on a few recordings, but he lacked the kind of experience evidenced by the rest of the sextet.

Moreover, as Grover Sales notes in his book, Jazz: America’s Classical Music, being the only white member of the band, Evans was eyed suspiciously by some in the jazz community: “Black critic LeRoi Jones (Amiri Baraka) and white Third World polemicists like Frank Kofsky filled the jazz press with angry manifestos, insisting jazz to be the black music of protest and denouncing all whites as copyists at best and rip-off exploiters at worst. Miles Davis’s reaction to the oft-voiced complaints about Bill Evans’s color was, ‘I don’t care if he’s purple, blue, green or polka dotted—Bill has the piano sound I want in my group.’”

In addition, Bill Evans brought to the music a different perspective and more formal background, one that included classical training on piano and flute, as well as university studies in music theory. Indeed, Evans’s interest in classical composers—like Bartók, Beethoven, Debussy, Prokofiev, Ravel, and others—contributed to his distinctive style. Evans combined these influences with lessons learned from legends of traditional jazz, such as Art Tatum, and more contemporary figures, like Bud Powell. In his volume, The History of Jazz, Ted Gioia suggests the inclusion of Evans as an accompanist for Davis and the other band members greatly shaped the sextet’s style: “The cooler aesthetic of Davis and Evans tempered and counterbalanced the fire-and-brimstone exhortations of Coltrane and Adderley. . .. Bill Evans’s impressionistic harmonies added to the emotive power of Kind of Blue, and served to reinforce Davis’s zen-like insistence on simplicity of means. Coltrane and Adderley, who by temperament were much hotter players, responded with some of the crispest solos of their careers.”

Much of the commentary on the pieces comprising Kind of Blue usually focuses on an emphasis placed upon the moods and musical momentum engendered by modal jazz. For example, even Evans, who with his academic education in such writing had assumed the task of authoring the album’s now famous liner notes, described one piece as “a 6/8 12-measure blues form that produces its mood through only a few modal changes and Miles Davis’s free melodic conception.”

Shortly after the recording sessions for Kind of Blue, Evans left the band to continue his personal work as a soloist and as a leader of his own trio. The first trio he formed included bassist Scott LaFaro and drummer Paul Motian, and that combo established Evans as an influential figure independent of his association with Miles Davis. Although the three performed together only briefly because of the tragic death of LaFaro in an automobile accident at the age of twenty-five, the trio set a standard for many of the similar mixes of musicians who would follow. Fortunately, a live recording of the combo performing during a two-week appearance at the Village Vanguard in 1961— a stint that concluded only ten days before LaFaro’s death—reminds listeners more than four decades later of the group’s greatness.

Despite a serious problem with alcohol and drug abuse for most of the two decades following the formation of that group, and the pianist’s gradual withdrawal into himself, Bill Evans remarkably produced more than fifty albums with his various trios or as a soloist. During this time he developed a singular profile at the piano at odds with his earlier conservative appearance in more formal attire: casually dressed, the bearded and longhaired Evans would hunch way over the keyboard with his head only inches above the keys almost as if in meditative prayer. However, Evans died in 1980 at the age of fifty-one due to health issues related to his addictions.

Nevertheless, Bill Evans’s influence and legend has continued. In 1984, a poll of nearly fifty top jazz keyboardists listed Evans as their favorite jazz pianist, and they placed him behind only Art Tatum as jazz history’s most influential pianist. Today, those contemporary jazz pianists who exhibit the influence of Evans include Chick Corea, Herbie Hancock, and Keith Jarrett, as well as dozens of others.

I know it is safe to say that Kind of Blue and the recordings of the Bill Evans Trio at the Village Vanguard are among my most frequent selections for entertainment in evenings when reading and especially at those times when I’m writing new poems. I confess that perhaps I sometimes rely on the distinctive rhythmic pacing and overall tones evident in the music to help guide my own phrasing and creation of mood when placing words or ordering images in my poetry.

Certainly, such an influence of jazz on poets appears commonplace. Yet, few poets have attached their writing to an influence from jazz or the blues to the extent William Matthews did. A devoted fan of jazz, Matthews was well-known for linking the two art forms: “There’s something I know about phrasing and how to keep a fairly long sentence afloat for seven to a dozen lines of free verse without it losing its shape or momentum. If I’m right in thinking I can do that, I learned it more from listening to music than from listening to poetry.” Furthermore, like some contemporary poets, Matthews envied the power of jazz or the blues to “communicate without soliciting consent” the way words need to “elicit agreement from a reader.” For further consideration of William Matthews’s poetry, readers are invited to examine my long essay on Search Party, his collected poems: “To Learn to Love the Blues.”

Indeed, much has been written about the connections between jazz and a number of contemporary poems, particularly as evidenced in various collections devoted to such poetry, including those Indiana University Press jazz poetry anthologies edited by Sascha Feinstein and Yusef Komunyakaa or Moment’s Notice: Jazz in Poetry and Prose (Coffee House Press), edited by Art Lange and Nathaniel Mackey. Therefore, one would not be surprised to find a fair number of recent poets—including Peter Balakian, Alan Feldman, Gerald Locklin, Jeffrey Skinner, and Bill Zavatsky, among others—have been inspired by Bill Evans or alluded to the musician in their works.

Appropriately, Sebastian Matthews has produced one of the finest poems evoking Bill Evans and the period of modern jazz he epitomized. In his memoirs, In My Father’s Footsteps, Sebastian comments: “My father wrote well about jazz because he had taken what he had learned from its masters—Louis, Duke, Bird, Pres, Coltrane, Mingus, Miles—much of what he knew as cool. And he had a good enough ear to approximate its rhythms in his own verse. And, damn it, because he had soul.” As a poet similarly fascinated by jazz and the power of music, Sebastian Matthews definitely has followed in his father’s footsteps, as readers can witness in his excellent recent collection of poetry, We Generous (Red Hen Press, 2007), which contains a section of poems referencing music and musicians, such as Miles Davis, Roy Eldridge, Billie Holiday, Sonny Rollins, and Louis Armstrong. The book even carries a lovely photograph of Armstrong on its cover. His poem in the volume alluding to Bill Evans:


Near the end of Bill Evans’ “Porgy (I Loves You, Porgy)”
played live at the Village Vanguard and added as an extra track
on Waltz for Debby (a session made famous by the death
of the trio’s young bassist in a car crash) a woman laughs.
There’s been background babble bubbling up the whole set.
You get used to the voices percolating at the songs’ fringes,
the clink of glasses and tips of silver on hard plates. Listen
to the recording enough and you almost accept the aural clutter
as another percussive trick the drummer pulls out, like brushes
on a snare. But this woman’s voice stands out for its carefree
audacity, how it broadcasts the lovely ascending stair of her happiness.
Evans has just made one of his elegant, casual flights up an octave
and rests on its landing, notes spilling from his left hand
like sunlight, before coming back down into the tune’s lush
living-room of a conclusion. The laugh begins softly, subsides,
then lifts up to step over the bass line: five short bursts of pleasure
pushed out of what can only be a long lovely tan throat. Maybe
Evans smiles to himself when he hears it, leaving a little space
between the notes he’s cobbled to close the song; maybe
the man she’s with leans in, first to still her from the laugh
he’s just coaxed from her, then to caress the cascade of her hair
that hangs, lace curtain, in the last vestiges of spotlight stippling the table.

Readers are urged to visit the fine “From the Fishouse” web site, where they may listen to Sebastian Matthews reading “Live at the Village Vanguard.”

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