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

Friday, August 21, 2009

Count Basie and Yusef Komunyakaa

I can hear Duke in the right hand
& Basie in the left
as the young piano player
nudges us into the past.

Count (William) Basie was born on this date (August 21) in 1904. He died in 1984 at the age of 79. One of my earliest memories involving learning to appreciate jazz includes evenings sitting in the family living room of our Brooklyn apartment as a small boy with my father listening to long-playing records on the large console stereo. My father preferred the sounds of swing bands that had gained popularity before the onset of bebop. I usually enjoyed a Count Basie album above the others in my father’s collection, probably because the music always made me want to tap my feet and keep the beat. Decades later I was pleased to discover one of Basie’s well-known mottos: “If you play a tune and a person don't tap their feet, don't play the tune.”

Count Basie’s style of play on the piano often has been described as clean or even minimal; however, as part of a big band, Basie seemed to acknowledge his role frequently needed to remain as merely an introduction to solo parts by other instruments or sometimes as a subtle invitation for listeners to consider the orchestra as a whole. As guitarist Freddie Green once explained: “Basie’s piano contributes, without any doubt, to the beat of the band. He stopped the gaps. I feel very at ease when I play with him, for he always seems to know what to play, from the point of view of rhythm. Count is also the best pianist I know for warming up an orchestra, and accompanying soloists.”

In The History of Jazz (Oxford University Press, 1997), Ted Gioia offers a perceptive comment about Basie’s piano playing: “One of the most singular keyboardists in the history of jazz, Basie refined a sparser, more open sounding approach than any of his predecessors. It was almost as though jazz piano, under Basie’s tutelage, stopped shouting and learned to talk, learned to banter and whisper, at times even hold its tongue in silence that said more than most high-flown oratory. One of the many delights of his music came from hearing how he could do so much with so little. Incisive, robust, energized—the ends achieved seemed at odds with the meager means employed.”

As a bandleader, Basie also influenced the direction of jazz by recruiting and developing some of the finest musicians or singers of his time, including Harry Edison, Chu Berry, Freddie Green, Buck Clayton, Buddy Tate, Thad Jones, Herschel Evans, Walter Page, Jo Jones, Lester Young, Jimmy Rushing, Billie Holiday, Helen Humes, and a number of others. Additionally, some suggest Basie’s spare style on the piano influenced the eventual rhythms later evident in various compositions by keyboardists of the bebop and cool jazz eras.

Basie, who’d always been called “Bill” as a young man, received the title of “Count” in the early 1930s when a radio announcer decided to rank him alongside Duke Ellington and other jazz royalty. In his fine poem, “Jasmine,” Yusef Komunyakaa also acknowledges Count Basie’s importance as an influential figure in the history of jazz piano alongside Duke Ellington—“I can hear Duke in the right hand / & Basie in the left”:


I sit beside two women, kitty-corner
to the stage, as Elvin’s sticks blur
the club into a blue fantasia.
I thought my body had forgotten the Deep
South, how I’d cross the street
if a woman like these two walked
towards me, as if a cat traversed
my path beneath the evening star.
Which one is wearing jasmine?
If my grandmothers saw me now
they’d say, Boy, the devil never sleeps.
My mind is lost among November
cotton flowers, a soft rain on my face
as Richard Davis plucks the fat notes
of chance on his upright
leaning into the future.
The blonde, the brunette—
which one is scented with jasmine?
I can hear Duke in the right hand
& Basie in the left
as the young piano player
nudges us into the past.
The trumpet’s almost kissed
by enough pain. Give him a few more years,
a few more ghosts to embrace—Clifford’s
shadow on the edge of the stage.
The sign says, No Talking.
Elvin’s guardian angel lingers
at the top of the stairs,
counting each drop of sweat
paid in tribute. The blonde
has her eyes closed, & the brunette
is looking at me. Our bodies
sway to each riff, the jasmine
rising from a valley somewhere
in Egypt, a white moon
opening countless false mouths
of laughter. The midnight
gatherers are boys & girls
with the headlights of trucks
aimed at their backs, because
their small hands refuse to wound
the knowing scent hidden in each bloom.

—Yusef Komunyakaa

Visitors are invited to read more about “Jazz Poetry as a Literary Genre” at An Author's Assemblage.


Keith Wilson said...

Reading this poem with the song playing in the background is an amazing thing. It definitely gives it a different feel than I think I would have had without the accompaniment .

Trée said...


Anonymous said...

Hey, I'm making a blog for my english class about Yusef Komunyakaa. I was really excited to find another person talking about him in their blog. Komunyakaa's "Jasmine" poem was one of my favorites, and your post helped me better understand the jazz references he makes in the poem.