In the same way a jazz musician feels into the heart of a melody to improvise a free expression of its soul, Jeff Park in this collection of poems imagines the inner lives of the jazz greats, spinning onto the page their physical worlds, the emotional meanings of events in their lives, and the stories they told themselves about their place in the scheme of things.
Meet Jelly Roll Morton as God, Billie Holiday as unwilling accomplice in her grandmother’s death, and Lester “Prez” Young as a lad on the streets of a New Orleans suburb, absorbing jazz along with the boat whistles and neighborhood arguments. Stay up all night in Paris with Duke Ellington. Get inside the skin of Mingus as he challenges racism. See, feel, taste, and smell their world.
Many of these musicians experienced poverty, abuse, and racism. Music became a way to push back, to imagine and indeed to create a world “rising like a dream/from all that is broken” where, as Park writes of Mingus, “all would change, anything was possible.”
Jazz aficionados and general readers alike will love these poems that distill powerful characters and potent contexts into a few vivid lines. You’ll want to revisit them again and again, like tracks on a favourite album.
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