From Marsalis, Jazz Profiles in Verse for Kids

'Jazz ABZ'
Copyright © 2005 Paul Rogers
Louis Armstrong
Copyright © 2005 Paul Rogers

Poetry Readings

Marsalis and students from Duke Ellington High School for the Performing arts in Washington, D.C., read from 'Jazz ABZ.'

Listen: Amanda Fernandez Reads 'Count Basie'

Wynton Marsalis puts down his horn and picks up his pen for his latest project. It's a book called Jazz ABZ: An A to Z Collection of Jazz Portraits, and in it, Marsalis shares his deep knowledge of jazz in all its forms with children.

Marsalis jitterbugs his way through the alphabet, profiling 26 jazz legends — from Louis Armstrong through Dizzy Gillespie — through a variety of poetic forms.

At first, Marsalis considered writing poems and music for each portrait. But the thought of writing music for these jazz legends just didn't seem right.

Here are a few poems from the collection:

'Louis Armstrong'

 

Armstrong.

 

Armstrong almighty!

 

An ad-libbing acrobat.

 

American ambassador of affirmation.

 

Adventurous author of ambrosial aires.

 

Absolute architect of the Jazz Age.

 

Almighty Armstrong attacks a trumpet with abandon!

 

Armstrong's amazing artistry astonishes audiences of all ages.

 

Africa to Asia, Australia to Argentina, and even Armenia, Ambassador Armstrong animates the altitudes with angular aural arabesques aplenty.

 

Awkward adagio arias adjusted with agile allegro accents appease Armstrong's admirers.

 

Anybody asks, tell them Armstrong almighty is aglow amidst the angels above.

 

Count Basie
Copyright © 2005 Paul Rogers

Count Basie

 

Bouncin' with my baby to Basie's Big Time Band, Bouncin' with my baby to Basie's Big Time Band, Rhythm is their business, but the blues is their brand.

 

Up from Kansas City with a buttoned-down four-four swing, Up from Kansas City with a buttoned-down four-four swing, Brilliant brass blazin' and that boom-boom! bass drum thing.

 

Baked beans and barbecue and a big brown bass below, Baked beans and barbecue and a big brown bass below, Best be back behind the beat when Basie's band begins to blow.

 

Prez, both Franks and Papa Jo are standing in the wings.

Prez, both Franks and Papa Jo are standing in the wings.

'Bout to brew the beastly groove that Basie always brings.

 

Sweets and Buck and Snooky Young and a bone man named Al Grey, Sweets and Buck and Snooky Young and a bone man named Al Grey, Burnished bells boast and blare that Basie's come to play.

 

Hey Count Basie! Basie what you got to say?

Hey Count Basie! Basie what you got to say?

Bouncin' with my baby, 'bout to swing the blues away.

 

John Coltrane
Copyright © 2005 Paul Rogers

'John Coltrane'

 

Coltrane is a country boy come calling on the big city.

 

Aww but couldn't he croon a campground tune with ironclad candor?

 

But couldn't he caress a popular melody with cold-blooded compassion?

 

Couldn't he conjure up the ceremonial clamor of churchy Carolina congregations!

 

 

Coltrane is a country boy quite chilly in the cold coast city.

 

Aww but couldn't he construct a comprehensive course of study to conquer the

 

incompliant techniques of the tenor saxophone?

 

But couldn't he call upon a colossal capacity to concentrate?

 

Couldn't he practice and practice and incessantly practice his craft

 

with uncompromising conviction?

 

 

Coltrane, country as cornbread, collard greens, fried chicken, cane, and even

 

chitlins, is celebrated in the big city as upcoming

 

champion of scales, clefs, and cutting-edge concepts.

 

Aww but couldn't he capsize calcified conventions and challenge the contrarian campus critics?

 

But couldn't he create controversy amongst the condescending cognoscenti,

 

the (chatty) clever, the certified, and the (merely) competent?

 

Couldn't he just keep on cascading through closely clustered chord

 

changes, cartwheeling through complex, careening, chromatic calculations?

 

 

Coltrane is a comet, a constellation, a cherished citizen of the cosmos.

 

Aww but couldn't he cackle and cry and scream freedom up the chock-full core

 

of a volcanic cadenza?

 

But couldn't he hot-comb the creases out of a cheeky classic and

 

completely captivate a packed-to-capacity corner club?

 

Couldn't he coax and cajole common sense out of a corrupted

 

culture and crusade for our country's long-in-the-coming civil rights?

 

 

Coltrane was a country boy come to the big city 'come lost in the stars.

 

Aww but couldn't he cram a century of conflict and confusion into a

 

compelling catechism to convert charlatans?

 

But couldn't he corkscrew cacophonous currents of clearly

 

channeled consciousness through a cookie-cutter

 

community of too-cerebral concertgoers

 

seeking change or a cheap charge?

 

Couldn't he cook up a cauldron of convoluted callaloo to

 

confound the casual fan and curious recruit

 

alike with cosmic cubist counterpoint,

 

incomprehensible crescendoing of cymbals,

 

ceaseless chaos, crisscrossed columns of

 

sonic calculus, and a stormy sea of collective

 

concerns come crashing down to chase the crazy crowd away!

 

Billie Holiday
Copyright © 2005 Paul Rogers

'Billie Holiday'

 

Lazy, listless, languishing longly

 

laying low and all alone.

 

Losing at love and living. I'm

 

lost in life. . . . Lost and left alone.

 

Last-ditch lyrics idle on a low frequency, liminal song.

 

It's a Lady.

 

Lady Bountiful leading the lilting lullaby,

 

Lady of the Lake with letter-perfect delivery,

 

Ladies Luna and Sol, luminous as the day is long,

 

It's Lady Day.

 

She lavishes loving-kindness on a lonely lament.

 

Languid becomes luscious; lackluster, luxuriant.

 

Limp becomes lively; a little — a lot. And

 

laughter lifts longing

 

all because a relentless lady loosed liquid life

 

on lines of mulish melody and lugubrious language

 

to deliver me from lasting ovelessness.

 

Should I laud my lady with gold leaf clusters?

 

With a lavaliere of lapis lazuli

 

or lotus and lilac poems?

 

Well, let me applaud my Lady Day in song:

 

Always will I love you and love to always love you.

 

Text and illustrations from Jazz ABZ: An A to Z Collection of Jazz Portraits. Text Copyright © 2005 Wynton Marsalis. Illustrations Copyright © 2005 Paul Rogers. Biographical sketches Copyright © 2005 by Phil Schaap. Reproduced by permission of Candlewick Press, Inc., Cambridge, MA.

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A Collection Of Jazz Portraits From A To Z

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