Tuesday, June 2, 2009

for louis "satchmo" armstrong

remembering louis "satchmo "armstrong

we have found him,
the one whom the soothsayers foretold,
louis, william & mary’s baby --
late of the home for colored waifs.
can anything good come out of
that place? certainly not this habitual
glistening black skin,
subservient smile…
shine yr shoes for a dime.
who is wont to discharge
firearms in public places; run uninvited
to the front of sundry brass band parades,
hang out at the funky butt club & learn
from the likes of bunk johnson, black
benny & king oliver. a work in progress,
a dipper-mouthed legend in the making.

we have found him,
the one whom the soothsayers foretold,
who traded cornet for a trumpet;
now 2nd trumpet in kid ory’s band --
late of fate marable’s riverboat gig;
plying the mississippi, learning to read
charts, developing his chops & changes:
it's fish in the ocean,
crabs in the sea….
from new orleans to minnesota & back
again sitting in with zutty singleton,
laying dead, then jumping opportunistically
into joe oliver’s shadow following his lead
taking his place, filling the hole he left in
that bizarre, dream-like vector known as
the big easy’s hottest jazz band.

we have found him,
the one whom the soothsayers foretold,
the toast of chicago the star of the
creole jazz band eclipsing joe oliver moving
through ollie powers & fletcher henderson
to bessie smith – satchmo’ bucking his eyes,
wide-mouthing his grin:
"just because my hair is curly
just because my teeth are pearly
or just because i always wear a smile…"
self-caricaturing legitimate cultural giantism,
obscuring the cultural prism, the
personality lens that focused the energy,
changed music into light; made it change speed
& form, strike the personal divide between africa
& europe at an angle, refract & enter
the world aslant & askew.

we have found him,
the one whom the soothsayers foretold,
who moved the music from
collective melodic playing to astounding
virtuoso soloing against a small group
backdrop who announced himself with:
a big, beautiful tone soaring high
above everyone else; that trembled
& swung.
who took on all comers & could not be cut;
master of phrasing, rhythm & scat invented
a jazz that could be sung. turned his voice into
an instrument as incomparable as his horn;
blowing him up to iconic proportions
the gravelly grace, the gratuitous
greatness, the hippest of them all.

©Joseph McNair; 2008

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