Wednesday, July 7, 2010

remembering brother jack mcduff (2)

remembering brother jack mcduff
(1926 -2001)

one of the funkiest, most soulful styles
of all time his blues-soaked solos &
rock solid basslines balanced by repetitive
grooves, melodies, & melodic hooks
revealed an artist in full possession
of his voice as an organist in the formative
soul jazz genre that lifted him up from the
earth & drew unto him no less than
george benson & boss tenor gene jughead
ammons who together on one date built the
architecture of the soul jazz vernacular to
span hard bop & jazz-funk to sundry acid
jazz destinations, & for brother jack to earn
the esteem & respect conveyed by the
honorific “brother” which encoded his
elevated status within the idiom.

©Joseph McNair;2010

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

remembering jimmy mcgriff (1)

Remembering Jimmy McGriff

he played jazz as dance
music, whether it was music
by basie, bird, ray charles
or james brown. Over swing,
shuffle & funk rhythms, he
laid down a focused blues homily
that perorated through his solos
with gospel-like intensity.
A charismatic, his soul jazz style
was spirited, gifted & sophisticated
his propulsive rhythmic feel capable
of exhuberant declamation &
persuasion. He could make that B3
say ow! Gave it essential nonverbal
elements of communication
that modified meaning & emotion
made that organ scream! establishing
his creds as a fire breathing blues-
based organist, well-versed in
gospel soul with a ha'mercy funky

© Joseph McNair;2010

Saturday, July 3, 2010

for black arthur blythe (10)

for black arthur blythe

the abstract awoke in him, caused something to stir something interesting, something organic, something free in young black arthur’s blithe spirit; an event in consciousness -- an interaction in presence between artist & seminal tone, an aural vision of the sacred, a hierophany, received from tapscott in the sanctum of the pan-afrikan peoples arkestra, in his spirit’s womb chamber, that called out his consciousness, made it helically move, spiral up; pushed him out on popular bandstands. made him existentially play, his baroque tone, rich & husky, a passionate wail on high, a sweat-soaked pulsating vibrato trailing in its wake, weaving an exquisite tapestry of melody around occult scale patterns, stretching the blues to the edges of improvisation – too out for popular breakthough & an obvious target for the inevitable pushback of negation – the trial, terror error & experience of rejection, incredulity pushing him back & into the umbra of a dazzling winton’s shadow, into an unlikely wood shed. he laid there & he played there until possessed by the wave/shades of older styles which took his head, pierced the flat, polished surfaces of his genius. & he embraced them, those ghostly remembrances, held them close, closer than haunting; heard the whole of jazz’s historical process in their stylings, in his own homagic practiceplay. heard the progression from bleak self–alienation to self–unification & realization; heard implicit contradictions become explicit & knew suddenly that each stage of that process – the blues, ragtime, dixieland, swing, bebop, progressive, cool, free, hard bop, latin, post-bop, fusion nü-jazz – is the product of contradictions inherent or implicit in the preceding stage. understood that what comes into being is, at the same time, returning to nothing, connected only by ephemeral tendrils of crafted sound, the sound of becoming. & in the darkest part of that shadow, black arthur had his epiphany – to sublate the negation he must preserve in his playing useful portions of the past the riffs, the runs, the licks & chops; the methods of creation & divergent personal styles – while moving beyond their limitations; breathe/blow into & out of his alto a new dialectic – & he stepped out of the shadow, played the abstract concrete; played joyfully free.

© Joseph McNair;2010

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

remembering fred anderson (9)

remembering fred anderson
(1929 -2010)
a kwasaba

chicago legend, lone prophet on the prairie

booed off the band stand in ’60
@ the fifth jacks club in the

town he made his home. but stayed,

played his free jazz in their heads,
their hearts embrace him; know the
canny prophet in his own home town.

©Joseph McNair;2010

Monday, June 28, 2010

remembering will bill davis (8)

remembering wild bill davis

a kwansaba

mythic bridge builder; a man span between big
band swing & acid organ combo; set
the tone, worked preset & drawbar,
shaped an audible vatic vision that smote
jimmy smith on his lonely road to
fame. sent him to the wood shed;
& out the back door to destiny!

©Joseph McNair;2010

remembering jimmy smith (7)

remembering jimmy smith

i heard … a cat playing forty choruses of georgia brown in pure
'nashua' tempo & never repeating. i heard futuristic,
stratospheric sounds that were never before
explored on the organ."
--babs gonzales

u pulled out that stop, that third harmonic, & the bulb
lit up… thunder & lightning, u said, & stars fell out
of the sky! silver & blakey brought the bop, the hard
edged urban bop, but u, jimmy, brought the funk to jazz
long before the mothership touched down -- when george clinton
was still working his way thru’ doowop -- the chitlinstank
in the neighborhood funk, the sweetsweat-not-acid shirt
soaking funk, the left-hand walkin’, foot pedal stompin’
got my mean mojo workin’ funk partnered with a sizzling
virtuoso horn solo playing right hand. made that hammond
b3 hum, shriek; made it blues shout, holler & scream, or
purr & coo or softly cry -- an ascended master
ere the cognoscenti knew the jazz organ had one.

©Joseph McNair; 2010

a mule of a different sort (6)

a different sort of mule

for hundreds of years whites have projected
the belief that …[non whites]…are inferior, a
concept that is in- consistent with reality.
what is the result? A mass psychosis has set
in among many white people.
ja a. jahannes

when inconsistency is prolonged
between belief system & reality,
psychosis ensues…

gov. jan brewer’s egotonicity, her
cognitive unraveling, the crudity of
her categorization & labeling –

“we all know that the majority of the
people … coming to arizona &
trespassing are now …drug mules” –

of (in her mind) related & perceived
possible threats bears witness to this.
she has become like "il duce" a lens,

a nonadjustable fixed focus of sharp
images of white supremacy, creative
fictions to which her like-minded

constituencies cling; like the skeletal
steel-fingered grip of a corpse that
squeezes an object treasured in life;

that act like hallucinogens which alter
perception, thought & mood & are
dealt (her mouth to their ears) from

the very seat of state government. is
she not herself a courier, mind & soul
packing/stuffing the psychotics she

has swallowed & smuggled across the
rational borders of morality. is she not,
herself, a mule of a different sort ?

©Joseph McNair;2010

Saturday, June 19, 2010

sketches of cité soleil (5)

sketches of cité soleil

for whose entertainment shall we sing our agony?
in what hopes? that the destroyers, aspiring to
extinguish us will suffer conciliatory remorse
at the sight of their own fantastic success?"
-- ezili dantò


a light aircraft
just under 12,000 lbs.
bezwen soulajman
(needed supplies)

overflies runway;
crashes in cité soleil.
manna from heaven?

the carrion folk
come, groaning for burial --
strip the carcass clean.

gone before the blood
pooled on the pilot seat clots,
long before it dries.


chimères: ghost
gangs who haunt breeze-block walls that
grin like rotted teeth,

buildings scarred, pitted
from eruptive bullets, who
traffic in terror!

bereft of purpose,
& populist vision, they
steal, rape & kidnap;

extort & kill without
guilt or remorse. trade their souls
for weapons.


vigilante groups –
neighborhood protection – meet
terror with terror;

steal, rape, kidnap, kill –
in retributive orgies
of feral justice.

no police dare come,
no blue helmets seen in no-
go cité soleil.

no international
peace keepers come without
armored vehicles.


no female is safe.
the penis is a weapon;
a tool of control.

one in two girls &
young women soul soiled by
sexual abuse.

children’s songs spread tales
of what the boys have done – the
girls cannot go home!

the women cry out
we are shamed & dishonored
to ears trauma stopped!

even h.i.v. –
dread diare masisi
who lurks, zombi walks –

fails to scare, deter.
is warded by strong potions
of vaginal rinse,

water quaffed that washed a
lover’s most private parts clean,
or sex in the sea,

or houngans sleeping
with girls possessed with spirits
infected with a.i.d.s.


pòv cité soleil’s
haze of dust & cooking smoke
hides her real abuse:

1st world sabotage,
aid agency failure &
government neglect.

a people betrayed:
one hundred twenty-two years
of indemnity

extorted by france;
20 billion dollars paid,
the cost of revolt.


billions of dollars
of aid appear, disappear;
swilled by corruption.

i.m.f. loans &
structural adjustment speed
resource extraction.

cheap u.s. produce
flood all haitian markets
farmers stop farming,

& in the highlands
desperate people strip bare
the once lush forests.


impotent leaders
sadly caricature what
government should be.

grounded by the shades
of rulers, overthrown &

haunting the government seat,
they are bent, twisted,

voracious & cruel
or at best indifferent.
èske gen espwa?
(is there hope?)


is there any hope
for those held hostage by life
in cité soleil?

in cité soleil
where folk decrease to half-lives;
in set rate decay.

a malignancy
poverty, not vodou, makes;

where there’s life, there’s hope.
where there is hope, redemption.
beni ayiti!

©Joseph McNair;2010

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

fix the shading on the children's faces (4)

fix the shading on the children's faces!

"to depict the biggest picture on
the building as a black person, i would
have to ask the question: why?"
steve blair

what guides the hand of a
muralista? some glittering
idea that compels from a
world apart? some form
embedded in media matter,
awaiting a cunning artisan
touch to coax it out in all of
its material splendor? or
maybe some possessing
spirit of the age to take the
head, insinuate itself into
the lime mortar or plaster,
the tempera or encaustic
colors ground in a molten
beeswax or resin binder to
social realist art into the
public sphere -- to achieve
a political goal, to socially
emancipate, to advertize.
the mural mice, hardly a cell
of trotskyites, hired to paint
two intersection-facing walls
of the miller valley elementary
school in prescott, arizona,
learned first hand the backlash
of white privilege. they daringly
deigned to represent a multiethnic
vision --children using "green"
modes of transportation.
dominating pattern & symmetry,
points of interest & texture,
line & depth of field was the
striking image of a young
brown boy with a thick strong
jaw & defiant eyes, on one
knee, poised to get up &…act!
a metaphor for the artist in
a decadent capitalist society?
shaped by conflict between
himself & the social forces
arrayed against him? hardly.
like david alfaro siqueiros’
tropical america, brimming
with radical political militancy
or diego rivera’s provocative
post impressionist mural for
the hotel de prado in mexico
city including the words
"god does not exist" or jose
orozco’s symbolist murals
promoting the political causes
of peasants & workers?
not at all -- but powerful enough
to provoke a thermidorean
reaction from the prescott
demographic. from moving cars
came the shibboleths:

"you're desecrating our school,"
“get the nigger off the wall!”
“get the spic off the wall!”

hurled by the philistine, the
conservative & the frightened;
prompting the school principal
to tell the mural mice to lighten
up --the images on the wall,
that is; make those dark folk
lighter before they draw out
the destructive quality of
reconstructed whiteness, its
sinister structural causes &
consequences, before they
reveal the possessive
investment in being white &
the reinvention of white
identity as nonracist,
nonoppressive & victimized --
informed by the delusions &
projections of so-called decent
folk preserving their heritage.

©Joseph McNair; 2010

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

we cannot chuse but hear (3)

we cannot but chuse to hear

at length did cross an albatross:
thorough the fog it came…
samuel taylor coleridge

formed when sand,
silt & grains of clay,
scraped & torn away
by tenacious, taloned
fingers of wind, rain,
& glacial ice, from
sundry land terrain --
proud mountains &
defiant flatlands –
whose scarring
declaims like totemic
tattoos the lingering
injuries & damage;
join the downslope
creep of soil to be
carried by rivers,
streams & gravity,
deposited in layers of
sediment on the ocean
floor, in riverbeds &
swamps, mixing long
dead organic miasma,
the fossil remains of
plants & planckton
mixed with mud &
sand, squeezed into
source rock & heated
to the night temperatures
of the earthen crust,
bearing the downward
press of a hundred
thousand years, the
transforming weight
that releases kerogens --
the black waxy crude,
or natural gas -- into
porous or fractured
rock, into subsurface
pools – one of gaia’s
many seepages &
secretions – brought
forth from wounds
piercing her dermis in
spurts of black, thick
& tar-like fossil
fuel or small, light
effervescent carbon
chains timed to the
beat of her heavy
heart. like a blood
donor, she has given
much & often, has
transfused mankind’ s
movement & industry
but now bleeds
uncontrollably from
too many punctures,
bathing wetlands &
barrier islands in a
tide of oozing crude,
smothering an entire
generation of shrimp
& crab, smothering
dolphins, whales &
turtles, poisoning fish
turning diving birds –
gannets, pelicans
frigates. & sanderlings –
into flightless, oil-soaked,
drowning birds. can we
not read the portents,
the omens? have we
lost the gift of auspicy?
the higher the bird flight
the more favorable the
omen but flightless
birds portend certain
doom. can we not see
as one with a glittering
eye? see for endless
days & nights the curse
in the eyes of the eleven
deep water horizon dead.
must we wander in our
guilt this earth to tell
any & all who might
listen that god glories
life over greed, loves
all things s/he has made?
or will we remain the
unwitting prizes of
yellow-haired, red-lipped

©Joseph McNair;2010

Sunday, June 6, 2010

si m mouri, ou pral mouri!” (2)

si m mouri, ou pral mouri!”
(if i die, you die!)

once an island lush with trees, ayiti is
bereft, her mountainous breasts bare,
their covering ripped by hunger’s rapine
hand. the cold aromatic sea breeze with its
tangy, fishy smell meets an acrid warmer air
from a land smoking, redolently reeking of
wood burning on lle de la gonave, stacked
in whitened piles eternally curing, then
bagged & distributed in les arcahaie.

the people cry out: “nou vle manje; nou pa
mouri!” (we want to eat; we do not want to
die!) but the land screams “ou ap tiye m!”
(you are killing me!)

ninety eight per cent of her forests gone,
fifty-odd thousand grieving trees felled each
day like brittle warweary soldiers under truce
to clear the way for summer floods to wash her
rich, nutrient topsoil into the sea. riding bare
back on the scent of charcoal are the foul
cadaverine & putrescine bouquets that beckon
skulking desertification, the scavenger who
will surely come to clean the island’s bones!

but the people insist: “nou vle manje; nou pa
mouri!” (we want to eat; we do not want to
die!) & the land screams “se mwen menm
mouri!” (i am dying!)

are there no environmental regulations? no
subsidiaries for alternative fuels? where is
government? behold bureaucrats, the mango
tree is too precious to cut down. plant mango
plantations. tell yr people to plant corn, sorghum
& beans between a few mango trees on their
small farms. harvest the towering mounds of
garbage, recycle the paper. use that as cooking
fuel! there are no shortages of solutions!

terrace farm the mountains! cultivate plants
that will thrive on mountainsides, whose
roots will hold in place, stabilize & regenerate
the soil. behold businessmen, there are haitians
who know how to do this, who are doing this
already! where is the money? & where are the
teachers, the each-one-teach-ones who persuade
the people that killing the land brings on their
own unconscionable & inevitable demise

the people rejoin: “nou vle manje; nou pa
mouri!” (we want to eat; we do not want to die!)
& the land responds with resignation ”si m mouri,
ou pral mouri!” (if I die, you die!)

© Joseph McNair;2010

Friday, June 4, 2010

hb2281 (1)

"tell me & i will forget,
teach me & i might remember;
involve me & i will learn."
ancient chinese proverb

languages [like the arizona
wapiti or the arizona jaguar]
become extinct when no longer
able to negotiate hostile or
changing conditions or prevail
against irresistible competition.
the moment of extinction? the
death or muting of the last
language speaker. the last
ubykh speaker died in turkey
in ‘92 at the unethereal &
certainly uneternal age of 88.
cultures [like the greater prairie
chicken or the passenger pigeon]
become extinct when cultural
diversity is abated & languages
are endangered & proscribed
with extreme prejudice!
every two weeks, a culture
dies, taking with it irreplaceable
knowledge & experience into
a great unknown. we stand,
some of us, strangely mute,
unmoved or unmoving & at our
own peril, like vacuous & self-
absorbed deutschländers in ’23
unmindful of the frenetic, evil
goings on in the bürgerbräukeller"
while in arizona a general process
of destruction, like a tall, dense &
involved nephotic mass, gathers
momentum. a delusional rationality
begets an imaginary construct
which shapes a body politic in the
image of its fears, resentments &
whited sepulchral utopias, razing
relentlessly & trying to eliminate
the rest of us, “the enemy”;
attempting to reduce vibrantly
viable speech, customs,folkways &
the spirit of the same to eerie
artifacts of the extinct …
& the rage of affluent collectors.

©Joseph McNair;2010

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

arizona goddam! (17)

arizona goddam!

alabama's gotten me so upset
tennessee made me lose my rest
& everybody knows about
mississippi goddam…
nina simone

dos cabesas, yr steep mountain slopes & granite
outcroppings, yr vegetated canyon floors provoke
strong feelings of arousal, attraction, & yes,
even love by more than just the white-tailed &
mule deer or eagles, golden & bald, the ranging
mountain lion, the beautiful collared lizard &
the peregrine falcon. u, dos cabesas, are,
indeed,a love object for arizona natives
imprinted by the wilderness with its uncultivated
spaces,its searing heat with that eerie desert
dust on its winds, a narcotic that makes them
susceptible to quaint hallucinations (daylight
savings time is a bolshevik plot),conservative
& highly distrusting of government. (goddam!)
where lawmen under the influence of frontier
fancy could take a hapless but convenient
outlaw straight from the lyrics of their state
song, a befuddled recidivist burglar named
ernesto arturo miranda, compel from him a
rape, etc., confession, make him write it down
& sign papers with a printed certification that
he “voluntarily & of my own free will, with no
threats, coercion or promises of immunity…” &
“full knowledge of … his)…legal rights” made
that confession, but failed to inform him of
his right to have an attorney present & of his
right to remain silent.(goddam!)
where in a season that saw even ronald reagan
bow to the inevitable winds of change by signed
the king holiday into law, three house republican
arizonans, including an “unevolved” john mccain
& that doyen of true american conservativism,
senator barry goldwater voted unequivocally no!
state lawmakers like sand lemmings followed suit.
babbitt, not sinclair lewis’ vacuous protagonist,
but a governor doing the right thing, signed an
executive order declaring a paid king holiday.
but 7 months & 24 days later, soon-to-be-
impeached evan mecham rescinded that order
in one of his first acts as governor! (goddam!)
rising from a searingly dry tropical airmass,
pulled northward by low-pressure cells moving
eastward across the two-head's wilderness
echoing off the sulphur springs & the san simon
valleys came a venal & corruptible voice calling
out to arizonans with the arrogated authority of
i am that i am: “i guess king did a lot for the
colored people, but i don’t think he deserves a
national holiday.” but the rocks surely cried out
in protest & boycotts. all manner of stones,
pythagorean frozen music, released their song
with stevie wonder singing lead --hapy birthday
to yuh -- public enemy struck back, the nfl
relocated the super bowl & arizonans, kicking &
screaming, capitulated in ’92 (goddam!)
where even the wind that competes at dusk
to be heard with the yips, barks & howls of
coyotes in telltale yellow desert coats, weeps &
wails in uncertain english even tho’ placed for
a year in english immersion classes where
languages other than english were banned from
speech. brainfried arizonans insist that the
speech of the alligator juniper, the bitter condalia
& crucifixion thorn, the catclaw & even the skunk
bush had better be the same as that which arose in
england & southeastern scotland; that they
obsequiously subordinate their mother tongues,
their identity & culture, for to speak a language
other than english is nothing more than a social
behold arizonans, the behemoth that u have made,
rising out of the desert, so mean, & abrupt of
emotion – & so unlike that mighty torch-bearing
mother of exiles on a distant shore who verily
welcomed the poor & the homeless. this shire reeve
golem of single eye & foul disposition casts his
all-seeing search light glance to expose & extirpate
all illegals wherever they might be found, especially
in the ghostly golden gate barrio, in cuatro milpas,
or in any of the barrios historicas that housed the
brown laborers who built yr streets & towns, yr
canals, laid tracks for trolleys & trains that brought
in the droves of undocumented anglos who
overwhelmed the indigenous population! (goddam!)
what have u done, arizonans? the adam of yr labors
has run amok & points proudly back to the womb
from whence it came – that monster matrix of
racism, red-baiting,anti-government sentiment &
resentment of anything progressive, whose birth
juices reek of hatred & calumny – back to u & yr
guiltfear, yr paroxysmally parochial thinking. it has
engorged on a steady diet of rights violations, english-
only legislation, reasonable suspicion & belief, & now
it stalks like a grotesquery seeking to devour the
interdisciplinary study of racialized peoples, latinos
& chicanos in particular. what makes u think, brain-
fried arizonans, that it won’t turn on & devour u?

©Joseph McNair;2010

Monday, May 24, 2010

most interesting of our american birds (16)

most interesting of our american birds

the gooey oil washing into the maze of marshes along the
gulf coast could prove impossible to remove, leaving a
toxic stew lethal to fish and wildlife...
government officials & independent

most interesting of our american birds
whose iconic flight & voracious appetite
inspired no less than audubon to inscribe
rhapsodically in his journals:

listen to the sound of the splash they make
as they drive their open bills, like a pock-net,
into the sea…

a pelican feeding its young embossed on
louisiana’s state seal by 1804 & on her blue
unfurling flag by 1912, a fitting perch for one
who’d tear her own flesh to feed her young.

one of ornithology’s most astonishing events,
in 1966, the year it became louisiana’s state
bird, pelecanus fuscus vanished like the hero
in a novel from the state’s entire coast.

did concurrent tropical storms savage vulnerable
nests in its overwash? perhaps some pathogen
or virulent human encroachment struck? or
more likely the toxic pesticides from

agricultural plains, drained into the mighty
mississip, got absorbed by anchovies &
other favored fish -- did an inside job on
eggshell formation, on eggshell thickness,

& caused the heroic pelican – the same who
would destroy itself to feed its young -- to
destroy its eggs as it sat on them within its
nest to incubate & protect them.

thus did the brown pelican become like a
novel’s anti-hero whose one abiding trait
is bewildered & anxious uncertainty about the
futility & fundamental amorality of life.

for despite efforts to transplant fledglings from
florida’s peninsula, at hundreds per year, or
banning ddt, the pelican will never see any
pattern in life & rarely its destination.

we can see this now in the frightened eyes of
oil-soaked birds who hobble like drunks at dawn’s
break on barataria bay because they cannot fly;
whose brown & white feathers, are now jet black.

whose nests & new hatchlings are coated with
crude, whose gunk-glazed eggs, like their habitats,
may never be cleaned or saved, whose offensive
images are the new expletives for corporate greed

& signs of our failure to live in harmony with nature,
symbols of our disdain for ecological balance,
signifiers of our suicidal self-absorption --
new metaphors for our insanity.

© Joseph McNair;2010

Saturday, May 15, 2010

stormy weather (15)

stormy weather

for lena horne
(1917 - 2010)

tube captured, tube enthralled -- cut off from
smell, touch, taste, heat-sense & gravity. only
my eyes & ears worked, held at electron gun

point by florescent vision – those long shapely
brown legs (with the eagles on her stockings
that flew in formation up under her hemline,

still flock in jagged colored specs & fly in
semicircular orbits around the edges of my eyes)
fill my memory now like they filled that large,

deep & heavy evacuated glass envelope so many
days of my youth ago when that heart shaped,
luminous face (that no gal made could get the

shade), those large, bold beautiful eyes paired
with that elusive smile made their impressions,
made me consider my first faustian exchange --

my soul for just a few moments, maybe just one
night. i was, afterall, 12, star-struck & heavily
hormonal. if made to choose between lena as

sweet georgia brown, god or petunia jackson,
georgia (miss brown to u!) would win every
damn time. i was no inverterate gambler then &

my real addictions were years ahead, but I felt
like a drunk heady in his very first cups. the
pleasure possibilities waxed infinite. the very

thought of her & me – a real little joe – made
a fantastical cabin in the sky seem quite absurdly
possible, even desirable. & then i heard her sing.

another night, another movie, same television...
framed against an open window adorned with

formal treatments -- swags, jabots & pleated

drapes -- that could have been several of the

imaginable colors in the middle gradient shades
of gray, between absolute black & white, looking

out on an urban evening street scene which

captured a couple scurrying to get out of the
rain & prefaced by introductory strains from the

cab calloway orchestra with a cameo of the immaculate

cab himself animatedly conducting that special
group of musicians who needed little in the way

of conducting. she sang a sultry soprano lament

(an offstage wind machine ruffling the sheer full-
length sleeves of her perfect black & sequined

dress). her perfect phrasing evoked a swarm of
associations caught up in a vertically oriented
rotating column of emotion & she sang her

heart thru the vortex, making the raging storm
a distinctive collocate of the literal; a subtle way of
grasping one kind of thing in terms of another,

fixing its elemental turbulence & power as the
central & controlling image of her lifesong:

don’t know why there’s no sun up in the sky,
stormy weather, since my man & i ain't together
seems like its raining all the time

i felt the stirrings of love in that moment, for
lena & for language, for she embodied every
feature of a poem in motion draped in a

musical score. she had a way of spreading her
arms when she sang that had no paraphrase,
but just as clearly said “love me” & when

she left that open window walking down
stairs that split the orchestra into two sections
with the camera panning from full room to

a head to hip shot to climbing up her bodice
resolving in a full body shot framing her in
a spotlight on a night club floor & in my

poetic heart, she became for me more than
a beautiful, evocative
ornament, but an enduring
metaphor for the complexities of love.

© Joseph McNair; 2010

Friday, May 14, 2010

awaiting an appropriate provocation (14)

awaiting an appropriate provocation

tell me, arizonans, is a god or perhaps
some human demiurge supposedly
the author of your laws?

surely a god, for who else might godly
see thru’ layers of artifice & deception,
in honest toil, toned down actions & attire,
minimal human intercourse, capricious
movement, desperate concealment, the
furtive, undocumented heart?

whose nostrils can indeed detect the
stench of flight from custody or country;
the reeking infectious foreignness of
interlopers, who abide among us
fangfeeding off the fat of the land,
diminishing us all.

tell me, arizonans, are there among u,
like minos, those who commune with an
olympian sire? inspired to make laws

that bestow clairvoyance on lawmen,
enable them to clair-see “probable &
reasonable causes” in mexicans or
o.t.m.s who work the bean fields or
sinister sit on porches, in the back
of pickup trucks, in barrios & in

cantinas of historic ethnic enclaves or
those who don’t; who speak subversive
spanish, pantomime the tortilla & butter
truth about speedy gonzales, the frito
bandito, las posadas & la llorona or
any other appropriate provocation

for trivializing the human spirit --
por una noche de cristal fea,
arizona style.

©Joseph McNair; 2010

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

for wayne shorter (13)

for wayne shorter
(1933 -- )

perhaps the music’s greatest living
composer, yr organic conceptions
of fissioning melody, harmony,
& rhythm took the state of play in a
fresh direction. one of the few young
composers who could take a piece
to miles & get it back unchanged;
get the band to play it like u wrote
it, conforming precisely to its often
bopish, sometimes modal structure,
swiveling where it said to swivel,
snaking where it said to snake,
crossing over the tonic center from
the consonant right or weaving back
over the new middle from the
dissonant left in densely dreaded
unison plaits that changed the sound
of jazz, that changed fluidly, like yr
own rollins-like tenor style, with its
ripping, runaway trane asymmetries
to the coruscating color of yr rhythmic,
interval leaping soprano solo voice
chanting its own mystical name &
transfiguring signature, its new motifs
& alternate insights assigned to
randomness, new denouements &
meticulous untyings of personal meaning –
rushing in where boppers fear to tread!

© Joseph McNair; 2010

for hubert laws (12)

for hubert laws

(1939 -- )

from the start, when it was the instrument of the wood-god pan,
the flute has been associated with pure (some might say impure)
energy. its sound releases something naturally untamed..."
--seamus heaney

the iconic miss mary’s place,
a hoary houston honky tonk
prominently placed because
it pinpoints a precise location
for yr musical roots, soul sourced
in an urban manifestation &
a perceptible revelation of the
jook, ribald cake & whiskey
cousin to the beans & bacon
blues with a stepped up tempo
that sulky soaked the late night
& early morning air across the
street from yr house, combined
with yr mama’s gospel piano
& yr daddy’s harmonica riffs,
the basis of yr own funky, secular
testimony, the crucible where
rhythm & blues, classical julliard,
& the spiritual, weighed & mixed
in proper amounts, given time to
season, fluxed down, solve et
coagula, & transmuted into the
sweetest, purest melodic &
multicolored jazz flute tone
ever proffered, ever played.

© Joseph McNair; 2010

for bennie carter (11)

for bennie carter
(1907 -2003)

the only musician to have recorded in eight
different decades, yr life, a symphony in riffs
pouring out of yr trumpet, out of yr alto, out
yr head & captured on vinyl, on tape, on compact
disc living & playing thru’ yr legend making,
writing it in the tales yr music told. yr rites of
passage & the sheparding process where those at a
higher level of understanding guided u to
& thru’ a greater exposure to the music. rex
stewart, sidney bechet, fatha hines, fats waller,
willie the lion smith, james p. johnson & the duke
transferred their powers to u, caused a change in yr
existential condition; freed u from profane time.

freed u to recapitulate the history of
the music that thru this recapitulation u
might sanctify the music anew, reveal its deep
meanings to the new generations, help them own &
assume the responsibility of mystical
vocation. u took time to befriend & mentor miles
when he had no friends; to mentor q when like u, he
wanted to write scores for film, to be there for j.j.
johnson, art pepper & max roach as they each increased
in stature & in favor. & u also took time
to teach yr alto to sing. yr signature sound was
smooth as silk, flowing like a lazy river that might
race like a rapid or be still like a honeyed pool.

© Joseph McNair; 2010

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

for ben webster (10)

for ben webster
(1909 – 1973)

and i heard charlie parker for the first time & that
was quite a thrill. this guy scared me to death!
ben webster

what johnnie hodges was to the alto, u were in
spades to the tenor & when froggie went a’courting,
uh hunh, yr warm, breathy, sensual tone slickly slipped
like a tongue up under a stray hemline to caress
a fleshy thigh, make it surely shake with tremulous
waves of hurt-so-good need or turn brutish on a stomp,
ferally fecund, growling, rasping, rooted in the
blues. u were one of yr era’s three tenors, before
the sunrise of bebop, when the hawk & prez prowled the
bandstands seeking whom they might cut up. but when they tried
to cut u, they had to bring their lunch & dinner too.
u enjoyed a reign as king of the tenors, that is,
until bird came – then nothing else was ever the same.

© Joseph McNair;2010

for sidney bechet (9)

for sidney bechet
(1897 -1959)

it is the world of your own soul that
you seek. only within yourself
exists that other reality
for which you long.
herman hesse

a double kwansaba

"le dieu," a sound force given into our
keeping, casting off tonic light from yr
spirit heat. yr sugary sweet improvs like
a savory beignet reek crawdad & shrimp;
yr vibrato at once wide in affect
cajoles octave joy, searing sorrow, fear &
creole from yr sax, yr mage’s wand.

twas a world of yr own sound
that u sought, that u dared to
draw us into, with its halls of
mirrors & endless doors, that magic odeum
within for which u did surely long;
that made u wolfly stalk jazz’s outer
steppes, its first great soprano soloist!

©Joseph McNair;2010

Saturday, May 8, 2010

for mccoy tyner (8)

for mccoy tyner
(1938 --

u were twenty-two when u joined the
john coltrane quartet,
but clearly the
real mccoy. trane knew this, kept u five years
close, at the core of this
most seminal of jazz experiments.
from where did that transcendent piano style come? from
what holy
place within? & where did u learn that unique
two-handed harmonic
attack & rhythmic charge – yr block
chording low bass left hand stacking
fourths & yr staccato
right hand
flying thru pentatonic scales, modal structures,
inverted triads &
multi-fingered runs – new voicings &
vocabulary for virtuoso jazz piano
& growing each time u
played. u
shadowed trane thru’ his scales, chordal structures,
melodic phrasings
& rhythms, playing mantrically, intuiting
the sacred audible tones
to help elevate each consciousness-
raising performance, drawing garrison
& jones to u,
transcending &
integrating all that had been played before,
fastened securely to his coattails,
to his ascension. he took
u to the pinnacle
of god consciousness, let u glimpse the
final & highest abode of ishwara, the
ultimate revelation of
the self in perfect
radiance & release. he would have taken
u further, into formless consciousness & boundless radiance.
but u did not like the free; were not yet
ready for the street
of pefume sellers, &
like the vagrant who was overcome by
the heady aromas on that street, who
could only be revived
by a fecal sal
volatile from the street’s gutters, u said all u
heard was noise; that u had no
feeling for the new music.
turned away,
turned back to yr unabsorbed present, to yr
raw blues & passionate pentatonic
; turned back to comfortable
virtuosity, but haunted by an audible image of a seed syllable
where all sound,
all music dissolves into perfect radiance &
release & a memory of not a means to
an end but the means
& the end.

© Joseph McNair; 2010

Friday, May 7, 2010

for armando “chick” corea (7)

for armando “chick” corea
(1941 --

a villenelle

angular melodies, latin-swing rhythms, extended, structured compositions,
hard bop proclivities & avante garde dispositions roiled in yr musician soul,
transient, finite, existing in time, negating the negation, defying definitions.

classical music was a just way to learn to play, but jazz allowed u the juxtapositions
u sought of tempo, virtuosity & improvisation, a way to fuse competing feels in
angular melodies, latin-swing rhythms, extended, structured compositions.

cathartic best describes the change that leads to turning points. contradictions
spiral, effervescent progressive rock stirs up the mix, makes the music helical,
transient, finite, existing in time, negating the negation, defying definitions.

u give yr passion wings. yr spanish heart pilots yr sonorous explorations
sometimes charted, sometimes floated; whatever the heart feels, pours into yr
angular melodies, latin-swing rhythms, extended, structured compositions.

redemption at the keyboards. blurring the line between yr many dispositions,
& freeform outbursts, fusion & rock; a synthesis is realized, a new u steps forth
transient, finite, existing in time, negating the negation, defying definitions.

yr voracious musical appetites compelled u to blithe quixotic explorations
of a wider musical world, while evolving a distinctive & venerable voice within
angular melodies, latin-swing rhythms, extended, structured compositions;
transient, finite, existing in time, negating the negation, defying definitions.

© Joseph McNair