Tuesday, March 23, 2010

for lil hardin (10)

for lil hardin
1898 -- 1971

what was it about jellyroll’s
playing that got to u, lil?
was it his abrupt breaks or
stop-time passages, how he
swung the eighth & sixteenth
notes, or his break-neck
tempo? u said his piano rocked,
the floor shivered & the people
swayed when he played, while
he beat out a double rhythm
with his foot on the loud
pedal. what did you expect
from the man who claimed to
have invented jazz? he probably
knew he gave u a bit of a thrill,
even amazed u a little bit, but
when u threw rachmaninoff's
prelude in c sharp minor on
him, just to give him a little
sumpin/sumpin. i’m sure he
didn’t know what to think.
but he showed u something
that day in jones’ music store
on chicago’s southside, & u
started embellishing those
sheet music scores u showed
off to sell, jellyroll-like & with
yr own ideas. yep, ole jellyroll
coaxed the kitty out the bag.
that little taste he gave u grew
into a mighty thirst. a thirst
that took u to the de luxe café
where u were conscripted to
play in sugar johnnie's new
orleans creole orchestra.
yo mama didn’t like it one bit!
didn’t want u on beale street
or anywhere near the jazz,
the drugs or the whores. but
$22.50 a week was more than
she made. thus did needmo’
assuage her doubts. enter hot
miss lil who played like a man
but dressed like a sunday school
teacher. from sugar johnnie to
king oliver at the dreamland
where u met destiny in too-
chicago louis armstrong,
bought him some new clothes,
made him cut the bangs out of
his hair &finally married him.
cajoled himaway from king oliver
into astellar career of his own.
uhelped make him, little brown
girl; booked his gigs, wrote his
music & led his band while he
pranced & clowned on the band
stand. u were among those
featured players on some of the
first jazz ever recorded. u even
wrote some of those first great
tunes. but true to yr own vision,
u had to leave louis, not so much
because of his infidelities or his
capricious ways, but to become
the most prominent woman in
early jazz; to lead yr own bands,
male, mixed & all female, to sing,
do musicals, write, conduct, stretch.
but that didn’t keep you from
following his career like a
hound on a scent until he died.
i guess you got lonely for him
because you followed him out
that same exit seven weeks later.
its just as well, lil, for though
you have carved for yrself a place
in the history of jazz, yr rightful
& significant place, anyone
looking for louis will find u close
by, a footnote to his towering

©Joseph McNair;2010


  1. you've been busy, prof. this is a great series

  2. Lil Hardin, a wonderful innovator & more than deserving of your beautiful Poem!