Duke Ellington’s career looks grim. The money isn’t coming in, and his band members are on the way out. Once an astonishing figure in the jazz world, Old Duke is now reduced to booking gigs at obscure ice shows. Because he needs cash.
Enter a promoter for the Newport Jazz Festival. He takes a risk on Ellington, who composes a special piece of music for the occasion, knowing this might be his last chance.
But the restless crowd heads for the parking lot, in 1956, even before his band finishes its final number.
Desperate, Ellington takes a risk on stage and changes his set list, at the last moment, asking his musicians to drum up “Diminuendo and Crescendo in Blue”, an old tune from 20 years ago.
Elaine Anderson feels the key change. Down in her spine. She jumps out of her box seat, dancing — crimping and curling her small frame — as if she’s dodging fiery brass flames. Crowd members abandon their reserved seats to gather around this heady platinum blonde in the black evening gown. Everyone loses it.
Including Ellington, who orders his tenor saxophonist to stay with his solo, no matter what. Don’t worry about the time, he tells him, though the festival promoter fears a riot and motions to Ellington to wind things down. But New Duke wouldn’t do it. In the end, his band plays through the chorus nearly 30 times and then obeys a roused and feverish crowd through four more blazing encores.
As artists, if we’re going to keep the crowd moving, then sometimes we need to slip on something new, like a little risk, even if it fits like a see-through gown, at first, stretching our vulnerability. As we surrender to our public performances, we’re more likely to give birth to new dances.
Looking back over his life, Duke Ellington said, “I was born at Newport in 1956.” But Duke wasn’t the only one. An entire audience was delivered during that historic performance. Jazz is what happens — to all of us — when somebody jumps out of her box.
And just dances.
Let’s Play June Jazz!
All month long we’re swinging with poetry at Tweetspeak. We call it June Jazz. We write found poems and share them on Facebook, Twitter and personal blogs, though we always link back to here. Last week we wrote to the tune of “O Solitude! If I Must With Thee Dwell” by Mr. John Keats.
With Newport and risky dances on my mind, a few of your poems from this past week really jived with me.
Grace Marcella Brodhurst-Davis writes,
To him, it seemed he had to stumble from
The shy observatory he stood upon
To seek that secret soul’s pleasure
To be everyone’s idolized treasure
He opted for the liquid measure
Tasted highest bliss in his endeavor
Down murky halls he slithered anew
After drinking the witch’s bold brew
Atop the smoky, jumbled heap he drew
Crowds of kindred spirits to woo
‘Mongst age-old musical souls he crooned
The musky notes of a jazzy blues tune
Connie Cornwell Chipman offered an impromptu dance during a key change in the comment box. She writes,
It’s gonna be a good show
let it not be
among the jumbled heap.
Give me daddy-O
until that happy morning.
Here’s how June Jazz works …
If you haven’t already, please consider subscribing to Every Day Poems.
1. On Mondays, the Every Day Poem in your inbox becomes a chord progression. Find your own tone. Build an idea around a single poem line. Just let yourself go and write a found poem, baby.
2. Tweet your poems to us. Add a #junejazz hashtag so we can find it and maybe share it with the world.
3. Or leave your found poem here in the comment box.
We’ll read your tweets and share some of your weekly play each week. At the end of the month, we’ll choose a winning poem and ask the playful poet to record his or her poem to be featured in one of our upcoming Weekly Top 10 Poetic Picks.
Here’s today’s Every Day Poem. Now go jazz it up.
Buy a year of Every Day Poems, just $5.99— Read a poem a day, become a better poet. In May we’re exploring the theme Trees.