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Artifacts

Oliphant to deliver poetry month verse

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Dave Oliphant's newest book, KD: a Jazz Biography, a biography in rhymed quatrains of Texas jazz trumpeter Kenny Dorham was published by Wings Press earlier this year. In honor of National Poetry Month, Oliphant will join Kory Cook at noon Friday on The Jazz Break radio show on KRTU 91.7 FM. An excerpt from an older work, Five Versions of the Twelfth Street Rag: Count Basie & His Orchestra featuring Lester Young (1939), will give you a taste of his work.

Five Versions of the Twelfth Street Rag

By Dave Oliphant

A spare piano intro, Jo Jones on woodblock.
  Basie's left hand a tribute
  to his old Professor Fats, not then mute,
nor ever should be. Let ages rock,
  swing it out for him
  who made of hilarity another hymn.

Not many notes.
  Well-placed instead.
  Here the other day read
where back East in racial riots
  a black business burned
  when wind turned

round, flew fire back.
  Seeing how his dollars done died
  took to suicide.
Rare case that, for black has the knack,
  as any color should, to make it right along,
  to rise up over flapping justice on wings of solid song.

Then leap in, Lester, bend to your life's own tenor,
  hear in that tone your message,
  receive of a reed its minimum wage,
blow it as the last of Swing's big spenders,
  throwing away those hard-earned cents
  to buy by booze a brighter sense.

But where's the end in that? Where's Dickie Wells, trombone ham?
  Humor has served you better than grog,
  You've laughed down every demagogue
'tween Natchez & Little Rock, Texas to Alabam.
  Euday may have cracked you up, but then you saw,
  as Dada did, how handy a weapon's a good guffaw.

O there it goes, crossing that bridge-like part again,
  that clickity rhythm that eggs me on,
  keeps me hearing this monotone,
this hankering I have on the brain
  for banking on reason's reservoir,
  withering hard rows hoed & prayed for.

O memory's rain, why fall so narrow?
  Soak my road that I may come by feel
  to know how Satch, the Duke, Fats & Bill,
while plowed & replowed under a harrow,
  listened long to the beat of their blood,
  at last to make a music, magic as mud.

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