As a writer I’ve never been busier. A new book coming out, just finishing another, adding the final touches to a book of poetry that will (hopefully) soon will find a home. The pangs of uncertainty I felt after leaving San Francisco for Nova Scotia have abated, and I’ve accepted that this is where I belong for now. The entire book of poetry is about that, in a sense, and ends with a poem called Year-Round about an old man who has finally made this province his home and is now satisfied with that decision. Writing has always been a way for me to work out my past, current and future conditions, and in this function is more valuable than therapy or any distinction I might derive from it. Listening to a lot of jazz and classical these days, which is always a good indicator of my spiritual and mental health. In 1972 Jazz pianist and saxophonist Keith Jarrett cut an album for Columbia Records called Expectations. It is highly free-form and almost discordant in places, and although an acquired taste it has become one of my favourite jazz records of all (though I do not prefer a lot of Jarrett’s many other albums. He is a bee-bop pianist, which stresses that instrument over the drums and jazz base. I much prefer the tonal balance of the Bill Evan’s Trio or Marilyn Crispel when it comes to these three instruments.) When Columbia heard Jarrett’s recording they refused to release it, and broke his contract. Now, of course, Columbia hails it as the great and classic unreleased Jarrett album, since his star has risen as one of the most skillful and innovative jazz performers in the world. I have no proof, but I’ve always suspected Jarrett named the album ironically, to highlight the difference between what Columbia actually got and what they expected when they gave Jarrett free reign to their studio and resources.
I almost saw Jarrett once. He was playing a festival in Spain when I was in Barcelona but the tickets were sold out before I realized he was there. I’ve always regretted that. From that tour my other favourite Jarrett album resulted entitled Up For It, when the trio (consisting of Paul Motian on drums and Gary Peacock on bass) were playing outdoors in France and almost didn’t because of the weather and because they were depressed. When Jarrett asked Peacock “are you up for it?” Peacock said no, which surprised them, for Peacock, apparently, never passed over the opportunity to do a gig. They did it anyway, and the session was magic, which they knew as soon as they got on stage and began playing.
Jazz is some of the most sophisticated and elegant music on earth. It is simultaneously simple and complex, mellow without being sad or moody, relentlessly urban, ridiculously collaborative. A critic once described the piano, base and drums in Marilyn Crispel’s work as having an “intimate” conversation with each other, and this describes many forms of jazz, especially the trio form that I prefer, excellently. The instruments do seem to confer. They listen to each other. A gestalt arises from the combination of sounds that is achieved in no other music. Good jazz reminds me more of the structured elegance of baroque than anything else. I’ve often wondered what Bach would have thought of it. I can even imagine that I sometimes hear echoes of Bach’s concertos in modern jazz compositions. Jarrett, by all accounts, is an acknowledged classical pianist (though I find his touch too heavy for Bach, conditioned, perhaps, by the single note emphasis required by many jazz riffs.) If you’ve got nothing else to do today, go to Youtube and listen to Miles Davis’ “Freddie Freeloader” or Jarrett’s “My Funny Valentine.” Or Bill Evan’s “Waltz with Debbie.” You won’t (I hope) be disappointed.
the sheets are pinned to clothes-lines in the yard
untethered sails that snap and twist in moistened winds
that muster and charge like calvary
across the north atlantic; summer’s over
winter’s coming sure as october white-caps rise
and november bleeds all promise from the year.
the light is wrong for painting and for needle-work.
right for reading and making stew.
time has no meaning when alone–
just a notch in shared experience
“I’ll meet you here on such-and-such a day.”
“Remember when we did that thing? What year was that?”
don’t get me wrong; I’m not complaining.
a clock is only plastic after-all.
a house—a floor, four walls, a roof.
this land a tiny squiggle on a map.
memory is the thing that tells you where and who you are.
i am a vine
trellised to my own experience
roots anchored loose but deep in this nova scotian soil
i am again the man my father was.
the neighbors make ready their departure.
the rawlings—straight out of a book.
sweet distracted children run screaming on the beach.
mrs. rawlings waving as i putter in the yard.
life was meant for puttering,
i want to tell them.
all the time that was
or ever will be marked not by clocks
but by old men raking leaves
the rawlings putter too,
but too intently; hunting down accomplishment.
too young and driven to know
that nothing ever finishes.
she tells me now
alone upon the beach
she wishes they could stay year-round.
you can, i tell her.
she shakes her head;
i let the matter drop, thinking
life is not imperative
year-round is not a place,
or a condition.
it is simply making up your mind to stay.