Kenneth Rexroth – “Jazz Poetry” (Article 4) (1960)

July 8, 2009 at 9:59 am (Kenneth Rexroth, Music, Poetry & Literature, The Beats)

Final article by Kenneth Rexroth on the subject of “jazz poetry” that appeared on the back cover of the LP Kenneth Rexroth: Poetry and Jazz at the Blackhawk (Fantasy Records, 1960)…


Over a hundred years ago the French poet, Charles Cros, the man who invented the phonograph, recited his poetry to the hot music of a bal musette band. Some of his pieces, especially the very funny “The Dry Herring,” are still in the repertory of café entertainers over there. In the twenties Langston Hughes, Maxwell Bodenheim and myself recited poetry to the jazz of the time. A few years back, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, Kenneth Patchen, Lawrence Lipton and I revived it in California. For a while it was a fad. The Beatniks took it up. Some pretty awful stuff was committed in joints around the country. Now the fad has died away and the permanent, solid achievements remain. The form is not going to revolutionize either jazz or poetry, but it is going to stay with us, and both jazz and poetry are going to have one new way of expressing themselves, and so are going to be just a little richer. This is as it should be, because jazz poetry is fun to listen to, and it is even greater fun to do.

During the past four years I have worked around the country with all kinds of top-notch bands. Every one of these dates has been a sheer joy. But always at last I have come home to San Francisco and “my” band. Somehow we seem to go together like ham and eggs. We know each other thoroughly. We are always with it. It’s not just that nobody gets lost too far out. We know perfectly how to bring out each other’s best points. We know what we are doing.

What are we doing? Nothing freakish. Nothing outrageous. Nothing really new. Not just the people I mentioned before, but the “talking blues,” recitations of poetry as part of the service in storefront churches, highbrow music like Stravinsky’s Persephone and Walton’s Facade, there is nothing strange about the form, it has a long history in both jazz, spirituals and classical music. It is not singing or chanting. It is not matched to the notes in the strict way a song is. The point is that is gives a freer relationship, one which gives the musicians more chance for invention, for individual expression and development. Again, modern jazz is much better stuff than many of the popular lyrics that go with the tunes on which it is based. Some of these are pretty silly. We think that good poetry gives jazz words that match its own importance. Then, too, the combination of poetry and jazz, with the poet reciting, gives the poet a new kind of audience. Not necessarily a bigger one, but a more normal one — ordinary people out for the evening, looking for civilized entertainment. It takes the poet out of the bookish, academic world and forces him to compete with “acrobats, trained dogs, and Singer’s Midgets” as they used to say in the days of vaudeville. Is this bad? I think not. Precisely what is wrong with the modern poet is the lack of a living, flesh and blood connection with his audiences. Only in modern times has poetry become a bookish art. In its best days Homer and the Troubadours recited their poetry to music in just this way.

How do we do it? We certainly don’t just spontaneously blow off the top of our heads. Most of these pieces are standard tunes, carefully rehearsed many times with the poet until we’ve got a good clear rich head arrangement. We don’t write it down, because we want to keep as much spontaneity and invention as possible, but at the same time we want plenty of substance to the music, and, of course, we want poet and band to “go together.” I have chosen poems which are about the same things as most popular songs and blues and which are simple enough so that they can be put across to the average audience in a jazz room. Maybe now that the medium has caught on, as it certainly has, we can go on and try “deeper,” more complicated poetry. I use poetry from all times and places, again to show that nothing is foreign to jazz treatment. Poets of all times and places have always sung, “I loved him but he went away.” “Come to my arms, we ain’t a gonna live forever.” “I wish I’d never met you.”

Why do we do it? No theories. We do it because we like to. It’s fun.

Kenneth Rexroth

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Victor C. Mucci – “34 Months in a Soldier’s Life”

July 8, 2009 at 1:32 am (Life & Politics, Reviews & Articles)

Another article that my grandfather, Cpl. Victor C. Mucci, wrote for a massive war scrapbook that he put together several years ago (which is probably when this was written). At the end of this story he wrote, “I hope my grandchildren will find this book helpful in knowing their America,” which in his eyes had turned into a much different place then the one he grew up living and believing in. He was a conservative man with conservative values, but he taught me alot over the years and these stories made me realize the sacrifices he (and thousands of others) made for all of us.
I believe these stories should not be forgotten in the years and decades to come. Kids growing up should know their history and what was done to protect the freedoms we all take for granted. 
The other article of his on this site (link below) has some overlap with this one, as part of that article (published in the local newspaper) is taken from this earlier one…   


I was one of the millions of young men who answered the call. There were many times when I had second thoughts about what I was doing thousands of miles from home on that God-forsaken island of New Guinea and the mountains and valleys of the Philippine Islands. New Guinea was a Hell Hole; putrid, oppressive, with stinky swamps, slimy mud, filthy rivers and torrential rains. It was an invitation to fevers and infections. No one escaped that dreaded malaria and jungle rot. I contacted a severe case of malaria while I was on that island, but I got it under control by taking Atabrine. When I returned home and stopped taking those pills, the malaria took over again. I was under doctor’s care and after three years the malaria got out of my system.

After mop-up in New Guinea was over, our next move was the Philippine Islands. It didn’t get much better there. The terrain was much better, but the enemy was very determined to see that we would not be coming home. We were not the same caliber of soldier that the enemy was, but with our limited training we were determined that there was no turning back. Of the one hundred and twenty-five men in my company, I was about the oldest of the enlisted men (I was 26). The rest were seventeen or eighteen year old boys, barely out of high school; also boys from the farms who could barely write their names. Just a bunch of lonely homesick looking up to me to be their big brother. I’ve always had a soft spot in my heart, always looking at the brighter side of life. I was always by their side when they needed me. They were slowly adapting to army life; they went through Basic Training with flying colors. We were slowly becoming soldiers. They were my boys.

However, I was carrying a heavy burden. I never showed it, but it was only months that I last saw my wife and new son. He was only months old, and here I am over five thousand miles from home, not knowing if that was the last time I would see them. It was a scary feeling. However, I always had strength to put that in the back of my mind. After twenty months over seas, one cannot describe the feeling of the soldiers coming home at last. Our families were anxiously waiting for us. We were coming home to the greatest country in the world. Everything was so beautiful. Our jobs we left behind were waiting for us. We met up with the friends we left when we were all separated and scattered all over the world. We never knew where they served or what branch of service they were in. We seldom exchanged our experiences with each other. We simply left the war behind us. We were not bitter toward our country for sending us to those faraway places. Our people back home were just happy it was all over. Church bells were ringing all over the land and America prayed and offered thanks for the safe return of their loved ones.

I have a brother who served in the infantry. We seldom talked about our war escapades. This is the story my family related to me. While I was on a ship headed for New Guinea, he was on a ship headed for home. He was wounded in Anzio and Salerno in Italy. I received mail from him saying he was wounded and the Nazis were throwing everything at them but the kitchen sink, on the beaches. After he was dismissed from the hospital he wrote that he would arrive home on a certain day. Meanwhile, while my family was anxiously waiting for him to arrive, my mother feared the worst. He has lost a leg; the family was not telling her what really happened. After gaining her composure, she accepted him losing a leg. At least he was coming home. As they looked out the window they saw him coming down the street. My mother let out a cry and said, “Look, he has two legs! Thank God he’s come home a ‘Whole Man.’” That was the scene that was repeated thousands of times across the homes of America. It was an afterthought, as my mother would say. “I have gotten one son back safely but my other son is still thousands of miles across the large ocean. When will he be coming home?” 

Yes, we both made it home, but thousands of mothers who were waiting and looking out every window for the return of their loved ones weren’t so lucky. Thousands of wives never saw their husbands again. The end of the war was the happiest and sweetest day for the American Family. It was also the proudest years of the Family. They joined the war effort and worked all hours building planes, tanks, ships, and turned out all kinds of guns and ammunition, as they worked all kinds of shifts in factories. Without them, their sons, husbands, brothers and fathers could not come home victorious. America was at its finest hour. History has labeled the men and women as The Greatest Generation. There will never be another generation as the one we were fortunate enough to have lived in. But our generation is slowly fading away.  

Victor C. Mucci 

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