HOW TO LOVE JAZZ; ROBERT CREELEY
Those nights flying with poets. Buffalo has for many years been a poet’s town. All the great poets of America habitually pass through and many like inscrutable Charles Olson, melodious John Logan, prissy Carl Dennis, and morose James Wright have lived and taught here. When I first arrived in Buffalo I was not a drinker, but the poets, the poets would consume vast unbelievable quantities of booze, laughing all night from bar to bar, smashing glasses, speeding down Main Street like death was on the taillight, sitting nodding in the kitchen, neon light over the sink, dope and Coltrane interweaving the talk. I was uncomfortable, intimidated, afraid to let go, to undress my soul in any way, lonely and these ramblings with poets made me feel lonelier. Taverns to readings to bars with the great poets of Buffalo. It was a time like no other. If a group of lions is called a pride of lions, and a group of larks is called an exultation of larks, then I would call a group of poets a wandering. A wandering of poets. These memories I have are so humiliating and hard and I realize they were meant for poems, waiting for poems to tear at the guts.
Sometime that first year in Buffalo, I met Robert Creeley. Creeley is one of the most prominent of America’s living poets. Half of the year he is a professor at the State University of New York at Buffalo. He spends much of the rest of the year near Albuquerque in my home state. I met him after I had been doing Oil of Dog for quite a while and I was surprised he had heard me. It was then that we discussed the possibility of his appearing on my show and I said Oh that would be great anything that you want to do it will be your show.
Some poets are fat. Some are thin. I don’t think there are many in between. Creeley is lanky and tall, squinting a missing eye, beaming the other, greying goatee. Many of his admirers can be seen wearing his characteristic garb: an army-green fisherman-type hat, an army jacket, faded jeans, hiking boots, and a satchel over one shoulder. He is a one-man mode of cool. It is no wonder that people so admire him. Because he is so raging and so kind, his voice is soft and thoughtful, breaking off in midsentence, trailing into a mumble (I am reluctant to say “What? I didn’t hear you.”), beginning midsentence because he seems to have a million things in his mind at once, thoughts that seem to need several simultaneous sentences. Historically, he is associated with the beat poets of the fifties and his words are often those of the hipster and his manner that of the space cadet. But he seems so fascinated with what is going on now, broadly accepting of life, interested in all people, even moms and dads and squeaky college kids, even fruit pickers and stu-bums and floozies. I am a great admirer of Robert Creeley. Not because of his poems. His poems are important because he can infuse the page with his marvelous personality.
That night when we pre-recorded the four hour show. Ah! A blizzard buried the state and I was having trouble with my girl friend and I listened to Creeley warm that night with his love of jazz. He spoke of musicians and particular songs and legendary solos with great affection:
Art Blakey – “One of the most extraordinary, certainly the loudest, drummer in the business.”
The song, “Nice Work if You Can Get It” with Stan Getz, sax; Bob Brookmeyer, trombone; Steve Kuhn, piano; Roy Haynes, drums; John Neves, bass – “A kind of funky, late forties, almost like a Beach Boys sound of that time and place.”
John Coltrane, McCoy Tyner, Steve Davis, Elvin Jones doing “Body and Soul” – “This is where it’s at, friends and neighbors, if you can get these two together, you’ve got it made.”
I did not grow up listening to jazz, I did not know how to experience it. I had no idea what to listen for in a solo. But after these few hours with Creeley I began to understand. If there is any way to keep jazz musicians from needing to play disco and jazzak – to reach those who do not understand jazz – it is to have people like Robert Creeley talk about music, make fond presentations like those heard that night on Oil of Dog.
After listening to a tune by Fats Navarro – “dear old trumpet” says Creeley – featuring Allan Eager on tenor sax:
Robert Creeley: Yeah, I’d like to find out whatever happened to him. I was in New York once, this was like twenty years ago. And very sad, as usual. And, uh, the two great clubs were The Open Door and The Five Spot. They used to have, like, classic Sunday evenings, or Sunday afternoons and evenings, and you’d go around and sit around for very little money and hear some extraordinary jazz. This particular night nothing at all had happened, so I was leaving in ultimate loneliness and walking down the street and I see these – yeah – five people getting into a car. And I just, ah, on impulse got in line with them and hahaha got into the car.
Gary Storm: Hahahahaha.
C: And, ah, I remember sitting down and they said, y’know, “Who the he-Who are you?” and I said haha well, you know, “What are you guys doing?” and they said “Well, ah . . . .” Then they st-I guess they broke up and started laughing ‘cause it was so weird. And then they introduced themselves and one of these guys said, ah, y’know, “I’m Allan Eager.”
C: I said, “You’re Allan Eager??” And then all the other guys say “What’s the interest . . . . . . ?” ah, y’know, “Who’s Allan Eager?” And I said, “Well, he’s one of the great, y’know, tenor players ever, man!” Haha, but no one in the group knew he was that! It was sort of, this was, yeah, ‘56. That, yeah . . . .
G: Is he still alive?
C: Hopefully. He was a very bright and articulate man, he got sort of sadly involved with other things for a time, but, ah . . . . What’s interesting to remember, the extraordinary, ah, tenor players just at that point, um yeah, black and white, extraordinary.
From Oil of Dog – the story of my life as an all-night progressive disc jockey.