Last Days: PoJazz Live at the Black Door
(from the CD's introduction, by Tony Whedon)
In early April of 2008, a group of poets and musicians gathered before an audience of friends at The Black Door Bar and Bistro in Montpelier, Vermont to record the CDs enclosed here. We'd performed together for several years, reading poems and playing music in an impromptu way, but this was our first rehearsed concert. The albu turned out to be experimental and free-form in some selections and more arranged in others. We were pleased it had a Dixieland and Latin feel and projected an atmosphere that was continental and cabaret-like.
The original German cabaret of the 1920's, which came out of the strip clubs, dives and dance halls of an earlier era, evolved into venues for new politically driven expression that bridged high and elitist art with popular entertainment. Steeped in an atmosphere of experimentation, cabarets fused popular song with Dadaist poetry, jazz with "serious music." I hesitate to call what we do here pure cabaret, though there are political overtones to many of our pieces. Rather, this is an elegy to the post-9/11, pre-Obama era.
Included here are poems about war, race and sex, and hip hop eruptions working against the grain of "high art." Each of us is a raconteur, a story-teller. As you listen to our CDs you're driving across an Illinois prairie late at night as Miles' muted horn blends with radio static; you're in the South of France smelling dough rising in a boulangerie down the block; you're sipping a beer at an outdoor cafe in Central Park or sauntering down a Brooklyn street or riding your bike through siren-filled post-9/11 streets in lower Manhattan.
Why Manhattan? Though we made no attempt to force analogies between the events of 9/11 and our own stories, that's how it turned out. We all live in Vermont, but these days "everyone is a New Yorker," including snowbound Vermont musicians and poets. Vermont artist Ken Leslie's cover painting of a man blowing his trumpet at the door of a burning house speaks to the theme of our show, conveying a sense of apocalyptic endings and fresh beginnings. (To simulate the image, Ken built a model of a Vermont farmhouse and photographed it as it burst into flames inside his wood stove!)
We call our album Last Days to conjure along with Ken's painting the visual image of a burning city and of our musicians and poets welcoming a New Era. Our title poem, "Last Days," is an account of Mount Vesuvius‚ eruptions in August of 79 BCE, as left by Pliny the Elder, a Roman general and our first natural historian, known today for his Historia Naturalis, the first comprehensive attempt to catalog the natural world. In my poem I've describe in Pliny's words how he expired in Mount Vesuvius‚ eruptions of 79 BC. There are heartbreaking similarities in the events that led to the destruction the Roman cities Pompeii and Herculaneum and what happened in Manhattan in 2001. I won't belabor these save to say that one of our troupe worked as a volunteer at the Twin Towers site in the days after the buildings fell.
While our musicians and poets are quite accomplished in their fields, listing their credits would take up more space than we have here. Some of the poems on Last Days have been published in literary magazines, and a few were written for this performance. Likewise, a good portion of the music was composed, arranged and improvised by the band. We range in age from nineteen to sixty-five and are teachers and students at Johnson State College, Champlain College, and The University of Vermont and elsewhere.
Many thanks to Chuck and Lane at the Charles Eller Studios in Charlotte for their recording genius and to Phil and Jay at Montpelier's Black Door for sharing their marvelous space. Without generous grants from Johnson State College, Last Days would not have been possible.
Marina Back, David Budbill, David Cavanagh, Tom Cote, JC Ellefson, Grace Albert-Garder, Dominique Gagne, Geof Hewitt, Neil Shepard,
Steve Blair, Guitar; Marina Back, Violin; Tom Cleary, Piano & Accordion; Lar Duggan, Piano; JC Ellefson, Violin; Dominique Gagne, Flute; Jeff Salisbury, Percussion; Dnaiel Silverman, Trombone; Clyde Stass, Bass; Tony Whedon, Trombone; Alex Wolston, Trumpet
Hear selected tracks from Last Days (mp3)
Thing to Pray to in Vermont