Tour Diary: Reading Poems In Music City


Photo by Graham Gerdeman, Nashville Jazz Workshop

(June 17, 2012) NASHVILLE, TN — My first full day in Nashville was split between producing a show for tomorrow and giving a poetry reading at the amazing Nashville Jazz Workshop.

As I mentioned in yesterday’s diary, pianist and keyboardist Paul Horton came to my rescue and gave me a place to stay last night. This morning I produced Monday’s episode of The Jazz Session, featuring Shepherdstown, WV’s Jeff Cosgrove, while Paul worked on some music for gigs he has coming up. Here’s a shot of us as I was leaving his house to go to the reading:

Be sure to check out Paul’s music here.

I took a cab to the venue and had an interesting chat with the driver. He’s been driving a cab here since the late 80s and told me about the revitalization of Nashville’s downtown, which he said was all but a ghost town back in the 80s and has seen an impressive resurgence in recent years. He didn’t have many kind words for the Opryland folks, saying they were exploiting the city with very little concern for the impact of their various business and development decisions.

And then, out of nowhere, he said this: “I think the Internet is really affecting people. They don’t have any common sense anymore. If they don’t know something they just Google it instead of thinking about it. And nobody hangs out. They just text and email.” This was said with a thick Tennessee accent by a guy in his 50s wearing a camo mesh truckers hat. And he said it to a guy from New England in his late 30s with a red goatee. Those two guys? Turns out they agree.

The reading was a lot of fun. It was at a place called the Nashville Jazz Workshop, truly one of the most impressive jazz institutions I’ve seen. The workshop is a school, concert venue, jazz library and more. I’m going to try to interview the folks who run it if I can, but please visit their site and kick in a donation if you’re able. It’s such an impressive place. More cities need a place just like it. Here are a few shots of the “Jazz Cave,” the club space at the Workshop.

I read my poetry as part of a monthly jam session hosted by saxophonist Evan Cobb. That’s him on the left in another photo by Graham Gerdeman. Evan is a talented player whose new album, Falling Up, is worth your time. The jam session was a really welcoming environment. Musicians of all skill levels took part and the vibe was relaxed but serious about the music.

I read for 30 minutes before the jam session started. I did something I very rarely do, which was to make up the set on the fly. Given the crowd, most of whom were jazz musicians and all of whom were jazz fans, I decided to read a few of my jazz poems before picking and choosing from the set I’ve been reading on tour. I read “to swing you in the arms of the stars,” which is about Sun Ra, followed by “91,” a poem about Hank Jones. Then I read the two recent poems from Richmond followed by a selection of stuff from my prepared set. I closed with “I Cannot Threaten Death,” my MLK erasure poem. I also told a few tour stories. There’s a recording of most of the reading at the top of this post. I missed the beginning because I forgot to turn the recorder on. Yes, I’m a pro.


Photo by Graham Gerdeman

One of the standout players at the session was bassist Jonathan Wires, a fellow New Englander now making his home in the Nashville area. He was playing a lot of bass and the creative ideas just poured out of him, which is no easy task in a jam session environment. I hesitate to link to a MySpace page, this being 2012 and all, but you can hear Jonathan here.

After the session, I had dinner with Evan and with vocalist and educator Kathryn Paradise, who has an unfairly great name. They gave me some good insight into the Nashville scene and talked about their experiences living here and making lives in music. Kate teaches at Belmont University and performs in town. I didn’t get to hear her sing, unfortunately, but she did tell me a great story about a gig she played at which an uninvited saxophonist showed up, set up four horns and started playing. This was not at a jam session. It was AT A GIG. Insane.

I’ve got a crazy schedule of interviews set up for the next couple days. And of course I want to check out some music. I’m hoping to see The Time Jumpers, a western swing band, and also catch some bluegrass at the Station Inn and some blues in Printer’s Alley. Plus, I’ll be hanging out with Evan’s awesome dog, Iggy:

(If you’d like to support my tour, you can make a one-time donation and get great thank-you gifts HERE. If you’d like to become a member of The Jazz Session and make recurring monthly or yearly payments, you can do that HERE.)

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