Listen to this poem using the player above.
I wasn’t going to write about the passing of jazz pianist Hank Jones until I saw this article in the New York Times.
UPDATE: Hank Jones’ manager, Jean-Pierre Leduc, posted this in response to the NYT article:
Hank had a huge farm up in Hartwick, NY, and he had most things he needed. He was not unhappy or hermit-like. I wish he had treated himself to a bigger space (he could have lived anywhere), but it was clean and right where he wanted to be — Upper West Side. On tour he had the best suite in the best 5-star hotels, and he was on tour a lot, even very recently. The article in The Times was a clear invasion of privacy.
I considered making revisions to the poem based on this, but I don’t think that’s necessary.
â€œOn the cluttered night-table was a book of Sherlock Holmes stories.â€
— From a New York Times article on what was found in jazz pianist Hank Jonesâ€™ tiny one-room apartment after his death.
the detective used the violin
as a tool to sharpen his thoughts
the pianist practiced on an electric keyboard
using headphones so he wouldnâ€™t disturb the neighbors
91 years is a long time
to be good at something so few understand
unlike Holmes, Hank never got a chance to stand in the parlor
to explain how heâ€™d figured it all out
how heâ€™d arrived at the real answer
he had to depend on ears and brains and beating hearts
to understand the messages pushed into ivory
by two hands, ten fingers, a billion synapses firing
when he died they broke into his room with a hammer
it was locked from the inside
a detail the detective would have appreciated
they found rumpled sheets, accolades
long ago forgotten and newly given
manifestations of his talent not sufficient
to encapsulate the world-altering beauty of it
there is nothing elementary
about 91 years of a black man playing the piano
no sidekick to remark on just how heavily
the odds had been stacked in opposition
could even the most talented sleuth
have pieced together the long road from Detroit?
inspected the dust of a thousand thousand footsteps
and traced the route from segregated hotels
to the grandest stages in the world?
91 years is a long time to breathe in and out,
to push down on the keys, to bear the weight of memory
the memory of waiting for his time in the spotlight
yet he could have walked down any street in America
and no one would have looked twice
he was a king, an 88-keyed deity who could
swing you into the ground and could pass
completely unnoticed among the multitudes
more concerned with the camera flash
in the end he went out playing
in a world that was richer for his footsteps across the stage,
his particular selection of notes
his attention to detail, elegance
and the long slow curve of 91 years of history