Like a Poet Saying Yes

J. B. Spins calls attention to the collection Jazz Poems, edited by Kevin Young, and even quotes from Dana Gioia’s “Bix Beiderbecke (1903-1931)”:

He dreamed he played the notes so slowly that
they hovered in the air above the crowd
and shimmered like a neon sign.

Ian McCluskey, meanwhile, is a self-described “Mad angel-headed hipster in the starry dynamo of night,” as well as a blogger-poet. His May 13 entry, “Hitchin Desert Blacktop,” uses Bix in an unexpected juxtaposition:

Brakemen and Bix Beiderbecke. Long lonesome
and bald tires. Pintos and bays, sorrels and dun.
If you say the names of the desert it’s a letter
you type, old Smith-Corona chatter and click clack
of the Santa Fe.

Bix appears in other poems, as well, including Michael Longley’s “To Bix Beiderbecke.” It begins this way:

In hotel rooms, in digs you went to school.
These dead were voices from the floor below
Who filled like an empty room your skull,

Poet Rod Jellema, in 1999, wrote the epically titled “Bix Beiderbecke Composing a Suite for Piano, 1930–1931, mist, candlelights, cloudy, flashes, dark.” It ends this way:

Shaded from morning stabs of light, 
he got back to where he was going all along, 
the dreaming mind, the diamond-making dark.

Other poets have been content to merely celebrate Bix’s moniker. There is, for instance, Hayden Carruth’s “The Fantastic Names of Jazz,” which reads, in full:

Zoot Sims, Joshua Redman,
Billie Holiday, Pete Fountain,
Fate Marable, Ivie Anderson,
Meade Lux Lewis, Mezz Mezzrow,
Manzie Johnson, Marcus Roberts,
Omer Simeon, Miff Mole, Sister
Rosetta Tharpe, Freddie Slack,
Thelonious Monk, Charlie Teagarden,
Max Roach, Paul Celestin, Muggsy
Spanier, Boomie Richman, Panama
Francis, Abdullah Ibrahim, Piano
Red, Champion Jack Dupree,
Cow Cow Davenport, Shirley Horn,
Cedar Walton, Sweets Edison,
Jacki Bvard, John Heard, Joy Harjo,
Pinetop Smith, Tricky Sam
Nanton, Major Holley, Stuff Smith,
Bix Beiderbecke, Bunny Berigan,
Mr. Cleanhead Vinson, Ruby Braff,
Cootie Williams, Cab Calloway,
Lockjaw Davis, Chippie Hill,
And of course Jelly Roll Morton.

Finally, Bix’s shadow can be seen in Philip Larkin’s 1954 ode to another early jazz legend, “For Sidney Bechet”:

On me your voice falls as they say love should,
Like an enormous yes.

This sounds suspiciously like the wisecracker Eddie Condon’s 1947 description of Bix’s music, which, he attested, “came out like a girl saying yes.”

[May 29, 2006]