Salute to 1959

I read poetry at an outdoor festival in Rockefeller Park on the Lower West Side of Manhattan on the Hudson, just above the World Trade Center, on June 26 in honor of the year 1959 and its enormous impact on the history of American jazz and culture.

There was an all-star band organized and led by Grammy award winning drummer and composer Terri Lyne Carrington. The ensemble played a number of jazz classics recorded in 1959 by Miles Davis, John Coltrane, Charles Mingus, Dave Brubeck, and others, with players such as Antonio Hart on alto sax, Gregoire Maret on harmonica, Jeremy Pelt on trumpet, Matt Garrison on bass and a number of others.

I read two poems I wrote for the occasion, celebrating the year 1959, which were backed by this powerful ensemble. Here are the two which I performed at Rockefeller Park. The first, "Hooray for 1959" I read to a jazz performance of “All Blues” from Miles Davis’ ’59 album, Kind of Blue.

Hooray for 1959

Oh 1959, full of wildness
and trembling visions on the pickle fork of Newness!

It was the time of glory for the Beat Generation
I recall watching Allen Ginsberg, Gregory Corso and
Ray Bremser read in February at the Gaslight
on MacDougal Street
They were arousing an entire generation!

It was a year when Ginsberg polished his great
threnody called Kaddish!
and Wm Burroughs published Naked Lunch!!
& Jack Kerouac put forth his novel Dr. Sax

Hooray for ’59!

Hail to early ’59, when Fidel Castro tossed out the
dictator of Cuba, and declared “Cuba for Cubans,”
and President Eisenhower recognized
the new Cuban gov’t, but then trouble began
when Castro nationalized large land holdings

Hooray for March 11 when Sidney Poitier opened in
Lorraine Hansberry’s A Raisin in the Sun

but alas alas, four days later, March 15
saw sax genius Lester Young pass away
in a hotel overlooking Birdland
at the age of 49
the man they called Prez!

But the year kept surging onward!
April 9 the first 7 astronauts were chosen

Springtime at the Cannes Festival
victories for the French la nouvelle vague:
Hiroshima, Mon Amour and The 400 blows

Hooray for ’59!

March 2 & April 22, Miles Davis held sessions
for Kind of Blue at the Columbia studio on 30th Street
(with Coltrane blowing on the final session
at the end of the year)

And then May 4 and 5
the main sessions for John Coltrane’s Giant Steps

Hooray 1959!

Then May 5 & May 12, a triumph in two sessions,
Charles Mingus & ensemble recorded Mingus ah um!
at the Columbia studio on 30th Street

Wow! “Better Git it In Your Soul”!!!
Wow! Mingus’s salute to Lester Young
“Goodbye Pork Pie Hat”!!!

Then the same month as Mingus ah um
Ornette Coleman had a session May 22, 1959
at Radio Recorders in Hollywood for Atlantic
leading to The Shape of Jazz to Come

Hooray for ’59! & Ornette’s free jazz alto sax!

Then June 11 the silly Postmaster General
banned Lady Chatterley’s Lover from the mails
Its publisher, Grove Press,
immediately sued in federal court
but then July 21 in a thrilling moment
for personal freedom
a Federal judge ruled
that Lady Chatterley’s Lover
COULD be sent through the mail

Hooray for 1959!

Then July 17 The great Lady Day
passed away at 44 in a New York Hospital
She’d been arrested on her death bed for heroin
& they posted a cop at the door

The bard Frank O’Hara
wrote a beautiful poem called
“The Day Lady Died”
which you can read
in his great book Lunch Poems

September 11, Congress voted in the
first Food Stamps
for those left out of the Dream

Hooray for ’59!

Yay! Yay for the films of ’59:

Hitchcock's North by Northwest
Ben Hur Black Orpheus
Look Back in Anger Our Man in Havana

and the classic Some Like it Hot
with Marilyn Monroe, Tony Curtis, Jack Lemmon

All hail 1959
in the Vast Ever-Flowing Dream!

 

The second poem I read was titled "A Day in the Summer of 1959."

A Day in the Summer of 1959

In the summer of 1959
a bunch of us went
on a midnight bongo party
on the Staten Island Ferry

Then at rosy-fingered dawn
we headed to Washington Square
where we sat by the spurting fountain
and street sweepers were picking up
last night’s largess

Then we headed to the Lower East Side
past the Five Spot, then past the Jazz Gallery
on St. Marks, then past the spot on Avenue B
where Charlie Parker lived from ’50 to ’55

Then to a pad just up the street
where we listened to records
from a milk crate book case
& smoked some freedom leaves

Then held a spontaneous session
drums sax bass

How did the session go?

(ensemble riff)

How did the session go?

(ensemble riff)

How did the session go?

(riff)

Then we walked back to the West Side
to J.A.’s restaurant
at 7th Avenue, Sheridan Square

then to a poetry reading
at the Gaslight on MacDougal
where the readers were applauded
with finger snaps

How did the reading go?

(ensemble finger snaps)

How did the reading go?

(ensemble finger snaps)

How did the reading go?

(finger snaps)

—Edward Sanders