Poetry To Jazz/ Jazz Into Poetry

Miller Williams to read from ‘Some Jazz Awhile,’ backed by Walter Savage Trio

By Paul Williams

In a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for fans, two powerhouse artists will come together for a unique performance at 7 p.m. March 18 at the intimate Starr Theater at the Walton Arts Center.

Renowned poet Miller Williams will read from his poems, “Some Jazz a While,” accompanied by Walter Savage and his jazz trio.

Williams has said the bare bones of poetry are words moving through patterns. Replace “words” with “sounds,” and you have music. This near kinship has been celebrated before by American poets and jazz musicians, especially in the 1950s and ’60s. Now, we can again experience this uniquely American fusion of forms, performed by these quintessential artists.

Music is everywhere in Williams’ life and poetry. As a young man, he played clarinet and saxophone in a jazz combo. His daughter, singer-songwriter Lucinda Williams, is a three-time Grammy Award winner. One reviewer wrote Williams has been able “to continually rediscover what is vital and musical in the language Americans speak.”

Williams has a long list of accomplishments and honors. In 1997, at the request of President Bill Clinton, Williams became only the fourth poet to write and deliver a poem for a Presidential inauguration.

Williams has written 12 books of poetry and translated the work of modern Chilean poet Nicanor Parra and 19th century Italian Giuseppe Belli.

He has received, among other awards, the Poets’ Prize, the Academy Award for Literature and the Prix de Rome for Literature from the American Academy of Arts and Letters.

Now retired, Williams ended his distinguished teaching career as professor of English and foreign languages at the University of Arkansas, where he was founding director of the University of Arkansas Press.

Savage, for decades a mainstay of the San Francisco jazz scene, came to Fayetteville two years ago and has galvanized the city’s growing jazz audience with his virtuosity on the upright bass. He has worked with Taj Mahal, Arthur Blythe, Bobby Hutcherson, David “Fathead” Newman, John Handy and Pharaoh Sanders.

Savage’s own compositions are available on two albums, “Soothes the Savage Beast” and “Autumn’s Witch,” which showcase his humor, intelligence and insight into what jazz is all about — its deep, improvisational roots in something fundamentally American and universally esteemed. Joining Savage will be expert musicians Ben Harris on guitar and Darren Novotny on drums.

From the time of Homer and through the medieval troubadours to William Blake’s “Songs of Innocence” and “Songs of Experience,” poetry and music were one. But poetry fell from fashion, read mostly by poets or by students as assignments, while jazz since the 1960s has been largely eclipsed by rock, pop and hip-hop.

Poetry to Jazz/Jazz into Poetry, by making what was old new again, creates a fresh expression for these vibrant, complementary arts, giving each a new kind of audience, new emotional dimensions and artistic depths. Northwest Arkansas is indeed fortunate to have Miller Williams and Walter Savage bring us an extraordinary evening.

Categories: Music