LeRoi and Ornette – Becoming in Time

I was listening to a PoemTalk (PennSound) about LeRoi (Amiri Baraka) Jones’s early poem “Kenyatta Listening to Mozart“ and one of the guests mentioned that Ornette Coleman’s The Shape of Jazz to Come came out in roughly the same year as this poem was written. Coleman’s album is 1959 and the poem was published in 1963.

The primary “note” played by this discussion was that of the way Western and African notions of art/politics play off each other, in perhaps discordant ways (the title speaks of this); but also in this is a kind of ars poetica; and there is Cuba and perhaps Jones AS Castro (or Kenyatta); and there is a turning away from the Beats.

A great talk which always leaves you wanting more because their goal is not to exhaust the reading but to really begin the reading/thinking, to prompt the listener to discover more for herself.

I actually found this because I have begun to read Amiri Baraka with more attention–I am deeply engaged with his 1963 book Blues People and intend to read more essays and poems. If you don’t know Blues People I recommend it strongly–the first chapter alone is worth it and should set your mind reeling about the impossibility of understanding the deep divisions of intellection and bodily being in this country. There is a great audiobook version also, read wonderfully by Prentice Onayemi.

The PoemTalk episond does not reference this book, which, though I give them leeway for not “exhausting” a reading, seemed odd to me; that book was published at the same time as the poem and surely its politics and philosophy–its social critique and historiography feed into the poem.

Then I saw there was a longer PoemTalk about a Baraka poem performed/recorded with the hip hop group The Roots off the album Phrenology: “Something In The Way Of Things (In Town).” Again, highly recommended.

leroi jones Ornette_Coleman_credit_William_Claxton_Courtesy_Demont_Photo_ManagementBecause of this I decided to mix LeRoi Jones reading “Kenyatta Listening to Mozart” with The Ornette Coleman Quartet’s version of the Gershwin song “Embraceable You” on the album This Is Our Music (1961)–seeing in it the same kind of irony as the Jones poem–it’s the only song on the album NOT written by Ornette Coleman.

And so here you go: Embraceable Kenyatta by Ornette Jones


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Douglas Storm is a host and producer for Interchange on Bloomington, Indiana's community radio station WFHB. "Why then do you try to 'enlarge' your mind? Subtilize it..."

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