Writings About Music

Jazz Beyond Jazz

what jazz beyond jazz
in future blue saloons?
what love in the cafes of God?

- excerpted from "Siesta In Xbalba" (1963) by Allen Ginsberg

I’ll confess to liking these words in relation to what I pursue, taking a personal immersion in modern jazz and avant garde jazz in a different direction, including falling under the spell of the ragas of India, their original purpose being to entice deities to descend from heaven and bless the entreater.

My composition and performance, Kamavardhani (2010), consisting of four gats or movements, suggests evolutionary connections to my primary jazz teacher, Lee Konitz, and his primary teacher, Lennie Tristano, in terms of rhythmic and melodic movement, and abstract expression, too. Here, jazz influences have been naturally blended with Indian classical music influences, including combining a Western piano timbre with Indian tabla, dholak and dhol bols (percussion timbres), and an Indian tamboura drone. Kamavardhani is the fifty-first melakarta of Karnatic music translating to mean "that which increases desire". Melakartas are a form of parent ragas with myriad offspring.

Allen Ginsberg and William Butler Yeats are my favorite poets in English. Rereading "After Yeats" (1964) by Ginsberg, the movement from "mystic toy" to "statue painted gold" possesses the rhythmic fluidity and wondrous syncopation surprises found in the music of Charlie Parker - idolized by Beat poets - effectively erasing the restrictions of superficially inhibiting bar lines.

Now incense fills the air
and delight follows delight 
quiet supper in the carpet room,
music twangling from the Orient to my ear,
old friends at rest on bright mattresses,
old paintings on the walls, old poetry
thought anew, laughing at a mystic toy
statue painted gold, tea on the white table.

It's very likely that "twangling" was a recording by Ravi Shankar. Organizing my CD collection recently, it became apparent that the visionary sitarist held sway by sheer numbers alone, always having the musical wisdom to pair with extraordinary tabla artists. Shankar's passion for innovative rhythmic exploration was shared by Parker, including being born the same year of 1920, the Year of the Monkey from the Chinese Zodiac.

Tristano was born one year earlier in 1919, the same Year of the Goat as his exact opposite, Wladziu Valentino Liberace, but that's another story ...

Konitz was born in 1927, the Year of the Rabbit or Cat, like two other musicians who have influenced me greatly, Ray Manzarek (1939) and Zakir Hussain (1951).

Myself, I was born in 1956, also the Year of the Monkey.

OK. Enough Chinese astrology!

- Michael Robinson, April 2018, Los Angeles


© 2018 Michael Robinson All rights reserved


Michael Robinson is a Los Angeles-based composer and writer (musicologist).


"After Yeats" from Planet News (City Light Books) by Allen Ginsberg

"Siesta In Xbalba" from Reality Sandwiches (City Light Books) by Allen Ginsberg