(Not) "Above Jazz"

      Billie Holiday
The photo above is one of the most beautiful pictures I have ever seen of  'Lady Day'.
Philip Levine is one of my favorite California poets hailing from Fresno, California. I first heard this poem many years ago and felt then and still do now that it is a poetic description that speaks to the elemental nature of jazz. It is a music  with soul that is so deeply a part of our collective humanity.  The video below is of Bobby McFerrin and Richard Bona doing a wonderful improvisation together Live in Montreal, Canada. Bona is a bassist living in Montreal but originally from Minta, Cameroun and his given name is Bona Pinder Yayumayalolo.

Above Jazz
    “A friend tells me he has risen above
       Jazz. I leave him there. . .”  Michael Harper
There is that music that the hammer
makes when it hits the nail squarely
and the wood opens with a sigh.  There is
the music of the bones growing, of
teeth biting into bread, of the baker
making bread, slapping the dusted loaf
as though it were a breathing stone.
There has always been the music
of the stars, soundless and glittering
in the winter air, and the moon’s
full song, loon-like and heard only
by someone far from home who glances
up to the southern sky for help and finds
the unfamiliar cross and for a moment
wonders if he or the heavens
have lost their way.  Most perfect
is the music heard in sleep—the breath
suspends itself above the body, the soul
returns to the room having gone in dreams
to some far shore and entered water
only to rise and fall again and rise
a final time dressed in the rags of time
and made the long trip home to the body,
cast-off and senseless, because it is
the only instrument it has.  Listen, stop
talking, stop breathing.  That is music,
whatever you hear, even if it’s
only the simple pulse, the tides
of blood tugging toward the heart
and back on the long voyage that must
always take them home.  Even if you
hear nothing, the breathless earth
asleep, the oceans at last at rest,
the sun frozen before dawn and the peaks
 of the eastern mountains upright, cold
and silent. All that you do not hear
and never can is music, and in the dark
creation dances around the single center
that would be listening if it could.
--Philip Levine from Unselected Poems

 Bobby McFerrin and Richard Bona Improvisation (Is this what heaven sounds like?)


  1. extremely tasty writing noelle! hoo boy!! steven

  2. Thank you, Steven! Good to hear from you. Coming from you that means a lot. Glad to have you back!


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