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Lay for the Day
16th January

1938: the Benny Goodman Orchestra plays at Carnegie Hall in New York, with guest appearances by members of the Duke Ellington and Count Basie orchestras. The concert, in one of America’s most eminent auditoriums, was a big step up for the cultural prestige of jazz in its home country.


With a giant
shine-toothy grin
the drummer
dives into his splash,
a frantic swimmer he
who butterflies away from
the whirlpool of Titanic horns he still goes into
spinning and marking time.
Swing, brother.

Dropped from the eyes of tenors
gently rocking, blowing their dots,
the clarinet’s
black, long, tear-
like body cried
for strange fruit by name.

turned into livity
spirits robbed with gravity
by the neck
until the wind that rocked them
gently blew rock steady
enough to bring the house down.


John Gibbens
from The Improvised Version, Vol. 2

The Lay Reader: an archive of the poetic calendar