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Lay for the Day
19th August

1918: the pianist Jimmy Rowles was born on this day in Spokane, Washington.
He was a favourite accompanist of two of the finest jazz singers, Carmen McRae and Sarah Vaughan, both of whom recorded songs by him. Carmen, with Rowles on piano, recorded his quirky composition ‘The Ballad of Thelonious Monk’, in cod country-and-western style, on her live set The Great American Songbook (1972). Sarah sang ‘Frasier, The Sensual Lion’ (with superb lyrics by Johnny Mercer) on another live recording, Sarah Vaughan & The Jimmy Rowles Quintet (1974). He can also be heard in fine form on a live Jimmy Witherspoon album from 1960, in the company of Gerry Mulligan and Ben Webster (Witherspoon, Mulligan, Webster at the Renaissance).
This poem, in the persona of a piano, also celebrates the neighbouring birthdays of three other pianists: Bill Evans (16th August 1929 in Plainfield, New Jersey), Mal Waldron (16th August 1925 in New York), and Count Basie (21st August 1904 in Red Bank, New Jersey).


Piano


Still your crying,
brass, your thunder
and lightning, drums
and let me speak.

I have reasons
for what you shriek,
wail and clatter,
for what you sing.

My words are each
full sentences
condensed and a
phrase whole pages.

What I proclaim
I have in black
and white. “Even
strength” is my name

and my heart like
yours is strings and
hammers, which with
these keys opens.


John Gibbens
from Septet
 

The Lay Reader: an archive of the poetic calendar