Sunday, January 22, 2017


 I was pleased with my plan when I left home last Thursday evening.  The idea of hitting a jazz show at the Blue Room after hearing poet Hanif Abdurraqib speak at the Black Archives seemed sound. 

I was wrong.  The author’s electrifying reading made the jazz performance seem grotesquely banal.

Although he employed the cadences associated with jazz poetry, Abdurraqib didn’t make any references to the music.  Instead, his poems mentioned contemporary pop culture icons like Beyoncé, Big Freedia and Kanye West.  He addressed topics like the devastating consequences of the heroin epidemic, the violent action in the pit at punk rock shows and the emotional impact of racial profiling. 

Transfixed by Abdurraqib’s candor, the high school and college students who dominated the audience of about 50 snapped their fingers in appreciation.

One block away at the Blue Room, a mannerly quartet played elegant readings of Miles Davis and John Coltrane compositions for a handful of middle-aged jazz fans.  Courtly rather than contentious, the performance possessed none of the immediacy of Abdurraqib’s poetry.

I’d initially hoped that the poet would join me at the Blue Room.  I'm glad he didn’t show up.  Abdurraqib chronicles the most vibrant aspects of American life.  There was nothing worthy of his consideration at the Blue Room.

(Original image of Abdurraqib at the Black Archives by Plastic Sax.)


Anonymous said...

Say what??? Checking the calendar, I see that the Roger Wilder quartet was at the Blue Room last Thursday. I've never been less that thoroughly impressed with any group that Roger is leading. He's so hip, it ought to be against the law! Your dismissive review of his quartet's performance makes me question whether I want to continue reading this blog.

Happy In Bag said...

It’s all about context. Going from a reading of Hanif Abdurraqib’s urgent poetry while surrounded by excited teens to a nearly empty room to hear interpretations of songs composed before I was born felt like changing the channel from CNN’s live coverage of an earth-shaking event to a sepia-toned romantic comedy on TCM.