The Book Cooks
Excerpts from
silent solos: improvisers speak

Edited by Renate Da Rin
(Buddy's Knife Jazzedition; Köln)


when improvisers speak,
where do their words go?

George E. Lewis

In his extraordinary book, In the Break: The Aesthetics of the Black Radical Tradition, Fred Moten quotes the saxophonist Charles Lloyd, who responds to an invitation to comment verbally on his music by assuring his interlocutor that “Words don’t go there.” In response, theorist (and poet) Moten asks the simple and obvious, yet profound question: “Where do words go?”

I’m going to venture a different answer from Fred’s, in admiration of his keen analytic meditation, and also in response to the collection of words in this volume. I want to suggest that wherever words go, they travel at the speed of thought, and they actually move faster than music. I can hear the musician’s response: You hear sounds right away, don’t you? Well, if you believe the neuroscientists, brains respond to sonic stimuli as slowly as a half-second after you hear them. That’s not quite as immediate as some of us thought – but in any event, music, the interactive, dialogic structuring of sound by musicians and listeners, is another matter entirely. As the phenomenologists and music theorists tell us, music unfolds in both recollective and expectational time, and that process can take quite a while, extending deep into memory and involving lots of concatenative work.

Poetry is said to be the form of textual expression that most closely approaches the condition of music, but that identification is undercut by the infinite play of meaning that unfolds and expands word by word even before the poet has finished the first thought, but well before the musician has finished the first phrase. Even the most energetic musical performance, overfilled with quicksilver notes, rhythms, harmonies, and noise, is just poking along while its hearers construct its context, consider its meanings, and experience its effects. During that time, a single word, or even a word fragment that listeners can predict the direction of, has already generated a network of meaning in an instant. Thus, I’ve always found it ironic how the Watts Writers Workshop people were so influenced by the immediacy of music, when a simple haiku wins the meaning race every time.

But in fact, the uneasy, tricksterish intersection between two temporal universes that poetry-with-music inhabits is a source of hidden pleasure, a sensuous cleft stick that the improviser-as-poet must address: how to reconcile two experiences of time – none in remembrance, recollection, and fantasy, where indeterminacy and agency meet, and the other on a (now often virtual) page, operating in the interstices between immediacy and permanence.

Where do words go in an anthology of poetry-by-musicians? One imagines at first blush that a good deal of the interest in a book of this kind emerges as readers are implicitly invited to seek similarities and differences between a given text and its author’s music. Certainly those additional pleasures are available. Taken as a whole, however, these texts also represent an international community of structures of feeling, where comfort with the style of storytelling that is canonical in African American culture is surely majoritarian, regardless of the so-called race of the writers. Some of the authors, like Jayne Cortez, are celebrated not only for their music, but also for the richness of their poetry, and its evocation of the relations among sounds, histories, and justice. Some of the improviser-writers in this volume make the valiant attempt to bring to the surface what many would feel more comfortable leaving as ineffable – using text to demystify inner states of musical feeling. Still others invite us to follow the word as it passes Milestones of history and memory – the beat and bebop generations as symbolizing any moment in one’s life that could never compare to any other.

Even though not all of these authors are acquainted with one another, they seem to share a love of jazz and the blues, embedded in a double consciousness that embraces the modernity of the urban landscape while distrusting its inevitable companion, technology, equally implicated in that double-star chiaroscuro. These texts are aspirational, pedagogical, spiritual; urgent, languid, nostalgic, and sensuous. We encounter lyricism, humor, signifying, and spontaneity; homage and remembrance of past heroes; homespun homilies, pithy manifestos, and cryptic words to the wise.

Even at a moment when the subalternity of improvised music is assumed in many spheres, this is by no means a collection of cris de coeur, but a convocation across generations, space, and time, in celebration of (as Yusef Lateef might put it) the pleasures of voice. All those words seem to be going toward an ardent, loving embrace of mobility and multi-voiced expression. As Lester Bowie declared in a 1998 discussion with another improviser-poet, Chicago Beau:

“We’re free to express ourselves in any so-called idiom, to
draw from any source, to deny any limitation. We weren’t
restricted to bebop, free jazz, Dixieland, theater or poetry. We
could put it all together. We could sequence it any way we
felt like it. It was entirely up to us.”

George E. Lewis, composer, improviser, and author, serves as the “Edwin H. Case Professor of American Music” at Columbia University, NY.


Leena Conquest

the time before

Alone inside an empty room where shadows move across
   the floor
   And mingle with an ancient grace peculiar to a time
   A distant laugh
   A silent stare
   The smell of perfume in the air
   Upon the wall a regal gaze
   Some royal heir of bluest blood
   That melody begins to swell and float around my head
   That melody I knew so well the time before
   (the time before)
   And suddenly I’m swept away across the floor
   I’m in a trance
   We’re hand in hand and face to face
   Our dance is one of ancient grace
   Peculiar to a time before
Our shadows move across the floor


Charles Gayle


A lifetime of dreams ... being fulfilled ...
   You have miraculously made them come to life ...
   your soul ... the dedication ... the passion ... the love ...
   giving of your time ... your kindness
   and honesty ... the swirling freshness
   and beauty of your presence ...
   You ... the listener ... the audience ...
   I am deeply humbled before you ... owing
   you so very very much of my life
   I love you more than I could ever express, in words
Thank you and peace be in your heart


Gunter Hampel

improvisation – the celebration
of the moment

In German philosophy we know the expression: Music is “entry to your soul”. All
that, what mankind calls since ages: a r t, or the arts: music, painting, the spoken
word, dance, poetry, meditation, etc. are highways to your soul, formula to
connect with God, directly, without any sideways. No recrimination, disaster and
punishment. Because we all are a little piece of God. Each of us creatures,
matter, elements, minerals, plants, ...
We are the part of God, who tries to understand him/herself.
The only way, trying to understand oneself, is, that you want that.
That has to happen before you start on the long expedition of self-discovery.
An artist works at it for his whole life, to understand each moment of his existence
and share this knowledge and experiences with the companions of his lifetime,
communicate in such a way, that they can be turned on to make their own
The information in our art – music + dance – are readable. The highest moments
are those, in which a singular artist – a musician, a poet, a thinker, a painter – or
a soloperformer – or even better a whole group – much better: a team, that are
a few, playing well together people and musicians, plus in our case, dancers,
can improve their performance into a group dynamic process of a mutual,
spontaneous, only in the spur of that particular moment of making, valid
collective expression. Which, so to speak, bring results beyond the horizon of the
one, which a singular artist is not capable to execute.
We earthcreatures improvise every moment of the day. From our thinking to our
actions, everything what we do, is an everlasting process of improvisations.
Every talk we have, every thinking process, the survival-fight, our affections, love,
each process needs our full attention and spontaneous actions.
Even a written down, fully notated orchestral work with exact instructions for the
interpretation as we find it in the classical section is a written down improvisation
of the composer. Yes, the improvisation is the most important and interesting
part of our life. He, who is not quick-witted, looses in life and gets lost.
A musician learns in his life the many systems, styles and options of playing music
together. As a “classical” musician you learn the high art of “interpretation”, as
a jazz musician you learn from the start, and that is the great attraction of this
music, how you improvise inside of pre-designed compositions and styles
(directions). If you look at this aspect technically, you have formulas and licks.
Formulas and licks and phrases which result from the constructions and content
of the compositions.
Same – like in classical music – if you have a spezial gifted musician, he learns his
part by heart, a jazz musician does the same when he performs without a music
sheet in front of him. He knows the lines, the phrases of the composition, knows
the amount of bars of composition, 12, 24, 32, 64, 72, etc. in which the
improvisations always repeat on the belonging chords, or their variations thereof,
he invents counter lines, or substitutes chords and constructs, invents, varies with
notes, which are in the scale of the chords or beyond, thus enlarging our
hearinghabits playing notes and lines which are not in the guidelines of what
notes to play with what chords, but which become meaningful by what the artist
is “hearing” and therewith become extended chords and establish new
hearinghabits, thus expending our knowledge.
It should be getting clear to the most unbeliever that a mutual expression is only
possible, when during the creational process in a group of such calibres of
musicianship and great people the chemistry among us must be in tune, it is
ONLY possible when the ensembled earthlings add up to a powerful unity and
unit which use their potential to work with each other with the fully awareness of
each other’s affection, trust, respect and love, and above all the fun wanting to
make it happen.
It is not the form, it is always the content of the form which counts. And that is
regarding the essential energies and forces here at work, a total worldview; an
actual picture of the conception of the world, our planet and its position in this
universe, who’s context is gathered by the brain, the mind, the spirit (the holy
spirit) and our senses plus all the unknown, all our feelings, all those things which
change every part of the moment and take over new manifestations and
influence our thoughts. The change is the only constant we know.
The fluctuation of the energy arising from the powers of our planet Earth and
descending powers of energy we call the cosmic and universal energies, which
keep everything in and around us in motion, and which flow through our inner
body in a constant loving, creative birth-giving fertilization in a love-affair and
loving-care of a couple engaged in eternal love.
Is our inside “sealed” by wrong behaviour (wrong nutrition, how to handle our
body, unoriginality, imitativeness, trying to be someone else’s personality), then
we do not have any more access to our original creative energies and are
sentenced to death.
Are we concentrating on our spiritual growth (nutrition, behaviour, love,
empathy, consciousness and awareness), we are supporting and inspiring the
creation. The goal is to be awake and aware at all times and being able to
“give”, to share. We have an endless flow of love, we can give, when we live in
the moment (NOW), not in the historic past, but in the challenging improvisation
of the “celebration of the moment”.


Oliver Lake

if i knew this

hurricane force winds of desperation flung south

   southern eclipse of the gulf
   gulfed upward toward the people strewn rooftops in
   Biloxi biloxi gone
   swam out of my attic to the safety of slow response
   response laden with excuses
   continued ... continued incompetency and red
   red tape red blood
   blood spilled unnecessarily in the aftermath of a

(please don’t mention the catastrophe in Iraq)
where is the culture
where is the culture
where is the culture
where is the culture

   bayou culture southern style culture
   where is the culture of life
   life is
   class valued
   poor / rich / poor / middle class
   on rooftops
   shouting rooftops exploding with fear & anger

   babies told to wait

if I knew this ...
stomach roilin ... with the sickness of helplessness
what can I do?
how far is my sphere of influence?

a 3 mile radius
from my home
to my family
to my saxophone

if I knew this ...


Yusef Lateef

five part intuition

   I am concerned with a notion of light captured by my
repeated reflection that individual intuitions are not mere
incidentals, but are active items of unity.

   I feel and think that purity of thought is a natural
human tendency.

   And when at last you realize that the brooding stillness
is no longer within your being, you will then experience the
mastery of life’s purpose.

   Pure vision is the psychological clarity most closely
related to that which is most Pure.

   Light refers to the degree of understanding in a thought.


Joëlle Léandre

le train
(vers Rome)

Nuit, rien, claque
   Du souffle, bruits
   Stop, du fer,
   Cri, claque,
   Deux rythmes, une toux
   File, rien, nuit
   Ballotté, le souffle, feu
   Nuit, crache, fort
   Rien, nuit, noir,
   Les gens, silence, du bruits
   File nuit, crache bruits
   Claque souffle, rien,
   Vite, nuit, rythme, noir
   Les sons différents, rien
Noir, noir, seule ...


Nicole Mitchell

dream-time too quickly

we touched
   in dream-time
   you say, we touched too quickly

   finding each other in
   human scent, in
   heartbeat, in
   inner spaces, in
   the moment of discovery, uncovering
   layers cotton, uncovering
   layers silk, uncovering
   layers, head-trips

   we touched
   in brown toned nakedness
   the music called our name,
   we came together in
   one sound, you say,
   too quickly,

      we touched
       in dream-time

   the moment was
   sap dripping off a maple tree
   dream-time was
   my pleasure slowly ooooozing was
   our and interlocking in timeless stellar harmonies
   we became sparking rhythms
   flowing in
   to the darkness of thoughtless formless bliss

   dream-time was
   years within seconds
   dream-time is real
   in separation we say, it was
   too quickly
   when the mind does its turning

   the touch was
   trance, was
   not premeditated or planned

   thought is
   our anchor to the labor world
   thought is
   dream-time is

   too quickly
   is the afterthought
   too quickly pricks my heart
   quickly pricks needle pins that say – stop. loving. so. fast.

   is love speed
   is love tempo
   is love
   a driving undulating horn line over a running bass line
   and shouting snare
   bumping bass beat bottoming
   the screeching rhythms of your mouth
   in the to-be legend of rapture, your mouth
   in its passion singing
   singing for dear life
   too quickly
   your mouth on my mouth
   too quickly
   full and feeding desire
   too quickly
   finding flower petals in your feet
   too quickly
   arousing the spiraling life-force energies from our root

   can we be blessed too quickly
   vulnerable too quickly
   the mind turns too quickly

   if dream-time is real-time
   and thought is illusion
   real-time is magnetic underground and gravity slow
   bottom heavy love
   too quickly it is over
   freeze time.

let us be real


Matana Roberts

it rained a fortune

Jetting down the runway
   of an icy jagged mountain in my mind
   never to release myself from its pernicious clutches
   always in a perpetual bind

   Hour by hour it took me
   riding on faint hints of stale air
   any could reach out and touch you
   in a grand colossus of thick black hair

   Not for one, two or three centuries
   feeling its hands on my throat
   over and over it taught me
   rivers and rivers of hope
   Take all that you must give me
   under the blankets of care
   never please never do doubt me
even if it seems unfair


Matthew Shipp

tone signifies

tone signifies
fractions and particles
of fable
rehearsed before
the secret of the world
sum of the whole life
as he returns to his private music
being there present
the actor
in harmonic procession


Lisa Sokolov


And if I were a poet
   A poem I could make of it.
   Sitting by the ocean
   Seeing touching just a fraction of it
   And the shallows of it at that
   A message from the divine,
   “This is how deep and wide I am. Here a tiny
   peace of that magnitude that lays beyond.”

   And I am shook
   to tears. Touched.

   And streaming, streaming salt tears, I walk
   into the wave churning waters,
   Where they wash back into their ocean home.

   And if I were a poet
A poem I could make of it.


David S. Ware

all in before the all was

Death in livingness / Recollection / now the oblation
is so magnificent / in all the global immobile omens /
they have cursed or blessed the demons / non-virtue
stands still / the draught / the great draught of his life /
now and nothing is / is without force once in the
angel’s arch / beneath star struggle and omniscient
obliqueness / for love and love a strange implantation /
sky in ruins / thinking unthinkableness /
life the blindfold path to where? / blasphemy is bleeding /
serpents rejoice /

oceanic heroes pass impossible recollections of
blessedness / space entities in dogmatic wonderment cry
his word / words / fly upon ethereal love structures /
the ground of nil is bliss / is bliss / is bliss /
seeing the perceptive aura dance and weep in unbelievable
essential amazement /

the sperm of vastness is approaching Being’s womb /
now the timeless hex is the hex /
before satanic satisfaction universal kings take
thrones of cosmic copulation /

Mantels of religiousness assume positions of lordship /
horrent painful sense is in reflector stage age /
ageless knights ride original darkness
across motes of creational love sessions /
pawns of wickedness scorn wisdom hymns /
All in before the all was /

© 2010 Buddy’s Knife

Buddy's Knife at the Vision Festival XV Jazz Edition

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