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Ask Me Now: Conversations On Jazz & Literature by Sascha Feinstein, editor

These 20 pieces originally appeared in Brilliant Corners: A Journal of Jazz and Literature. They’re long (often 10,000 words-plus), leisurely essays-cum-interviews of a type rarely found in periodicals anymore, even jazz periodicals like this one. All but five of the subjects are poets and/or creative writers, and one of the pleasures of the book are the writers’ jazz-influenced poem or prose excerpts prefacing their “conversations” with editor Sascha Feinstein. It’s a tantalizing peek at what must be a much larger canon of terrific, engaging poetry about jazz.

In most of the pieces, Feinstein elicits how the writers became interested in and/or heard jazz for the first time. Those stories are full of wonderful moments that any serious jazz fan will recognize and empathize with, all by gifted writers. Also sharing such moments are the jazz critics/writers Dan Morgenstern and Gary Giddins, musicians Bill Crow and Fred Hersch, and promoter/producer Hank O’Neal.

But some of the most astute comments, impressions and apercus about jazz come from the poets. The reclusive Hayden Carruth, while acknowledging that recording technology has been “a lifesaver for me and for music in general,” says it has “some unfortunate aspects to it. I do think that jazz … has evolved too fast, and I think in part that’s because of recordings. Musicians can listen to what they’ve done, and listen to what other people have done, too easily. And then the urge for novelty overtakes them.”

Philip Levine, in reminiscing about his witnessing of the late 1940s, early 1950s Detroit jazz scene, picks up on the same theme: “I’ve always envied the jazz musician, the ability to break into new song day after day, night after night, to be able to listen and answer to his or her fellow musicians. I love the fact that jazz has so much room for so many; you don’t have to be Bird or Prez or Tatum to play with genius; the art leaves room for the good journeymen who do their best.”

There are also stories here about seeing and hearing musicians like Miles, Mingus and Monk, events that were catalysts for wonderful poems. This is not a book to be read all at once, but one to be savored, a few pages at a time, a few insights at a time.

Originally Published