September 4, 2010

Jazz Poetry - “Lester Young”

Lester Young by Ted Joans

Sometimes he was cool like an eternal
blue flame burning in the old Kansas
City nunnery
Sometimes he was happy ‘til he’d think
about his birth place and its blood
stained clay hills and crow-filled trees
Most times he was blowin’ on the wonderful
tenor sax of his, preachin’ in very cool
tones, shouting only to remind you of
a certain point in his blue messages
He was our president as well as the minister
of soul stirring Jazz, he knew what he
blew, and he did what a prez should do,
wail, wail, wail. There were many of
them to follow him and most of them were
fair - but they never spoke so eloquently
in so a far out funky air.
Our prez done died, he know'd this would come.
but death has only booked him, alongside
Bird, Art Tatum, and other heavenly wailers.
Angels of Jazz - they don't die - they live
they live - in hipsters like you and I

Note: Ted Joans (1928 - 2003) was a trumpeter, poet, and painter. Born in Cairo, Illinois, he attended Indiana University and was later associated with the Beat writers, particularly Jack Kerouac and Allen Ginsberg. After the death of Charlie Parker, Joans created the “Bird Lives” legend, graffiti that appeared around New York City in 1955.


  1. In the late Nineties, Joans was resident in Seattle for a time, and he visited my bookstore off and on. (Ginsberg used to visit a nearby shop where his friend, painter Robert LaVigne sometimes helped out.) We talked about the Beat years, and I eventually sold a few signed copies of his books for him--got a couple signed for myself too. He had a novel signature: chopped-off Ted but a lo-n-n-ng stretched-out Joans, almost a straight line, like a howl or a held note. I decided he was making some sort of Concrete poem out of his own name. Then he stopped coming around; don't know why, or if he simply moved on... maybe to your area? Joans wasn't quite a prez, but he was definitely a prize. I hope "Ted Lives" too.

  2. He died in Vancouver, Canada, so he may have just hopped across the border...