‘Writing about jazz is like dancing about architecture,’ observed Thelonius Monk. It’s possibly one of the few times he was wrong. Jazz poetry is almost as old as jazz itself. Poets such as Thulani Davis, Langston Hughes and our own Keorapetse Kgositsile and Mongane Wally Serote have long heard the patterns of music and its makers and transformed and re-enacted those patterns in compelling words. Given South Africa’s venerable jazz tradition, it’s perhaps surprising that it’s taken so long for more fundis to be tapped for their responses to our kind of jazz. But it takes a special brew of ingredients for this kind of book to come together. You need an inspired guiding spirit, such as editor and jazzwoman-in-words Myesha Jenkins, and you need a vat in which the ingredients can mix and bubble. That’s been provided by all those who’ve opened stages for the music to happen, and most recently by the Orbit where Jazz & Poetry Nights brought words and music together, each a kind of yeast that helped the other to ferment and rise. You’ll find everything here in To Breathe Into Another Voice: faithful and fantastical accounts of the jazz life and jazz people as well as reflections on the music as a metaphor for how we live – or, maybe more importantly, how we’d like to live. All you need to do now is open the covers, start reading, and dance joyously about the architecture.
Gwen Ansell – journalist and jazz critic