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John Sinclair

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Full Moon Night: John Sinclair & His Blues Scholars  E-mail
John Sinclair
Friday, 13 January 2006 09:48
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Full Moon Night
John Sinclair & His Blues Scholars
Live  at Kaldi's Coffeehouse, New Orleans
September 20, 1994
Alive!/Total Energy Records

By John Sinclair

My friend Lee Bates has a song called "Overnight Sensation (Ten Years in the Making)." Me, I've been doing this--music & verse--for more than thi years now, and I'm still trying to make an overnight sensation. Maybe 1995 will be my year at last.

I started performing my verse to musical accompaniment in 1964, not long after I began composing poetry "by field" following the inspiration provided by Charles Olson, Jack Kerouac, Allen Ginsberg, Robert Creeley and LeRoi Jones, and shortly following a fateful meeting with the great Detroit trumpet player Charles Moore.

We were introduced one late spring evening by the poet George Tysh and became immediate friends, sitting up all night smoking one joint after another and listening to records by Miles Davis, John Coltrane, Thelonious Monk, Ornette Coleman and Sonny Rollins. The next afternoon Charles returned with his small belongings and his cornet in a paper bag and moved in with me for nearly two fun-filled years, which ended when I was incarcerated at the Detroit House of Correction on February 24, 1966 to begin serving a six-month sentence for marijuana possession.

During this period Charles and I began working together to create musical settings for my first batches of serious jazz and R&B-inspired verse. Charles organized a state-of-the-art small ensemble, the Detroit Contemporary Five, with Larry Nozero (reeds), Ron English (guitar), John Dana (bass), and Danny Spencer (drums), and devised musical arrangements for several of my works, which were then presented in a series of concerts at Wayne State University, the University of Michigan, and the Detroit Artists Workshop, an artists' collective of which Charles and I were two of the principal organizers.

Soon Robin Eichele, Magdalene (Leni) Arndt and I established the Artists Workshop Press to publish our works and those of our comrades in painfully mimeographed editions of 500 copies or so. My first book, This Is Our Music, where several of the pieces used here in the John Coltrane section were first printed, was issued in June 1965 with a cover photo picturing Charles and myself sharing a joint on the steps of our commune at 4825 John C. Lodge.

For the past 30 years I have pursued the artistic vision I first developed with Charles Moore at the Detroit Artists Workshop, performing my works in verse with a diverse consortium of accompanists and attempting to develop musical settings which perfectly fit each poem.

Since my work in verse is principally derived from jazz & blues performances and is directly informed by specific pieces of music recorded by artists like John Coltrane, Thelonious Monk, Percy Mayfield ("The Poet of the Blues"), Muddy Waters, Willie Dixon, Sonny Boy Williamson, Robert Johnson, Charley Patton, Howlin' Wolf, Elmore James and Robert Jr. Lockwood, performing the verse to appropriate musical accompaniment serves to return the poems to their precise sources in the music itself.

Thus is drawn a comfortable circle connecting the poet with the root of inspiration, the flower of the composed verse, the breath of bardic performance and the fertile ground of the musical setting. This circle pulsates with energy and life and--so long as the music is correctly selected and properly played--keeps the verse fresh and listenable no matter how many times it is uttered. While the texts remain the same, the music is different every time, making the performances infinitely various for poet and audience alike.

* * * * *

In 1967 my poetic output began to diminish after the completion of my third book, Meditations: A Suite for John Coltrane, an early attempt at a serial work in verse from which "Consequences" and "Welcome" here have been drawn. In the Fall of that year I started working as manager for the MC-5 and took up the challenge of cultural and political activism for the next 15 years.

When I was once again blessed with the gift of poetic invention in 1982, I determined that my central bardic focus would be on the "live" performance of my verse in uncompromised musical settings. As I resumed composing verse on a serious tip, spurred equally by the writings of my mentor Edward Sanders in his pivotal work Investigative Poetry and by a careful reading of Robert Palmer's epochal book Deep Blues, my artistic vision had expanded to encompass the blues idiom, and I began work on an elongated serial work in verse titled Fattening Frogs For Snakes: Delta Sound Suite.

At the same time--in the spring of 1982--I began work on a parallel serial work in the jazz idiom devoted to an investigation of the music, life, times, and impact of the great African-American pianist and composer Thelonious Monk, titled thelonious: a book of monk. (A recent recitation of the first volume of the book of monk ["proem" & #s 1 through 20] will be released by New Alliance Records this spring.)

At the end of 1982 I organized a small ensemble, the Motor City Blues Scholars, to perform a selection from my new works at an Artists Workshop reunion concert with poets Robin Eichele, George Tysh and Ken Mikolowski, presented January 2, 1983 at Maximus & Co. Books in Birmingham, Michigan.

This initial edition of the Blues Scholars included tenor saxophonist "Showtime" Johnny Evans, drummer Martin "Little Tino" Gross, and several members of the Sun Messengers band, including Rick Steiger (alto and baritone sax), James O'Donnell (trumpet), and R.J. Spangler (percussions). This band, augmented by bassist Kurt Krahnke, trombonist John Paxton, and percussionist Brian "Akunda" Hollis, presented a second Blues Scholars concert in April 1984 at the Detroit Institute of Arts.

A third Blues Scholars presentation at Alvin's Detroit Bar a year later added Mike Arbanas on alto sax, Paul Bauhof on guitar, and John Dana (replacing Krahnke) on bass. Selections recorded at these concerts were edited into a cassette album titled We Just Change The Beat in 1986 and, two years later, M.L. Liebler at the Ridgeway Press published a companion volume of the same title (now out of print).

Between 1986 and 1991, when I left Detroit to relocate in New Orleans, the Blues Scholars appeared with increasing frequency at bars, art galleries, concert halls, college auditoria and community venues in the Detroit area, Ann Arbor, Lansing, and elsewhere in Michigan and the Midwest. Johnny Evans and Martin Gross were constant factors, along with tenor saxophonist Ron "Big Red" Redman, organist Lyman Woodard, guitarist Jeff Grand, pianists Bob Baldori and Leonard Moon, drummer Danny Spencer, alto saxophonist Phil Lasley, and a host of others.

We played places like Union Street, Michigan Gallery, Alexander's, the Detroit Festival of the Arts, the City Arts Gallery, 1515 Broadway Theatre, Two Doors Down Gallery, Boars Head Theatre, Performance Network, Power Center, Old Heidelberg, the Blind Pig, Alvin's, Sam's Records, Albion College, Cass Cafe, Hart Plaza, and the Attic Theatre. At my favorite date we shared the bill with Jayne Cortez & The Firespitters at St. Andrews Hall in Detroit; my band had two tenors (Big Red and Showtime Johnny), Woodard on the Hammond B-3 organ, and Little Tino at the battery.

* * * * *

After I moved to New Orleans in the Summer of 1991 I began performing my verse mostly in duet settings, accompanied by artists like saxophonist Earl Turbinton, guitarist Walter "Wolfman" Washington, alto saxophonist Marion Brown, drummers Johnny Vidacovich and Kufaru Mouton, guitarists Coco Robicheaux, Kenny Holladay and Phil DeVille at places like Cafe Brasil, Pie in the Sky, the Maple Leaf Bar, Contemporary Arts Center, Storyville, Buffa's, Cafe Istanbul, Howlin' Wolf, and the Louisiana Music Factory.

During this period I appeared several times as a guest with Michael Ray & the Cosmic Krewe at Snug Harbor, Charlie B's, the CAC, Voices from the Deep Theatre, and Margaritaville. I worked with Nick Sanzenbach and Blood & Grits at Loyola University, Kaldi's Coffeehouse and the Dragon's Den. I met Phil DeVille and Mike Voelker through my friend Barbara Hoover and did some dates as a guest of their band Mustang Lightning at Muddy Waters, Beach Ball Bennie's and Howlin' Wolf.

On several trips to Chicago my comrade Bob "Righteous" Rudnick had hooked me up with saxophonist Richard Theodore for a series of duet performances at Weeds, the Heartland Cafe, Estelle's, L&L Lounge, Border Line, the Green Mill, and the Frankie Machine Music Festival in Wicker Park. When Richard moved to New Orleans last August he spent several weeks as a guest at our home in Treme before locating his own apartment across the street, and we did some little dates together while he was getting settled.

The New Orleans Blues Scholars started to come together right after Phil DeVille and I played the Spoken Word Stage at Lollapalooza in August and Louise Wehner invited me to do a weekly performance series at Kaldi's Coffeehouse on Decatur Street. Phil brought in his rhythm section, I brought Richard, Lucky Joe brought Nick Sanzenbach, and my wife (and manager) Penny Sinclair invited Mike Ray, Walter Wolfman  Washington and Larry "Rockin' Jake" Jacobs to join us as guest artists on different nights.

At our first rehearsal we worked on Phil's arrangements of material from the Delta Sound Suite and the band began jamming on a riff from "A Love Supreme" to fit behind my poem "Consequences." When they turned the riff upside down and jammed on it some more underneath Nicky's intense tenor saxophonics, something clicked and I started rummaging around deep in my manuscript stash to find a series of Coltrane poems I had written in the mid-1960s but hadn't performed in many years. We shaped them into the long Coltrane suite heard on this disk, setting off the texts with horn solos and collective improvisations to make a flowing, seamless whole out of several disparate parts.

John Sinclair & His Blues Scholars opened at Kaldi's just after Labor Day, jammed with Wolfman the next week, and invited my engineer and co-producer Keith Keller to come down to Kaldi's to make a recording of our third gig there on September 20th. Mike Ray and Rockin' Jake would be on hand, and the band was set to perform an entire two-hour concert of jazz and blues favorites.

The third Tuesday in September was Full Moon Night at Kaldi's, and a nice warm audience was there to groove with us from beginning to end. Keith put a mike on me and two more out in front of the band and took down the performances presented herein. Everything fell right into place under the full French Quarter moon, and now we're able to pass this on to you.

* * * * *

Our program starts with a long tribute to John Coltrane (born September 23, 1926): "Spiritual"; "Consequences" and "Welcome" (from my book Meditations); the Homage to John Coltrane suite including "blues to elvin," "some other blues," "like Sonny," "the drum thing" (all from my book This Is Our Music) and "blues to you." These pieces and several others have been collected into a small volume titled Song of Praise: Homage to John Coltrane, still unpublished.

Two numbers from the blues section of the Full Moon Night session conclude this disk: "Pea Vine Special," with train sounds from Rockin' Jake and a rocking riff from the horns; and "Louisiana Blues," which incorporates a long quote from Muddy Waters taken from Robert Palmer's Deep Blues. These are part of Fattening Frogs For Snakes: Delta Blues Suite, from which we played several additional numbers that night, plus two pieces from thelonious: a book of monk, not included here.
So, after 30 years of preparation, here at last is my first full-scale release--with the verse set the way it's supposed to be, a clean recording, and a terrific ensemble with an immensely creative horn section and the completely idiomatic harmonica of Rockin' Jake--just the way I wanted it.

I hope you enjoy hearing it as much as we got off on playing it under the full moon in the Crescent City that night. I'd particularly like to thank the musicians and Keith Keller for making this recording happen, my wife Penny for putting this whole thing together for us, Patrick Boissel for putting it out, and my daughter Celia for her splendid contributions to the packaging, the cover design, the Big Chief Productions logo--hey, and just for being here, 25 years since I was graced with her entry onto the planet.

--New Orleans
January 17, 1995

(c) 1995, 2006 John Sinclair. All Rights Reserved.

Full Moon Night
John Sinclair & His Blues Scholars
An Evening of Music & Verse
"Live" at Kaldi's Coffeehouse, New Orleans
September 20, 1994
Alive!/Total Energy Records NERCD-2002

This album is dedicated to the memory of John Coltrane
& to my daughter Celia, on her 25th birthday

1. "Spiritual" (5:05)
2. "Consequences" (6:45)
3. "Welcome" (3:55)
4. "Homage To John Coltrane" (6:54)
5. "blues to elvin" (3:01)
6. "some other blues" (2:46)
7. "like Sonny," (1:35)
8. "the drum thing" (3:17)
9. "blues to you" (4:16)
10. "Pea Vine Special" (7:33)
11. "Louisiana Blues" (7:05)

Produced By John Sinclair & Keith Keller for Big Chief Productions

John Sinclair, verse & recitation
Michael Ray, trumpet & percussions
Richard Theodore, alto saxophone & bass clarinet
Nicholas Sanzenbach, tenor saxophone
Larry "Rockin' Jake" Jacobs, harmonica (#10-11 only)
Phil DeVille, electric guitar
"Lucky" Joe Drake, electric bass
Michael "Lightning Boy" Voelker, drums

Recorded Direct to DAT by Keith Keller at Kaldi's Coffeehouse, New Orleans, September 20, 1994. Edited & mastered by Keith Keller at Chez Flames Recording, New Orleans, January 17, 1995

All Texts (C) 1995 John Sinclair and published by Big Chief Productions (ASCAP). All rights reserved for the author. Music for all selections arranged by Phil DeVille, improvised by the Blues Scholars, and published by Big Chief Productions (ASCAP). This performance (c)(p) 1995 John Sinclair.

Cover & package Ddesign and Big Chief Logo by Celia Sinclair (c) 1995 Total Energy Records Logo by Gary Grimshaw Back Cover Photograph by Michael P. Smith (c) 1995 Project Coordination by Patrick Boissel Special thanks to Robert Palmer for the excerpt from Deep Blues and to Louise Wehner and the staff at Kaldi's Coffeehouse, Penny Sinclair, Victoria Lenza, Celia Sinclair, Bill Lynn, and Phil DeVille and to Jerry Brock & Barry Smith at the Louisiana Music Factory, 225 N. Peters, New Orleans, for their extraordinary assistance and support during the course of this project.

Total Energy Records
a division of Alive! Records
P.O. Box 7112
Burbank, CA 91510