During the 1950s members of the (so called) “beat generation” began to embrace aspects of African-American culture. The paradigm shifted from the formalised writing style of the past decades towards spontaneity and freedom. Jazz poetry was seen as a strong statement against the stultifying constraints of fifties society. Poets such as Lawrence Ferlinghetti and Allen Ginsberg collaborated with jazz musicians like Stan Getz. Jack Kerouac famously recorded Poetry For The Beat Generation (Hanover 1959) with Steve Allen on piano. The Afro-american poet Langston Hughes was featured reciting his poetry on the album Weary Blues (MGM, 1959) with music by Charles Mingus and also contributed lyrics to Randy Weston’s Uhuru Afrika (Roulette, 1960).
In the 1960s, Beat poet Amiri Baraka and revived the idea of jazz poetry from the perspective of the afro-american experience. In the early seventies the baton was taken up by Gil Scott-Heron, in his spoken-word albums such as Small Talk At 125th And Lenox (Flying Dutchman 1970) And of course rap continues the tradition into the 21st century. Rappers such as Guru embracing jazz as a form to frame their lyrical ideas. And more recently Jazz musicians such as Soweto Kinch have used rap in their music.
Jazz poetry seems to divide people – they either like or loath it! But like all forms of writing and music – there is good and bad. I have posted a mix of MIxcloud that gives some examples. The mix ranges across a cross section of types and styles concentrating on the fifties and sixties – some you might like, some you might hate. Give it a try. To access the mix – click on the image above. If you enjoy please Tweet or leave a message.