Skip to content Skip to navigation

Millbrook Library Swings

by Kevin T. McEneaney
Sun Jan 17th, 2016

Poet Jonathan Wells at the Millbrook Library

Where can you hear excellent contemporary, original, jazz compositions? And where can you hear good contemporary poetry? Why here at the Millbrook Library sponsored by the Millbrook Arts Group who brought poet Jonathan Wells from Manhattan as well as Evan Christopher's Clarinet Road who were in residence at the Jazz Lincoln Center program. A spokesperson from The Catskill Jazz Factory introduced the musicians.

The program opened with Wells reading from his new book, The Man with Many Pens, published by Four Way Books. Local poet Ryan Murphy, who is on the board of the firm, introduced the affable Wells, who read his poems clearly without a microphone, interspersing poems with amusing anecdotes. Wells connected well with the audience. His unpretentious poetry has clarity, charm, and force—engaging energy that the audience responded to. An element of developmental suspense permeates his poetry. Here is a short sample:

Love’s Body

By Jonathan Wells

Love gives all its reasons
as if they were terms for peace.
Love is this but not that
that but not this.
Love as it always was.

But there is no peace in the mountain
cleft where the fruit bats scatter
from the light.
There is no peace in the hollow when
the heat snuffs night’s blue candle.

The outline of brown leaves on
the beach is the wind’s body.

A crow is squawking at the sun
as if the screech itself is dawn.
Let me hear every perfect note.
How I loved that jasper morning.

Evan Christopher's Clarinet Road sprang into action, playing new jazz that drew upon the early jazz styles of the 1920s. Composer Brian Seager excelled on electric guitar in the opening composition by clarinetist Evan Christopher who inflected blues into Native American Indian rhythms in “Bayou Chant.” “Make me a pallet of the floor,” a traditional piece made famous by Buddy Bolden in the 1920s, had the audience captive in its swing. Brian Seager’s composition “Gospel Waltz” rang changes on that venerable strain. “High Society,” a traditional number which Alphonse Picou changed from piccolo to clarinet (one of the first known jazz solos) romped. This tune makes a demanding arrangement for any small group to play, and it really swung in groove. 

After a brief break where snacks and juice were served, they arrived back with Wells for a cool poetry jam, for which they must have had some rehearsal because this Kerouac-style number effectively melded Wells’ words with a simple background arrangement.  “Mojo Blues” followed where Jacob Webb on electric upright bass improvised a solo. Christopher’s original “Creole Wild West” opened with a solo prologue that incorporated interior dialogue before bass and guitar opened up the conversation to wider variations. Christopher’s composition “Old Sober March” shook the books on the shelves, while his newest original, “Congo in the Square” received a standing ovation. As composer and performer, Christopher remains accomplished and delightful. While he played he sometime marched in place. It was wonderful to hear this extraordinary Mardi Gras composer and performer in Millbrook, but sometimes surprising things do happen here. 

After the concert I enquired about Christopher’s clarinet. He said it was in two parts: one from the late thirties and one from the early thirties, two pieces joined from broken clarinets, which in itself is something of a metaphor for New Orleans and its history. As I walked out the door, I overheard a woman say, “That was really good!” And that was so.

Catskill Jazz Factory has a weeklong residency coming up in April with a quintet from South Africa and they will be doing a workshop, plus community performance at Millbrook High School, prior to a bigger event at Bard College's Sosnoff Theater.