I attended a jazz recital last night. Our music department generally has a performance to celebrate their student’s accomplishments. Our jazz quintet, “Jazzology”, was the featured performer. We also had a guest performer, Kallil Wilson, a great voice, with amazing runs.
Each of the performers had an opportunity to engage in some “scat” singing. Classic sound riffs, where the voice becomes an instrument that is played, as opposed to singing.
Ella Fitzgerald was famous for her scat performances, and helped to popularize the technique. As I listened last night I couldn’t help thinking about the connection between scat and sound poetry.
Both movements appeared in the early 1900s. Jazz came out of New Orleans and the southeast of the US. Sound poetry came from the cafes and cabarets in Europe frequented by the Dadaists. Dada had turned the art world upside down. The Salon controlled art world, was in turmoil, with art being defined by artists, and not professional critics.
It is said that Dada was named by randomly pointing a finger in the dictionary. Either that, or the first words of an infant.
In either case, Dada, broke the rules. Piet Mondrian graded the canvas, Marcel Duchamp “found art”, and declared it so!
In poetry, a German named Hugo Ball, wrote a poem in 1916, and declared it as part of a new genre of “sound poetry”. It was called “Karawane”. He performed it while wearing his “lobster suit”, certainly one of the first performance artists of the century.
If this is the first time you have heard of sound poetry, try thinking about the first time you experienced jazz with scat riffs.
What really helped me was Marie Osmond.
I can’t believe just wrote that, but there is a reason. She was a guest on some sort of variety television show that liked to prank famous people. A writer had thought that it would be funny to provide Marie with a poem to memorize with very little forewarning. A classic fear from any English lit class in high school. The additional fun was that straight-laced Marie, would be memorizing the classic Dada poem “Karawane”, words with no meaning.
The surprise was that Marie memorized in a few minutes, then delivered an amazing performance. The sound clip made it to the internet and has been one of most popular versions of Karawane. Later, she was asked to make another video to explain sound poetry and Hugo Ball. Click below
Jazz, Dada, Hugo Ball, and don’t even get me started on Duchamp. It’s been a full weekend already.