Bill Harris





Sonny


Mysterymuse

            alone
(astride some span,

seeking the strength
not to have to play
the carnivorous games
of bars, egos or Business.

Striving for a blending of
body and soul, in concert with
the elements, to become as
large deep and full as his sound). 

            Feel his forceful presence
fusing recreated
standards with the world,
as we lag behind
in the colossal spaces
left by his absence.

Making us know his need
for more time
to shed the distractions
and play the emerging
purity that is himself:

Sonny,

spiritsaint.







Sonny
Freedom Suite


Even then,
even
in 1958 had
Tenor Madness,
Saxophone Colossus,
Way Out West and A Night
At The Village Vanguard as
proof of pedigree.
Was first rank bearer
of the cultural tradition
of African American innovation (more
American than any apple pie)

still

had to bear the same old
everyday digs and darts of
the same old everyday heinous fate
and hate in all forms, from all fronts,

till he thought,

Damn! 

Thought,
in the face of adversity,
within that tradition, in
this tradition
he had to stand up, speak up. 
Speak an anthem.  Show how
no matter how it’s played: 
folk dances, hankering blues,
unfeigned ballads, straight ahead jamming,
it’s saying,

Here we are. 
We are here. 
Capable of

this.







Sonny in Concert

                                              6 April 2010
                                             Orchestra Hall,
                                             Detroit, 1st set.

                                            Lucille Rollins, wife,
                                            partner, July 5, 1928-
                                            27 November 2004

1.  Effect: 

Enters, halt-walking, bent.  It’s the horn and
the mantle of his being him
weighs like Atlas’ load, we think. 

His sand-raising cadenza voices all queries
of Can he still? 

             Flashback:  Years ago:
             He, blowing a bar-walking riff,
             sifting through it, a prospector through
             silt, strode to apron-brink, we,
             on our seat’s edge, sat rapt—like now. Yes. 

Exhale.  Yes, he can.  No diminution
by age or of interest
as he smooths into, “Why Was I Born?” 

We settle in. Listen, though we, in our
narrow need, list it as bravado,
Lear’s rage, contesting Fate’s thundering
certainty. Wow! 

2. Cause 

And then:
“Dedicated (in his heartfelt
metalliferous rasp) to
a certain person . . . ‘My
One
and Only Love.’” 

A rich vein, we think: “heart sings . . . the very
thought. . . sweet surrender . . .” good
for metrical patterns and melodic patter—
we think.

His un-pent intensity draws us in.  (“My”),
and draws us in, (“One”),
and draws us in (“Only”), and draws us in
(“Love”) . . . “to a certain person,”
he said. It slowly dawns.  “All by myself . . .”
From the opener, “lonesome evenings . . .
lie in dreams . . . wake up/ All alone . . .” and now . . .

This. This may not merely be
a master defying time
with his tenacious tone,
that Lucille and we
have so loved. This may be
a tale of closer woe: 
of grief’s gravity.  Widower’s lingering
blues in the night,

as his horn lifts till he, un-
bowed, stands as if by Heaven’s pull. 
We, slow as we are, finally add 1 + 1,
get that he laments and praises his first love,
a certain person,”
through the chemurgy of his second,

and wise man to our fool, his soul’s fire
reveals the Arcanum: 
tempus fugit.

We, whose loves still live yet
with mute and foolish hearts, we only half
love, take note. 

And in our slow but stirred wonder

we applaud
the lesson from his

loss.







Better Get Hit In Your Soul

                                       Charles Mingus
                                       recorded September 20, 1963


. . . and get some gospel, some
righteous, some
sanctified up in it,
like after about 4, 5 hours
over into a Pentecostal service:
tongues, shouting, weeping, testifying,

spirit hopping, popping
like kernels in hot oil,

so, when you do finally get let out
on dark afternoons
you’ll be rapture-wrapped,
have you some Holy, some
marching-saints strut in your stroll,
make lowlifes and shake-downers
anxious to get they raunchy butts
on ‘way from ‘round you,
back to where they first come from. 

You be so saved
make black cats turn tail.
make undertakers look the other way
when they err
and slow roll
by where you at, make Monday
think it’s Friday.
Make fried chicken be good for you.

’Cause nobody knows,
nobody knows,

and how

you
get over
ain’t they business







Evidence


(History)

It’s all there.  Waiting.  Monk
saw it.  Named it.  All there.
Right before your eyes. 
For you to pick up on. 
Evidence.  You just have to
want to see it.  Take your 4/
4 time.  (And
what you got but that?)  Like
if it was diamonds on the ground.  And
all you had to do
was bend down and pick ‘em up. 
Don’t even have to be a gemologist,
dig?  Just keep your eyes open
and reach.  And
it’s yours.  The evidence. 
What was done. 
How.  Why. Who.  What. 
When. Where. 
All there.  And
once you gig it for yourself
get it, see it,
for yourself,
consider all facets,
facts, figure
what its value is,
for yourself,
then nothing they say
about it will stop you
because you’ll know, have
the evidence,
as Monk said. 

And be able to act
accordingly.  Why
wouldn’t you?






Poet, playwright and winner of the 2011 Kresge Eminent Artist Award, Bill Harris is a native son of Detroit. His plays include Robert Johnson: Trick the Devil and Coda.  Some of his poetry collections are Yardbird Suite, Side One 1920-1940 and Ringmaster’s Array.  His latest book of short stories, I Got to Keep Moving, appeared in 2018 from Wayne State University Press.

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