Origin Records released “The Poetry of Jazz Volume Two” on Friday, Jan. 18. The album is the second collaborative project between saxophonist and composer Benjamin Boone and the late U.S. Poet Laureate Philip Levine.
The collection features an impressive cast of artists including bassist Spee Kosloff, pianist Craig von Berg, pianist/arranger David Aus and drummer Brian Hamada, who passed away in 2018. The album is dedicated to both Levine and Hamada.
A concert to celebrate both the CD Release and the life of Levine will be held at 7 p.m. on Friday, Feb 1, at Cal Art’s Severance Theatre, 1401 N Wishon Ave, Fresno. Tickets are $15 and will be available at the door.
“We were so thrilled with the reception of the first CD, we decided to release the remaining tracks on Volume Two,” said Boone. “I was serving as a Fullbright scholar in Ghana when the first recording was released, so I wasn’t able to share the experience with my collaborators and supporters in Fresno. So I am thrilled that for this release I can perform with all of the great musicians on the album for the community.”
Volume Two centers around Levine’s poems that explore humanist themes of the working class, the aftermath of war and the immigrant experience. Recording of the album took place during the same sessions that produced the first album.
“Dr. Boone’s creative genius fuses with the poetic magic of Philip Levine, and their artistry reflects the beauty of our life in the Central Valley,” said Dr. Saúl Jiménez-Sandoval, dean of the College of Arts and Humanities at Fresno State.
The first volume of “The Poetry of Jazz” was voted the No. 3 “Jazz Album of 2018” in DownBeat’s annual Readers Poll, was featured on NPR’s All Things Considered, was listed as the No. 7 album of 2018 by a writer with UK VIBE, and has received high acclaim from other leading musical and literary publications.
Working closely together in the three years before Levine’s death, the two forged a connection in which the rhythm and cadence of Levine’s recitations inspired and informed Boone’s music. Boone said the poet essentially became part of Boone’s band, with a natural sense of where to pause and let the music come through.
“Boone knows where the thing called poetry lives, an ocelot among the waters, a sky-shaped Rain God that flares down upon us…He is one of the very few that can lure Phil’s poetry-magic and call it out and show it to the world…Beyond words up there with the muses,” said Juan Felipe Herrera, another former U.S. Poet Laureate from Fresno State.
Levine, who died in 2015 at 87, was one of America’s most celebrated poets. He won the National Book Award for Poetry twice, and the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry for his 1994 volume “The Simple Truth.” Appointed U.S. Poet Laureate by the Library of Congress in 2011, he was an avid jazz fan and found an ideal collaborator in Boone, a fellow professor at California State University, Fresno.
A respected performer and composer in jazz and new music circles, Boone often sets text to music. His compositions have been performed in 29 countries, heard on more than 25 recordings and have been the subject of several NPR stories.
The Poetry of Jazz project was partially funded by the College of Arts and Humanities Dean’s Council and the Fresno State Research and Creative Activities grants.