Madness of fingers, melding of minds, free form thought + Robert
Pinsky, Michael McClure, Ray Manzarek, John Sinclair and ... you!
By Christopher Hislop
April 15, 2010
In a world dominated by digital interface, social media, and
outlandishly large television sets, the Seacoast's own poetry and
jazz festival known formally as Jazzmouth, enters its sixth year at
the forefront of celebrating the enlightening and inspiring human
tradition of live performance.
The sixth incarnation of Jazzmouth offers an eclectic assemblage of
performers including former U.S. Poet Laureate Robert Pinsky,
legendary beat poet Michael McClure, Rock and Roll Hall of Fame
inductee Ray Manzarek (founder of The Doors), famed activist and poet
John Sinclair, Boston based Slam-Poet Iyeoka Okoawo, Seacoast native
(now residing in Scotland) Young Dawkins and Jazzmouth founder and
curator Larry Simon's own Groove Bacteria.
"Jazzmouth celebrates the spirit of creativity," said Simon.
"The commercial mainstream is as strong, or stronger than ever. With
the Internet we now have access to almost anything we want, but for
many people, poetry and jazz is kind of exotic and they may not know
where to begin. It's hard for independent, creative, non-commercial
endeavors to reach the public in a significant way. Jazzmouth brings
four days of poetry and jazz to the Seacoast Community (April 22-25),
featuring world-renowned artists and brilliant artists from our own
community. In particular, this year we offer a very rare chance to
hear Michael McClure and Ray Manzarek together. They very seldom
perform on the East Coast."
McClure, who is touring in support of his latest volume of poetry
titled, "Mysteriosos," is excited to be traveling from his home state
of California to New Hampshire to be a part of the Jazzmouth
festivities (he and Manzarek will be at The Music Hall on Saturday,
April 24 as part of the "Main Event").
"It (Jazzmouth) represents a whole style an all-encompassing
festivity that I believe in very much," McClure said in a recent
phone interview. "A mixed stage of stars, sharing an evening
sharing a space, cultivated in differing genres a panorama of
consciousness. I'm excited to be a part of it."
McClure is a significant part of the Beat Generation, and is
immortalized as the character Pat McLear in Jack Kerouac's "Big Sur."
He was a close friend of the Doors co-founder and lead singer Jim
Morrison, and met future musical collaborator, Doors co-founder and
keys extraordinaire Ray Manzarek at the third recording session of
the Doors self-titled debut album.
"I was like his older brother ...; or closest friend," McClure said
After Morrison's passing in 1971, McClure fell out of touch with the
rest of the band, until, about 20 years later when he was performing
at McCabe's Guitar Shop in Los Angeles. It was there he saw (without
initially realizing it) Manzarek on stage playing piano accompaniment
behind Michael C. Ford's spoken word.
"I approached him (Manzarek) after the gig to see about him
potentially accompanying me on stage sometime and I realized, this
was Ray Manzarek," McClure said. "We sort of looked at each other,
and I said 'you're Ray Manzarek,' to which he responded, 'you're
This reconnect would ultimately lead to the past 20 years of
performance and recorded collaboration.
Manzarek, who also currently resides in California, also recalls that
"When Michael approached me with the idea of collaborating with him,
I said, 'cool cat, let's do it," Manzarek said in a recent phone
interview. "My inspiration comes from playing behind a brilliant
American Icon/Poet. I told him that I particularly enjoyed his piece
'Stanzas in Turmoil,' and would love to play behind that."
"Six weeks later we were performing at a college gig, receiving a
standing ovation, and we looked at each other and said, 'we've got to
do more of this,'" McClure said.
McClure and Manzarek's work on stage is mostly improvisational and
they both cite Miles Davis as a jumping off point as far as the music
"We know what we're going to do before we hit stage," McClure said.
"Sort of like Miles Davis...; We know what we're going to do, and
then we get there and we do something else."
"We have the styles worked out," Manzarek said. "But we play it
different every time. The Madness of my fingers is what makes it
happen. These 10 little digits of mine have a mind of their own, and
they need to be exercised. The only way to do that is on stage before
John Sinclair comes to Portsmouth by way of Chicago (or Amsterdam,
depending on where he's at on the days leading up to Jazzmouth).
Sinclair has a storied history as a writer and political activist,
and even had a stint managing the band MC5. He was the leader of the
White Panther Party, an anti-racist group who sought out assisting
the Black Panthers during the Civil Rights movement. Sinclair is also
known for the time he spent in prison after giving two joints of
marijuana to an undercover officer. There was a huge effort to free
him from incarceration (he was sentenced to 10 years) which
culminated in an event dubbed the "Ten for Two" rally, which
immortalized Sinclair from that point forward when John Lennon
performed the tune "John Sinclair," which later showed up on his
album "Some Time in New York City." Sinclair was released from prison
three days after the rally 29 months in to his sentence.
Sinclair is no stranger to Portsmouth, where he performed regularly
at the Press Room (where he will be on Friday, April 23) in the past.
This will be his first area performance in seven years.
"Sinclair was one of the original guys when it comes to performance
poetry," Press Room general manager, Jazzmouth board member, and
local performer, Bruce Pingree said in a recent interview. "He's a
hero of mine because of the stuff he did in the 60s and 70s. He is
the bridge between the generations of poets. He inspires people to
stand up for what they think is right, and get their voices heard.
Sinclair is the reason I got into performance poetry, and I'm excited
to have him back."
"I don't watch television nor care anything about it," Sinclair said
in a recent interview. "I treasure live performances of blues and
jazz and their derivatives. My poems are written to be performed with
musical accompaniment, hopefully before an audiencealways a
difficult proposition because poetry in performance is not really
what people are looking for now. How would they even know about it
unless those of us who do it didn't keep trying to put it before them?"
Sinclair, who is also a disc jockey on his own Radio Free Amsterdam,
has, along with Pingree, a respect for the culture and tradition of
Blues and Jazz music that runs deep and is often the basis for his
live performances, which may also serve as history lessons into the
world of both genres.
"Blues and jazz music created & developed by African Americans are at
the heart of the American cultural experience," said Sinclair. "Blues
& jazz are America's classical music and the essential recordings
must be preserved & passed on from generation to generation in order
that Americans may begin to understand their own history."
Thus far, Jazzmouth has succeeded into seamlessly integrating the
togetherness of local community and the wealth of talent that resides
herein, with the likes of renowned international artists.
"As far as I know there is no other like it," Simon said regarding
the fest. "Every year we've been overjoyed at how it went. A very
important part of my philosophy, as the creator and artistic director
of the Festival is that I book shows in which members of our
community get to share the stage with world famous artists such as
Billy Collins, Ray Manzarek, Mose Allison and Donald Hall. I think
we've realized that vision very well.
My vision is that the Festival will be an International destination
every April. I started it in part because I live in Portsmouth and
couldn't help but observe that this is the ideal location. We have
great restaurants, hotels and performance venues. We are a beautiful
city, a great destination, half way between Boston and Portland.
Airports are nearby and the area is chock full of brilliant poets and
The bottom line is, Jazzmouth is in its 6th year as a legitimate
hotbed of inspiring performance, and communal artistic development
and participation. All that are involved performers and fans alike,
are excited to be in Seacoast, New Hampshire to celebrate and
experience the revelry that ensues at such an event of grandeur.
"I know that the Jazzmouth Festival is a good place to be, and I'm
happy to be seeing all my friends in NH…" Sinclair said. "I think we
can expect to have a very good time together and I'm sure I'll be
scintillated and inspired by the Portsmouth musicians who have agreed
to back me up" (Larry Simon's Groove Bacteria).
"I Honestly don't have a favorite part of Jazzmouth," Simon said.
"People should come to everything. You never know what will happen;
unexpected collaborations, a student reading that makes you rethink
what a 14-year-old is capable of (in a positive way) and so on. Come
to everything that is the beauty of a festival that celebrates
"The point of life is to fully occupy your body, not disembody it in
'cyber-space' which is nothing more than an alternative, faux
reality" said Manzarek about the importance of live performance.
"Beauty, Entertainment, Consciousness, Intelligence," said McClure
when asked what fans could expect when they come out to take in the
events that make up the Jazzmouth Festival.
And when the music's over?
"If you're looking, you might just find us enjoying a lobster roll,"