Jazz and poetry have always been kindred spirits, sharing values of improvisation and uncompromising self-expression. This weekend (April 7-9) in Taos, jazz icons Miles Davis and John Coltrane will be honored with words and music in the Taos Jazz Bebop Society’s third annual Taos Jazz and Poetry Festival.
The Taos Jazz Bebop Society began in 2014 as a labor of love from music aficionados Eric Gladstone, Judy Katzman and Taos Mesa Brewing co-founder Dan Irion. The group’s Frank Morgan Jazz Festival is an annual tribute to the beloved saxophonist and longtime Taos resident. According to Gladstone, the idea for the Jazz and Poetry Festival was inspired by a conversation with poet Annie MacNaughton after one of the society’s concerts in 2015.
MacNaughton and husband Peter Douthit (known to Taoseños and poetry lovers everywhere as “Peter Rabbit”) were founding members of the Luminous Animal poetry ensemble and originators of the Taos Poetry Circus, an annual event that brought the world’s poets to Taos for two decades. Douthit passed away in 2012, and Gladstone and MacNaughton began the festival in his honor.
“Frank Morgan and Peter Rabbit were friends,” Gladstone said. “Annie and I thought, ‘Wouldn’t it be nice to do some kind of tribute to Peter?’ And April seemed like the perfect time for it — National Poetry Month and Jazz Appreciation Month. We did it, and it went so well that we came back and did it again.”
The featured literary artist for this year’s festival is an award-winning author, journalist and poet (and 1994 winner of the Taos Poetry Circus’ World Heavyweight Championship Poetry Bout), Quincy Troupe.
“When you think about jazz and poetry — how much more can you marry them than Quincy Troupe?” asked Gladstone. “He was the co-author of Miles Davis’ autobiography and wrote the book ‘Miles and Me’ about their friendship. That’s how we came to focus on Miles for the music this year – and especially on Miles’ ‘Kind of Blue’ album with John Coltrane. It’s still the best-selling jazz album of all time. Quincy Troupe was here three years in a row in the ‘90s. We got in touch with him and he was glad to come back to Taos. We’re really excited about having him come back.”
In addition to his work with Davis, Troupe has authored 10 volumes of poetry, three children’s books and six nonfiction works. In 2010, he received the American Book Award for Lifetime Literary Achievement. “The Pursuit of Happyness,” his collaboration with Chris Gardner, spent nearly a year on the New York Times best-seller list and went on to become a starring vehicle for Will Smith. In 2013, he co-authored “Earl the Pearl: My Story” with basketball legend Earl Monroe.
Troupe has spent many decades sharing his knowledge in academia. He is professor emeritus of the University of California, San Diego, plus editor of Black Renaissance Noire, a literary journal of the Institute of Africana Studies at New York University.
“Mr. Troupe is a masterful performance poet, perhaps the best one working today,” said MacNaughton. “He is high energy, full of energetic flow and will get the audience pumped up!”
“It’s the real deal,” said Irion. “There is a rhythm and intonation to his spoken word that carries the performance almost as much as the actual content of his poetry. We are all in for a real treat.”
On Friday (April 7) at 7 p.m., Troupe will present his film, “Miles and Me,” at the Harwood Museum of Art, 238 Ledoux St. The film documents intimate conversations with Davis, revealing new insights into the man, his music and his impact on the wider world of jazz. Troupe will introduce the film, which is currently being developed as a feature, and follow it with an audience Q&A.
Saturday (April 8) at 7:30 p.m., Troupe joins poets MacNaughton, Amalio Madueño and Paul Nelson for a “Jazz and Poetry Tribute to Miles and Coltrane,” with music from tenor saxophonist Doug Lawrence. This event will take place at Taos Mesa Brewing Mothership, 20 ABC Mesa Road, off U.S. 64 west.
“Audiences will hear jazz and poetry in performance — essentially ‘conversations’ between brilliant and often funny poets and the Doug Lawrence Quintet,” said Katzman. “The night celebrates the groundbreaking music of Miles and Coltrane and the poets and poetry they inspired, both then and now.”
Nelson will serve as master of ceremonies for the evening. The Seattle, Washington-based poet and interviewer is founder of the Seattle Poetics LAB and the Cascadia Poetry Festival. “I attended the Taos Poetry Circus for three consecutive years and immediately fell in love with Taos,” said Nelson. “I modeled the Cascadia Poetry Festival after the [Taos Poetry] Circus and was a broadcaster for 26 years, playing jazz on the radio in Chicago; Baltimore; West Palm Beach, Florida; and in Seattle for the NPR jazz station. I have done over 500 interviews, and the chance to be on the same stage with Quincy Troupe is a tremendous honor.”
Madueño, a 2016 Pushcart Poetry Prize nominee, lives and works in the Taos-Rio Arriba region. He has a long performance history with Douthit and MacNaughton. He was president of the Taos Poetry Circus from 1991 to 2001. Madueño founded the Border Poetics Consortium and is editor of Ranchos Press. His books of poetry include “Lost in the Chamiso,” “Spider Road,” “Petroglyph” and “Migra Letters.”
Lawrence holds the honored position of “first tenor” with the Count Basie Orchestra — a chair that has been occupied over the decades by a who’s who of tenor sax greats from Lester Young to Eddie “Lockjaw” Davis. Lawrence has performed and recorded with Ella Fitzgerald, Aretha Franklin, Tony Bennett, Dizzy Gillespie, Ray Charles, Sarah Vaughan, Frank Sinatra, Nancy Wilson and Stevie Wonder, to list just a few.
Following the poetic “conversations,” the Doug Lawrence Quintet, featuring Albuquerque-born trumpeter Tony Lujan, will take the stage for a full set of music.
“We are all just excited to hear what the night brings,” said Katzman. “It’s a creative experiment in collaboration. Literary folks will discover the power of jazz, and jazz people will discover the power of poetry.”
The weekend’s final event will be “Young Poets of Taos” on Sunday (April 9) from 4-6 p.m. at SOMOS, 108 Civic Plaza Drive. In the spirit of the festival, Taos’ talented youth will perform their words with musical accompaniment by guitarist/bassist Barnaby Hazen. “Not to be overlooked!” Katzman said of the young poets. “The talent these kids display is quite astonishing.”
“Taos Jazz and Bebop Society is keeping Taos’ reputation as a hidden jazz capital alive,” MacNaughton said. “We’ve been doing it since the middle of the last century and plan to keep on doing it as long as we can.”
For more information, visit taosjazz.org.