‘The Poetry of Jazz, Vol. 2’ release concert celebrates the lives of Philip Levine and Brian Hamada

The Poetry of Jazz

– ‘The Poetry of Jazz’ by Philip Levine and Benjamin Boone ranked #3 Jazz Album of the Year by Downbeat Magazine
– Music by Ben Boone and poetry by Philip Levine unite in new ‘Poetry of Jazz’ CD

Combining one of the greatest humanists of our time with a group of talented artists has produced results which both critics and the public have found remarkable, an achievement the Fresno State College of Arts and Humanities and the Dean’s Council takes pride in. 

On Friday, February 1, in front of a sold-out theatre, Benjamin Boone took to the stage to celebrate the release of “The Poetry of Jazz, Vol. 2” with a group of musicians including drummer Gary Newmark, pianist and composer David Aus, pianist Craig von Berg, Nye Morton and Spee Kosloff on the bass.

Benjamin Boone during 'The Poetry of Jazz, Vol. 2' release concert
Benjamin Boone during ‘The Poetry of Jazz, Vol. 2’ release concert

“I was in Ghana as a Fulbright Scholar during the release of ‘The Poetry of Jazz’ last March, so I wasn’t able to celebrate the release with any of the collaborators, or with the broader community that has been such a great support system, and that felt very strange,” said Boone. “So I was delighted that we were able to come together and mark the release of Volume 2, and also to commemorate the gigantic contributions of two integral collaborators who are no longer with us, poet Philip Levine and drummer Brian Hamada.”

Several poets filled in for Levine, putting his poetry to Boone’s music, including Fresno State faculty member, University High teacher, and actress Kate McKnight.

“It was a great night in Fresno. If you weren’t there, you missed something beautiful. I do believe… I felt the presence of that poet there and the late Brian Hamada, who on the CD was one of the primary drummers,” said McKnight.

Kate McKnight performs “Snow” during the “Poetry of Jazz, Vol. 2” CD release concert

“It was a thrill to hear how marvelously each of the poets read Phil’s words and how well they interacted with the band,” said Boone. “But maybe the best moment was the hug Franny Levine gave me after the concert and the love, support, and enthusiasm we all felt from the audience. It was very special.”

As the concert ended with standing applause, the audience realized they had witnessed something momentous.

“I got the chills a couple of times just how beautiful this night was,” said McKnight.

Boone said his next live performance will in March at the Rogue Festival with his jazz group and poets Juan Felipe Herrera, Lee Herrick, Mas Masumoto, Brynn Saito, Marisol Baca, and others.

The Poetry of Jazz - Volume Two - Philip Levine, Benjamin Boone and the band in the studio

Origin Records released saxophonist and composer Benjamin Boone and the late U.S. Poet Laureate Philip Levine‘s album “The Poetry of Jazz Volume Two” on Friday, January 18, 2019. 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.

“We were so thrilled with the reception of the first CD, we decided to release the remaining tracks on Volume Two,” said Boone.

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.

Boone’s work fusing jazz and poetry are not over. Boone said he has recorded works with more poets including the former U.S. US Poet Laureate Juan Felipe Herrera; Fresno poets Lee Herrick, Marisol Baca, and Dustin Peterson; and Pulitzer Prize recipient Tyehimba Jess, among others.

Philip Levine and Benjamin Boone
Philip Levine and Benjamin Boone

The first volume of “The Poetry of Jazz” was voted the number three “Jazz Album of 2018” in DownBeat’s annual Readers Poll, was featured on NPR’s All Things Considered, was listed as the #7 album of 2018 by a writer of 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 U.S. Poet Laureate Juan Felipe Herrera.

Spee, David, Philip Levine, and Benjamin Boone
Photo by Joe Osejo

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 College of Arts and Humanities and its Dean’s Council have been amazingly supportive and the encouragement from the community has been extortionary,” said Boone. “It has been a true collaboration between all of us at Fresno State and the community – to showcase what we do in the Department of Music, the Department of English, and the College of Arts and Humanities. I am really honored to be able to work with such amazing people, work on such a supportive campus, and live in such a supportive community.”

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.

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Fresno State College of Arts and Humanities Communication Specialist

One thought on “‘The Poetry of Jazz, Vol. 2’ release concert celebrates the lives of Philip Levine and Brian Hamada

  1. Julie, I misread the date of the concert. I may be able to go after all. I look forward to seeing you and the family there, if you are going. J



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