For New Orleans lived in a nation called "Carribe"
Its sisters were Kingston, Havana, Vera Cruz, San Juan,
Trinidad, Barbados, Belize, Puerto Limon,
and, ultimately, Port au Prince.
Carribe spawned reggae, merenque,
calypso, zydeco, mambo, cha cha cha.
And, in America,
In New Orleans, the land
suspended below the dam,
Carribe spawned jazz,
the music of freedom.
Its tap root was the blues,
the slaves' music of displacement.
In major and minor at once,
in two and then in three,
Every chord is dominant
and never settles home,
There is no scale that quite contains them.
The blues wrestled this contradiction
into tears, into expression,
the poignant wail of a people
homeless in their own land.
There had been already ragged time, a music
for mechanical, self-playing pianos,
a suave, yet innocent music
of elegance and joy, imagination and clarity.
And there was the tap beaten down on sidewalks. The cakewalk
pounded through the hips of strippers.
All these musics were draped across a rhythm
a pulse from Africa never abandoned,
as it animated centuries of forced work, sex, church
conversation and the rocking of children.
The beat was the flesh,
It made the music
a solid thing.
Syncopation gives sound momentum,
provides weight to rhythm,
makes you feel the landing of a groove,
makes your body move,
makes a crowd of singers or of dancers
all become one wave.
But New Orleans wanted to address the world
in freedom, in a language that could say anything,
by letting other languages speak through it.
As free as a drunk in a whorehouse,
or, in Prohibition, smoking hash.
New Orleans spoke a saucy French,
and had a rich palate for impressionism.
The newly minted media
presented Broadway's polished anthems.
And the sea itself, being Caribbean,
spoke Spanish, pidgin, and Indian,
insinuated spices, santeria, hot sex, crime,
That was it! Transformation! Changes!
A liquid music that could skip across harmonies
like a stream across stones.
A chord progression is an environment -
A given; you move within it.
The stream bed makes a shape,
and the water follows its will within it.
And the water follows its will.