Thanks again to Scott Black, finder (and rescuer) of lost treasures. I’d known that the remarkable Chicago alto saxophonist and deep thinker Boyce Brown wrote poetry, but the only example I’d ever read was his paean to the joys of marijuana — Royal-T — that was reproduced in EDDIE CONDON’S SCRAPBOOK OF JAZZ.
But here is a true poem — to be considered slowly and perhaps sadly:
Here are several samples of Boyce’s work — easy to underestimate, to take for granted. But even at fast tempos, there is some of the same haunting melancholy in it. This session is from January 1935 (organized by Helen Oakley, later Helen Oakley Dance) and features Paul Mares, Santo Pecora, Omer Simeon, Jess Stacy, Marvin Saxbe, Pat Pattison, George Wettling.
THE LAND OF DREAMS (an improvisation on BASIN STREET BLUES, in its own way):
and, from the same session, NAGASAKI:
MAPLE LEAF RAG:
and a slow blues, titled by Boyce, REINCARNATION:
And here is Boyce with Jimmy McPartland, Bud Jacobson, Floyd Bean, Dick McPartland, Jim Lannigan, Hank Isaacs, for CHINA BOY, recorded a few months after the poem:
Euterpe, first the Muse of music and then of lyric poetry, might have been particularly significant to Boyce since in all the representations I have seen she is blowing into a flute or other wind instrument. Did she destroy this devotee? I do not think so, but Boyce — eternally dissatisfied with his own work, at least as realized on records, might have disagreed.
Jim Denham, Hal Smith, and I have been fascinated by Boyce for years, and I’ve written several long essay-posts about him. The links may be defunct, but the facts remain relevant. You can find out more about Boyce here and here and in Hal Willard’s 1999 portrait here. I find his story engrossing and terribly sad — from his precarious entry into the world to his search for people who would understand him — both in the musical and religious worlds — and what I think of as his gentle despair at his not being welcomed for himself. The “harsh, commercial” world might not have ruined him, but the poetic spirit that was Boyce Brown was ill-fit for its haste and clamor.
May your happiness increase!