Oct. 12, 2001

The Fantastic Names of Jazz

by Hayden Carruth

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Poem: "The Fantastic Names of Jazz," by Hayden Carruth from Doctor Jazz (Copper Canyon Press).

The Fantastic Names of Jazz

Zoot Sims, Joshua Redman,
Billie Holiday, Pete Fountain,
Fate Marable, Ivie Anderson,
Meade Lux Lewis, Mezz Mezzrow,
Manzie Johnson, Marcus Roberts,
Omer Simeon, Miff Mole, Sister
Rosetta Tharpe, Freddie Slack,
Thelonious Monk, Charlie Teagarden,
Max Roach, Paul Celestin, Muggsy
Spanier, Boomie Richman, Panama
Francis, Abdullah Ibrahim, Piano
Red, Champion Jack Dupree,
Cow Cow Davenport, Shirley Horn,
Cedar Walton, Sweets Edison,
Jaki Byard, John Heard, Joy Harjo,
Pinetop Smith, Tricky Sam
Nanton, Major Holley, Stuff Smith,
Bix Beiderbecke, Bunny Berigan,
Mr. Cleanhead Vinson, Ruby Braff,
Cootie Williams, Cab Calloway,
Lockjaw Davis, Chippie Hill,
And of course Jelly Roll Morton.

It's the birthday of novelist and children's writer Ann Petry, born in Old Saybrook, Connecticut (1908), who was the first African-American woman to write a book that sold more than a million copies. She grew up middle class in a predominantly white neighborhood, where her father was a pharmacist. She too became a pharmacist, after graduating from the Connecticut College of Pharmacy in 1931 with a Ph.D. She worked in her father's store for seven years, until she met and married writer George D. Petry. The couple moved to Harlem, where she got a job as an advertising copywriter for The Amsterdam News. In 1943, she was paid $20 for a short story, On Saturday, the Sirens at Noon, published in the magazine The Crisis. That story came to the attention of an editor at Houghton-Mifflin, who gave Petry $2,500 and a contract for a novel. The result was The Street (1946), the story of Lutie Johnson and her attempts to shield herself and her young son from the world outside their tiny Harlem apartment. The book was an immediate success, and sold more than one million copies.

It's the birthday of poet and educator Paul Engle, born in Cedar Rapids, Iowa (1908). One of the first students to receive an MA in Creative Writing from the University of Iowa was Paul Engle, who offered as his dissertation a collection of poems called Worn Earth, which had won the Yale Younger Poets prize. He is best known for his influence on academic writing programs as Director of the Creative Writing Program at the University of Iowa from 1941 to 1965, and as founder and director of the Iowa Writer's Workshop from 1966 to 1991.

It's the birthday of composer Ralph Vaughan Williams, born in Down Ampney, England (1872), who is considered the most outstanding composer of his generation in England. He created a revival in the art of the English folk song, of which he was a passionate collector and arranger. Some of his major works include Fantasia for Double Stringed Orchestra on a Theme by Thomas Tallis (1910), A London Symphony (1914), and the Sixth Symphony (1947). He also wrote several operas, including Sir John in Love (1929), based on Shakespeare's Merry Wives of Windsor, in which he incorporated the traditional folk song, Greensleeves.

It's the birthday of inventor Elmer Sperry, born in Cortland, New York (1860). His most famous invention was the gyro-compass, which revolutionized marine navigation. His gyroscopic auto-pilot became known as a 'Metal Mike,' the mechanical helmsman. Sperry, who founded the American Institute of Electrical Engineers and the American Electrochemical Society, also invented a high-intensity searchlight and a new system of street lighting, and many other electrical devices.

It's the birthday of novelist George Washington Cable, born in New Orleans, Louisiana (1844), who has been called the first modern southern writer. His first works of fiction, including Old Creole Days (1879) and The Grandissimes (1880), contained overtones of moral condemnation. They also contained detailed descriptions of the colorful New Orleans life, and the Creole dialect. During his life, Cable published 14 novels and collections of short stories. But critics found his later works overly sentimental and melodramatic, lacking the passion and focus of his earlier stories.

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