Sunday, October 02, 2005

Jazz Slam... skippeedobbeebeebop

Let's start from the top and work our way down shall we?
Shaun Barber, a very nice and cool cat here in town who used to do a set at a ice cream parlor (very cool-pun intended and it is still cooler than the pun), decided to put on a show/slam.

The slam?
3 rounds, about ten poets, original work,etc.
Some slam rules (NPS style) in effect-some not.
The catch?
You HAD to do your poem with a jazz band playing behind you.
Yeah baby, dig that vibe. Can you feel me daddy-O?
(this is what most people picture when someone says this but this is NOT what ends up happening,thank God)

The place?
Columbus Music Hall. Very nice spot. alot of weddings and receptions happen there. Nice high ceilings, small round tables, dimmed lighting, plush rug and hardwood floor, you get the picture.

Sidenote- I used to live right across the street from this place and on the nights I was too tired to go over and dance on Afro-rican Ensemble night, I would open my windows and let the music drift in. And I helped some cats do some poetry stuff there a LONG time ago. Ah, that was back when Parsons Ave had a serious lineup of hot events-Jazz, salsa,poetry,African art,good food. Sigh.

The deal?
Shaun wanted to do something classy, yet fun. Different, yet accessible. He did this in great fashion. The band was one of the hottest trios you could've asked for in the city and the cats really took to the task at hand.
He threw in money to sweeten the deal and lure people out to slam. $100 for first, $25 for second and $25 for third place. Nice.

The spot offered alcoholic and non-alcoholic drinks, pretzels (on the house), ice cream from Graeters, and...drum roll please....
I got there just as these were coming out of the oven and about lost it.

huh? what's that you say? what about the slam?oh...yeah, that. (got to thinking about the cookies again)

Well, it was to be 3 rounds, all scores count the whole way thru-cumulative. Ten poets first round, then six the next, and four to close it out.

Judges were selected (a real fun thing to watch in and of itself), poets signed up, the band played.

They used a laptop with a program to keep score. Anyone who has ever spoke with Taylor Mali or been up to the Bowery Poetry club would know why I was waiting for him to jump out from behind some curtain.

The crowd kept growing thru the first part of the night and really filled up the space. Everyone was attentive and listening and HIGHLY opinionated about what poetry they did and did not like.

The order was drawn by the poets in random fashion. It was:
???(A young lady whose name escapes me)
Dan (the drummer in the band)

nice breakdown if you're Jesse Jackson...Ten people-6 white,4 black,4 women,one war vet,couple college graduates,couple drop outs.

But seriously, a nice grouping. Some cats new to this (slam), mixed with some not so new and some downright very familiar with the whole beast that is slam.

Well they moved around a bit. I loaned Shaun my stopwatch since he forgot his. (no biggie Shaun, and to those who would think me anal to have had one or keep one with me when going to slams...You're no daisy)
the time limit was 3 minutes with no grace period. No problem.
Shaun forgot to say no props beforehand and someone went up with a prop in hand ( a flower) so after that everyone agreed that props were cool. (though only used one other time I think)
There were some concerns about this but in the end, Shaun made a good point. It was HIS slam he was running and it was not going to make or break someone trying to be on a team or anything else like that. So everyone just chilled and moved on, which was both wise and cool.

Shaun served as the "sacrificial goat" poet and got a 23.8
(he did explain quite well to the judges how to score. then went right back and told them, "Hey, do what you FEEL like doing in terms of score." Nice.)

Now make no mistake, some things in slam can be predicted and this one was no different. Which is why it is important to check out your judges and try as best you can to figure THEM out. (depending on your overall objective/goal to begin with)
One judge was serving as the infamous French judge. This just means that this judge was scoring low, or low for a slam,or low for what everyone else was doing. For the record, the guy scored exactly as he FELT like scoring and for the most part, stayed true to himself thru the whole thing. You can't be mad about that.
Another judge was sitting with their hip and cool friends who seemed to be knowledgeable and into jazz(yes I am making BIG assumptions here).
Another kind of chilled with her girlfriends of perhaps family members.
Two others were either boyfriend/girlfriend or brother/sister. Most of the night their scores did not deviate more than .01 from EACH OTHER. So if you got one you got both, but if you lose one, ouch.
So there are your five judges.
the poetry was about as varied as you could ask for. People talking about their dead mom, President Bush, Sex, Love, despair, A breakup and subsequent demand for old Prince albums back, the inner thoughts of a blues singer while on stage, a woman crying for her kidnapped to America black man,jazz music,gas prices,Kenny g,night clubs,you name it and it was in there.

While I won't sit here and say I recall every poem each person did, I can point out some interesting moments:
-Tone almost NEVER writes a poem. He has mostly chosen to go by the moniker of the "Freestlye Poet". This can be good and it can blow up in your face. Catch? You never know when it will do one or the other. But you can bet that in a slam situation, the odds eventually will lean towards "explode". It's just math. that being said, he opened up in the tricky "1" spot with a freestyle subject he has covered many times before. Smart. Then he added to that some singing of a classic Bill Withers song. Can be gimmicky if overused, but smart all the same. It worked, as you will see when I post scores in a minute.

-The lady whose name I can't recall did a nice poem with some good imagery in it. Here's the problem-she used a prop, a flower, to what I am sure she thinks was great effect, but it distracted from the piece. And she did what alot of people do when performing with a band and not being used to it; she seemed to change her style. Now I don't really know her from Adam but I don't think she is that sing songy when doing those poems without a band. Not a knock on her at all though, YOU try to not sway or get caught up in a groove a damn good band is laying down.

-Louise looked nice and did some nice work. Period. Probably had some of the better poetry in the slam that night.

-Allison did quite well and fell into a nice 'loophole' of sorts with her style and what it would do for the judges. (all those little things you can't control but still affect your final score in their minds)
Now later she was feeling herself and possibly her drinks, which made things quite interesting. But she rocked and as always, it was a pleasure to hear her do her thing.

-Junior has been working on his poetry and has come a long way. He is one of those cats where you mention strategy and he'll tell you he is going to read poems x, y,z, because those are the three he wants to read, damn strategy. Cool.

-Andy was to me, the nights best part of the show. He did smart, intelligent, witty, funny work that seemed to truly come from him. I liked him alot and will be getting him out to the night soon. (he did a piece that was funny and gross-blood and amputated parts-but had the band start off by playing some sweet, melancholy music from the Christmas episode of know, when snoopy is skating around? It was priceless.)

-Scott did a piece I think he had created with Shaun's Jazz Slam in mind. It was more of a funny rant directed at an ex-girlfriend in which the person he was playing is drunk or at least tipsy and is demanding Prince records back from his ex lover. Since the prop rule was gone he hopped up with a mouthful of pretzels and his drink in hand. (non-alcoholic for those who might have thought him a lush and not merely in 'persona' mode)
It was a nice idea and he really ran with it. Andy had just went up before him and kind of cracked the 'funnybone' of everyone so they were primed for Scott's work. Nice.

-Dan had promised Shaun that if not enough people signed up to slam, he would step from behind the drums and read a piece. Nice poem. I was hoping for him to read it WHILE playing. That would have been cool.

-Joanna came in full "jazz" themed mode. To get a picture of her, she is the one person who, if you tell them to come in costume-will. Period. She was rocking a double breasted black and white pin stripe suit complete with shoes and fedora! And did music type joints to boot! Very nice.

-I started off with a piece I wrote recently and still need to get out of hand written mode and into the computer and then my head. It is a piece where the poem is spoken from the interior voice of a female jazz and blues singer. I like what the piece does and where it goes. Once I get it in my head and can let that lady in that club READ the piece, instead of me reading it for her, I think it might be a decent joint to perform. I later switched up styles for a few reasons.

So first round scores (I think these are accurate as they had some scoring snafus):
Tone 28.5
Ed 26.7
Flower Lady? 19.1
Louise 21.1
Allison 27.8
Junior 26.1
Andy 23.1
Scott 27
Dan 21.8
Joanna 21.5

So in round two Shaun reversed the order of the poets from the first round after dropping those who did not make it:
Dan 20.6
Scott 23.3 (after a time penalty)
Andy 20.9 (after a time penalty)
Junior 25.3 (after a time penalty)
Allison 27.2
Ed 29.8
Tone 26.5

This round was interesting. Again, still a good mix of cats, though all the women were gone but one. (but she did represent for the femme fatales...yeah!)
The time thing KILLED some cats. I can relate to this since I used to be notorious for going over time. And still will if I think I need to or just haven't practiced enough. Shit happens.
Shaun had told everyone upfront that you can talk to the band and get them on the same page as you. Then you could turn around and get yourself settled. Then let them play for a moment to get into the groove and so you could get your timing, after all you just orchestrated this thing out of thin air. However, once you opened your mouth-the time kicked in.
So you had cats going to the band, all Quincy Jones or Duke Ellington-like and picking the song they wanted, then assigning tempo, selecting which instruments should play, then waiting for the band to get all that together and come back with something resembling what you asked for.
Now, read your poem. Sheesh! It ain't easy and everyone deserves credit for jumping in there and trying to do it.

Reading with a band, if you are not used to it, can throw your timing off significantly. I THINK this is what happened, at least in some of the cases, though I could be wrong. Maybe cats just read what they felt like reading, what do I know?

By this point everyone was getting a couple of 9's anyway. What killed you was either a time penalty or if you got hit by the tandem scoring judges and the infamous French judge. (who for those who did not read all of this and scrolled down-he is not really French so please don't email me telling me what a prejudiced bastard I am or anything ok)

Now around here another scoring snafu went down. But just in the nic of time it was discovered and Shaun decided that since there had been a tie, he would take an extra person into the final round.
After two rounds cumulative was:
Allison 55
Ed 56.5
Scott 50.3
Andy 44
Tone 55
Junior 51.4
Dan 42.4

Once again, the rotation was flipped so you had:
Tone 23 (time penalty)
Ed 28.9
Allison 27.1
Junior 26.5
Scott 27.7

The cumulative scores for the slammers after three rounds was:
Ed 84.4 (1st place)
Allison 82.1 (2nd place)
Tone 78 (tied 3rd)
Scott 78 (tied 3rd)
Junior 77.9 ( 4th place.damn just .1 away! Argh!)

All in all a VERY FUN night. and not because I won. Of course that is always nice when it can happen but it was sitting around some cats I am actually cool with and can enjoy their company, combined with watching some people who had never seen a poetry slam much less one like this one go down in front of their very eyes really enjoy themselves and for Shaun to have had a good turnout-those things made the night.
Alot of conversations were finished that had started the day before at another poetry venue. And some of us had been hanging out all afternoon since one of the people in attendance had just wrapped up a book reading and signing at a nearby university just minutes before that jazzslam kicked off.

Top two moments of the night? Andy and chocolate chip cookies. joanna's outfit and Allison letting it all hang out on her last poem are my second faves.

Now some of the cats at the table with me were mad at first with their scores or performance, or poem choice, lack thereof, how the judge wasn't fair etc. etc.

I asked them what they came there for. None of them said it was strictly the money. So if that is the case then you should be able to walk away with whatever lesson you got from the night, it was a good battle, you had plenty of laughs, now go home.

My take on this is simple and I came up with it when someone pointed out to me a long time ago that I was full of shit, which at that time was VERY true. (now I hope not as much) I was losing at that time because I did not deserve to win, I did not have the poems to do well in a slam, and I was not being honest to myself about my intentions back then.

So here now is an example of that thought process.

Ask yourself before you read:
Why am I reading this poem?
Why am I reading this poem now/here/etc.?
What do I expect to get from this situation?

Now here is the beauty of this. You can answer this in ANY way you wish, as long as you tell the TRUTH to YOURSELF!
Everyone is entitled to their beliefs, opinions, and morals. You don't have to live by someone else's anymore than they are obligated to live by yours.
So while someone might not AGREE with your motives is not important. At least not in this case. What IS important in this exercise is that you are honest with YOU.

So let's use a well used tale.

Poet goes to slam. Sees alot of women in crowd. Feeling horny, poet decides to use poetry slam to showcase his erotic work and hopefully get laid. Poet scores low and does not win slam. Poet DOES go home with foxy mama and gets laid big time. Next slam Poet walks around complaining that the crowd did not 'feel' him or 'get' him. Poet claims to have been robbed,etc..
Someone asks him did he get laid? Poet says yes. Person asks wasn't that your objective? Poet says yes. Person asks, then why are you complaining?
Now you do not have to limit yourself to just ONE objective. But if you get what you went after, then you should have no complaints. Get it? If you lie to us and smile and say it is all in good fun and the spirit of the night or say you are slamming to impress your girl but really want the five minutes of fleeting fame or whatever lie you tell us-it's cool. We won't know the difference more than likely ever.
BUT- if you lie to YOURSELF, it will show every time.

Example- I slammed at this particular event for two reasons.
1-Shaun asked me to come out. And it sounded like fun
2-I figured any money I could win, if I were so lucky, could go towards my poetry night. Poetry paying for poetry. Cool. I have NO problem saying that.

Now did I have fun? Hell yes.
Did I get some money to do things for my open mic and slam? Hell yes.
Do I have ANY reason to gripe? Nope.
If I had not won or got any money, would I still be happy? Yep. Cuz the money/placement part is not solely up to me to control. All I can do is give it my best shot. But the FUN part? Oh, I have TOTAL control over that. It has taken me some time to realize that but I do now. So I gave it my best and had some fun and the rest took care of itself. Cool.

Once I explained that to the involved in that conversation, they took it to heart and said they will try and apply it in the future, not just in slams but open mics as well. (very smart)

Now in the first round I did a new joint I am working on that kind of fit the theme of the night as far as being musical in nature or style or composition was concerned. However, a few things made me change up a bit.
1- I only had one other new piece with me and couldn't read my scribble very well. That's what happens when you write on the bus.
2- I can't find a folder full of typed up poems on my way out the door to catch the bus..hoping I did not leave them in Milwaukee, or Madison, or Chicago.
3- My "old" work was only old to a handfull of those in the room and most of those were other poets in the slam. So for the judges and audience it was 'new' work. And in a slam you can slam the judges, the audience, the other poets, your friends, yourself, the list goes on and on. I picked what I thought would go well with music and not screw me up by inserting a rhythm, poems that would hopefully go over well with the judges, and poems that might do well for the audience too. (say what you will, applause will sway all but the most strong minded of judges and it is rare)
4- I was covering part one of my goal-to have fun, it was time to focus on giving it, the slam, my best shot, since my other goal was to put myself in a situation where winning was a possibility.

all in all a neat night and a GREAT starting point for Shaun to go forward from. I already told him that none of us that placed should be allowed in the next one at all. I would bet someone that was an audience member this time around will be chomping at the bit to get in it next time.

Why? because on the way home people were talking in their cars and I know someone said, "Hey, I used to write poetry. I bet I could do that."

And so it begins...