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Matt Wilson Releases ‘Honey & Salt’ – Inspired by the Poetry of Carl Sandburg

‘Honey & Salt’

Wilson succeeds wonderfully, bringing Sandburg’s voice alive with each interpretation on ‘Honey & Salt…

Doug Hall

It’s not often that a musician can find inspiration in his favorite poet, compose a moving palette of jazz interpretations, while also sharing a distant relationship on the very same family tree. Jazz musician, drummer, composer and band leader Matt Wilson can make just that claim, with feeling and love for the American “poet of the people” Carl Sandburg, on his latest release ‘Honey and Salt – (Music inspired by the poetry of Carl Sandburg).’ Both Wilson and Sandburg were born in Knoxville County, Illinois, sharing Midwestern roots but during remarkably different times. Sandburg, born a decade after the American Civil War and witnessing the impact of the industrial age, then WWI, the Great Depression, WWII and onward to the tumultuous 1960’s – supporting the civil rights movement in his 80’s and becoming the first white man to be honored by the NAACP – had witnessed an extraordinary period of history.

An acclaimed jazz drummer and Grammy nominee, Wilson’s musical background has also included many roles as both band leader (the Matt Wilson Quartet, Arts & Crafts, Christmas Tree-O, Topsy Turvy and Big Happy Family), composer and performer. Wilson’s 13th recording as leader for Palmetto Records, ‘Honey and Salt’, received a 5-star review from DownBeat magazine which called it “irresistible.” Wilson points out that this creative thought process has been “germinating since 2001” with other projects and life taking up time. “Keeping it on the back-burner”, he finally settled to complete the music composition process in the spring of 2016, also coinciding with the 50th year anniversary of Sandburg’s death.

Wilson’s Midwestern association with his rural regional surroundings lent itself to reflect on Sandburg’s musings as a poet, and an interconnection to music. Wilson articulates the influence, “as you get older you start to appreciate regional connections a lot more, but I was always fascinated because it (Sandburg’s poetry) didn’t rhyme. That aligned with my taste in music at that time, when I was exploring all different kinds of music.”

Hand picking a selection of poems from Sandburg’s 1963 collection of poetry, ‘Honey and Salt’, Wilson brings to attention Sandburg’s poetry with a small, beautiful and poignant sampling, putting verse to song and musical expression in a jazz context. Importantly as well, listeners may follow this ‘string’ as an attachment to the wider range of contributions by this esteemed man of words. Sandburg won three Pulitzer Prizes, a Grammy Award, wrote the definitive biography of Abraham Lincoln, won the distinguished Robert Frost Medal for poetry, created an anthology of American folk songs, American Songbag, published an endearing and hugely popular ‘American tales’ children’s book, Rootabaga Stories, and performed and travelled the country collecting traditional folk songs. In Wilson’s words, “Sandburg was a renaissance man and poet of the people. I feel sometimes that of all the celebrated American poets, he doesn’t really get his due. Hopefully we can help his work get more recognition in some small way.”

Wilson succeeds wonderfully, bringing Sandburg’s voice alive with each interpretation on ‘Honey and Salt’. The creative result is a stirring, at times gritty, heart-felt reflection in jazz tones, voice, rhythm and beat – that puts the plain-speaking words of the populist poet in front of the listener, (read by guest speakers and sung), evoking a powerful dignity and putting Sandburg in the room with you.

When the band of musicians was forming for this recording, Wilson had already started a musical connection with the powerful and soulful recording artist, vocalist and gritty, rhythmic jazz guitarist Dawn Thomson, who also has loved the verse and poetry of Sandburg (listen to her own “Sleep Impressions” inspired by Sandburg’s poetry). Similarly, an extraordinary multi-reedist, Jeff Lederer, was in the mix as well, and then came bassist, NYU faculty instructor and cultural award winner from Germany, Martin Wind, and prominent jazz faculty member and high-demand trumpeter and cornetist Ron Miles from Denver. Wilson was ecstatic and humbled by the chemistry and talent assembled, “I was overwhelmed by the artistry and passion of the music on this album (Honey and Salt) – and blessed to have them.”

Similar enthusiasm and accolades come from Wilson for the collaboration of guests including household names in jazz (Christian McBride, Bill Frisell, Joe Lavano, John Scofield and others) adding their own voice and inflection as they read aloud verses of Sandburg’s poetry to the accompaniment of paired jazz beat, rhythm and improvisation, as Wilson observed,
“They all brought their own ways of interpretation.”

Some stand-out selections include ‘Soup’ about a celebrity just eating his soup from an observer’s point of view, seen as just ordinary “folk” with a driving beat and sultry ‘talking’ jazz voice from Thomson, with bass and then overlay of horns – and additional gritty guitar from Thomson’s hand. ‘Anywhere and Everywhere People’ remains contemporary in its message of self-adulation – as our leading political figures or other “wanna be famous” social media figures continue to feeding on narcissism. With funky backbeat driven by bass and drums, and competing eclectic trumpet and cornet chorus, a baritone voice delivered by Christian McBride (Grammy award-winning bassist, international jazz performer, educator, and artistic director of the Newport Jazz Festival) adds weight to the feeling. And then with the forlorn refrain in the poem “As Wave Follows Wave”, Sandburg spells out the futility of destiny, “man’s life is a candle in the wind… as wave follows wave… so new men take old men’s places.” With a beautiful dream-like serene trumpet introduction setting the tone, and acoustic guitar accompaniment, we, the listener, contemplate the journey.

Each song arrangement is a balance of interplay between the musicians and Sandburg’s ‘voice’, setting a tone for the listener to experience the poetry as more than lyrics overlaying instrumental accompaniment. Instead, the musicianship and featured instrument or solos don’t interfere with the sparse verse but punctuate the line breaks, with a driving drum beat or soft coronate solo – and when they mix together – both word and note – the impact of the weight and meaning of each verse is never lost. Delivering these lines with diverse and distinctive voices, the relevance of the poetic words from ‘Honey and Salt’ forces you to process an ‘Americana’ of Sandburg’s generation that is still a reflection of who we are today.

Besides poetry, as Wilson points out, Sandburg loved jazz (played guitar and sang) –, and above all ‘appreciated the moment’ – which is exactly where Wilson’s ‘Honey and Salt’ takes us.

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Doug Hall
My lifelong passion for writing and literature (which are wed to each other) continues to stay active, with art and cultural freelance writing assignments for on-line entertainment web sites. Home has been New England, Rocky Mountains, and London and lots of places travelled through books and points of view. “Creativity is a continual surprise.” ― Ray Bradbury

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Take A Knee

TAKE A KNEE

“Take a little trip to Valley Forge in January. If you don’t know where that is, just Google it from the sidelines. Hold a musket ball in your fingers and imagine it piercing your flesh and breaking a bone or two. There won’t be a doctor or trainer to assist you until after the battle, so just wait your turn. Take your cleats and socks off to get a real experience. Then take a knee.

Then, take one at the beach in Normandy where man after American man stormed the beach, even as the one in front of him was shot to pieces…the very sea stained with American blood. The only blockers most had were the dead bodies in front of them, riddled with bullets from enemy fire.

Take a knee in the sweat soaked jungles of Vietnam. from Khe San to Saigon… Anywhere will do. REAL Americans died in all those jungles. There was no playbook that told them what was next, but they knew what flag they represented. When they came home, they were protested as well..and spit on for reasons only cowards know.

Take another knee in the blood drenched sands of Fallujah in 110 degree heat… Wear your Kevlar helmet and battle dress… Your number won’t be printed on it unless your number is up! You’ll need to stay hydrated but there won’t be anyone to squirt Gatorade into your mouth. You’re on your own.

There’s a lot of places to take a knee. Real Americans have given their lives all over the world. When you use the banner under which they fought as a source for your displeasure, you dishonor the memories of those who bled for the very freedoms you have. That’s what the red stripes mean. It represents the blood of those who spilled a sea of it defending your liberty.

While you’re on your knee, pray for those that came before you, not on a manicured lawn striped and printed with numbers to announce every inch of ground taken…but on nameless hills and bloodied beaches and sweltering forests and bitter cold mountains…every inch marked by an American life lost serving that flag you protest.

No cheerleaders, no announcers, no coaches, no fans…just American men and women…delivering the real fight against those who chose to harm us…blazing a path so you would have ‘the right to take a knee.’

You haven’t an inkling what it took to get you where you are; but your ‘protest’ is duly noted. Not only is it disgraceful to a nation of real heroes, it serves the purpose of pointing to your ingratitude for those who chose to defend you under that banner that will still wave long after your jersey is issued to another…

If you really feel the need to take a knee, come with me to church on Sunday and we’ll both kneel before Almighty God. We’ll thank Him for preserving this country for as long as He has. We’ll beg forgiveness for our ingratitude for all He has provided us. We’ll appeal to Him for understanding and wisdom. We’ll pray for liberty and justice for all…because He is the one who provides those things.

And there will be no protest. There will only be gratitude for His provision and a plea for His continued grace and mercy on the land of the free and the home of the brave It goes like this…”

GOD BLESS AMERICA!

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Jim Carrey – I Needed Colour

On a Thursday afternoon somewhere between Indian summer and the promise of Autumn, while preparing a pitch for our latest documentary SELFLESS – I’ve stumbled across ‘I Needed Color’ with the brilliant Jim Carrey.

This piece made my heart burst a little more for the irony of destiny and what we were put here to do. Perhaps it struck a chord because as we sit on the verge of something bright and beautiful, a fear rushes through that maybe – just maybe we won’t actually make it.

There is no hiding from what you were born to do and the yearnings set upon your heart. We must have faith in our ability and the timing of grace; For all will arrive with a silent cascade of splendour, when we let go and allow the sweet color of life to wash over.

Do what you love – love what you do and you are half way there. Do what you love – with purpose and love and you will find your way home. 

“What you do in life chooses you. You can choose not to do it. – you can choose to do something safer… but your vocation chooses you.”

– Jim Carrey

 

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‘I Was A Stoner & He Was the Cowboy’ – Songwriter Jimmy Webb Remembers Glen Campbell

Glen Campbell was every aspiring lyricist’s dream – and Jimmy Webb remembers how their work together was the truest of collaborations – as they became friends for life.

1968 started a five-week run at No.1 on the US album chart with ‘Wichita Lineman.’ American Songwriter Jimmy Webb’s inspiration for the lyrics came while driving through Washita County in northern Oklahoma. Webb was driving through an endless litany of telephone poles, each looking exactly the same as the last. Then, in the distance, he noticed the silhouette of a solitary lineman atop a pole. Webb then “put himself atop that pole and put that phone in his hand” as he considered what the lineman was saying into the receiver.

Correspondent Bill Nutt spoke with Jimmy Webb as he payed homage to his amazing journey with Glen Campbell.

Jimmy Webb remembers the first time he met Glen Campbell. It was not an auspicious moment.

In 1967, Webb was in the early years of his career as songwriter. He had been a fan of Campbell, and he further appreciated the fact that Campbell’s version of his song “By the Time I Get to Phoenix” was a hit on the country charts.

So Webb went to a recording studio to meet Campbell.

“I had long hair, and I wore a vest and a pair of jeans I never took off. I was in my hippie stage,” Webb says.

Campbell was fiddling with a guitar and amp, apparently paying no attention whatsoever to his visitor. “Finally, I said, ‘Mr. Campbell, I’m Jimmy Webb.’ He looked up at me and said, ‘When are you gonna get a haircut?’ ”

Now Webb laughs at the meeting. “He was a straight shooter, clean-cut,” he says. “I was a stoner. I was the mad professor, and he was the cowboy.”

From that unlikely mixture, however, came a fruitful collaboration and a deep friendship. Campbell ended up recording over 100 Webb compositions, including acclaimed versions of “Wichita Lineman” and “Galveston.” The rapport that blossomed between the two men arose from similarities that overcame any differences, according to Webb. He points out that he was born in Oklahoma, while Campbell was a native of Arkansas.

“We came from dead identical backgrounds, very poor in adjoining states, and from a fecund mix of church music, country, and a lot of family singing. We brought that common origin story. I’ve been accused of writing melodies that are rangy. My songs modulate; they start in one key and end in another. Glen had the ability to sing what I wrote, and not everybody can. It’s past time to go back and look at Glen’s contribution’s to music, which have been sadly overlooked. 50 years of friendship and partnership. There was a lot of love on both sides that resulted in unsurpassable pop music. Glen and I touched the sky a couple of times.”

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