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Straight No Chaser - A Jazz Show

Welcome to Straight No Chaser, the Award-winning Podcast hosted by Jeffrey Siegel

Feb 15, 2012

POEMJAZZ, the new CD recorded by Robert Pinsky and Laurence Hobgood on the Circumstantial Productions label represents a continuation of a tradition of jazz and the spoken word. Jack Kerouac teamed with pianist David Amram for memorable performances, as did Ken Nordine with the Fred Katz Group in the 1950’s. Lawrence Ferlinghetti collaborated with Stan Getz. More recently, Michael Mantler’s treatment of Edward Gorey’s texts in 2001’s The Hapless Child and Other Inscrutable Stories stretched the boundaries of what we might call “jazz poetry”.

But POEMJAZZ takes things to a whole other level.

Robert Pinsky, the only three-term United States Poet Laureate, brings an innovative energy to all he does. In 2011, his acclaimed Selected Poems appeared. In 2010, his libretto for Tod Machover’s opera Death and the Powers: A Robot Pageant premiered in Monaco before coming to Boston’s ART. Next year, his adaptation of Friedrich Schiller’s Wallenstein will be presented by the Shakespeare Theater of Washington, D.C.

As Poet Laureate, he founded the Favorite Poem Project, in which thousands of Americans—of varying backgrounds, all ages, from every state— shared their favorite poems, as documented by the video segments, as seen on PBS and now at

Connecting all of these projects is Pinsky’s conviction—clear to anyone who has heard him read a poem—that poetry is a vocal, bodily art, closely allied to music. For that reason, POEMJAZZ, his collaboration with Laurence Hobgood, expresses something at the core of Robert Pinsky’s art.

“In jazz, as in poetry,” Robert Pinsky told The Paris Review in an interview, “there is always that play between what’s regular and what’s wild. That has always appealed to me.”

Hobgood is easily the best pianist for this project. In 1993, Hobgood met singer Kurt Elling and began a collaboration that resulted in Elling’s signing with the storied Blue Note label. Musical Director for Elling since 1995, he’s played on, composed, arranged and co-produced all of Elling’s CDs (six for Blue Note and three for Concord), each Grammy-nominated. Elling’s recordings and live performances often feature spoken word selections, either spontaneous or scripted.

I spoke with Hobgood this week, and we discussed the unique challenges of collaborating with the spoken word, the upcoming POEMJAZZ tour, and his plans for the rest of 2012. Click here to listen to the conversation, featuring these interludes:

Robert Pinsky/Laurence Hobgood - "The Green Piano" and “The Hearts” from POEMJAZZ. Hobgood explains in our interview the process of matching music to poems, and the numerous ways the final result was a true collaboration. He’s looking forward to performing these pieces live.

Laurence Hobgood – “Goin’ Back to Joe’s” from Left to My Own Devices. Laurence’s debut recording as a leader was this solo piano date for Naim Records. Buddy Kurt Elling contributes his vocal styling to this barroom theme and three other tracks on the CD.

Kurt Elling - “Freddie’s Yen for Jen” from This Time It’s Love. Here’s a good example of what Elling and Hobgood can do. On this track, they take Freddie Hubbard’s classic “Delphia” and add Elling’s poetic lyrics to create something new and different. Rather than stay with the traditional arrangement, Hobgood rethinks the song, and is aided by Rob Amster on bass, Michael Raynor on drums and percussion, and Dave Oderdonk on guitar.

An Evening of POEMJAZZ” featuring renowned poet ROBERT PINSKY and Grammy-winning jazz pianist LAURENCE HOBGOOD will have its premier performance at The Regattabar at the Charles Hotel, One Bennett Street in Cambridge, Massachusetts on Friday, February 24 at 7:30 PM. Reserved seat tickets at $25.00 can be purchased on line at or by calling: 617-395-7757.