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Ode to a Giant
by John Chenault

John Birks "Dizzy" Gillespie put his trumpet in a brown paper bag
and headed up south

past Minton's and Monroe's in Harlem
where flaming notes and cool smoke filled after hours nights
and drummer Kenny Clarke first pronounced
the incantatory word "Bebop"
which transformed blues and swing
into a modern jazz thing

he put his trumpet in a brown paper bag
and took a Giant Step

past Birdland and Lincoln Center
past Village Vanguard and Village Gate

past Paris, Amsterdam, Istanbul, Berlin

up south
past Cheraw South Carolina
where he was born in 1917
and a street named after him
cuts through the fettered heart of Dixie
past sharecroppers sweating in the fields
whose gospelled cries and blusey hollers
break the dusk and dawn
on the road to bebop and beyond

up south
past Cuba
the island in the Caribbean Sea
where the Niger river meets the Congo
where Mario Bauza and Chano Pozo dance
like darkening clouds above El Malecon
to the hypnotic rhythm of the bolero son
and the immortal rain that falls steady as a clave

Afro-–Cuba
where Eshu awaits at the crossroads
and Shango marches across the sky
where Yemaya flirts along the shore
and the bata drums say "open the way"

open the way for Dizzy Gillespie
a Giant crossing to the other side
his trumpet in a brown paper bag
his fanfare
the faint timbre of bell tones
drifting fading sighing

his horn a voice
his voice a horn
bent with attitude
laden with accent
the angle of ascent
the riff, the scale
climbing all the way

up south

past heaven
where Gabriel told Peter he dreaded the thought
of Diz cutting him on the bandstand
in front of the Creator

past hell
closed down and boarded up after Bird died
and Satan discovered damnation
was overrated as a concept

Swing Low Sweet Cadillac
Coming for to carry me home

I dreamed I saw Bud Powell last night
Round midnight

Swing Low Sweet Cadillac
Coming for to carry me home

Monk meditates on the keys in his navel
Charlie Christian strums to the edge of the Universe and

And Mingus, and Sarah, And Billie, And Duke

I looked over yonder and what did I see...

Bird Lives
Diz Lives
Trane Lives
Miles Lives

in the air in the absolute essence of being in the air
in the life sustaining element in the air

up south
a black hole in space, a cadillac limousine
appears on the horizon
cruising in from the other side

up south
where the voices said Be Bop
and he heard Be Bop
not BBBBBrahms or Bach or Berlioz or half–black BBBBBeethoven
the voices said Be Bop
and he heard

Swing Low Sweet Cadillac
Coming for to carry me home

Be bop beret he heard dark glasses he heard trumpet bell reaching for the
stars he heard heart valve the action of lungs cool birth being hip he heard
"Groovin High" he heard "Salt Peanuts" heard "Ooh Pah Pa Dah" heard like
others heard the Swing Low the Sweet he heard the black cadillac

Coming for to carry me home

up south
the sun sets
as the limousine pulls to the curb

the door opens
the darkness disembarks

as the black cadillac swings low into eternity
his trumpet in a brown paper bag on the seat
the moon rises
in China, Morocco, Switzerland, Brazil
the stars fall
in England, Spain, Nigeria, Japan

but there will never be another night
in Tunisia


About John Chenault
to Afro-American Fragments