Robert Pinsky

It’s not every day you get to hear a three-time poet laureate read his work while backed by a jazz band. Then again, we’re talking about Robert Pinsky —lifelong jazz fan and “poet activist” (a nickname he earned after launching the Favorite Poem Project). The New Jersey native has long championed the connection between jazz and poetry—a confluence of sounds, form, and timing—and tomorrow night, he’ll take the two art forms to the stage of Benaroya Hall.

Look for Pinsky to read “Ginza Samba,” a melodious history of the saxophone and the tangled genealogy of those who played it, while Earshot Jazz fest musicians Marc Seales (piano, head of jazz department at UW) and Paul Gabrielson (bass, veteran Seattle musician) riff in accompaniment. The collaboration lifts the evening beyond the scope of even the most enthralling poetry reading, and infuses a new excitement into an art form that, like music, was meant to be heard, not read on a page.

Robert Pinsky reads at Benaroya Hall at 7:30pm on Friday, October 15, as part of Seattle Arts and Lectures’ Poetry Series. Copresented by the Earshot Jazz Festival (Oct 15–Nov 7). General seating tickets still available, $20. Check back for an interview with Pinsky and a recap of the event this weekend.

UPDATED 10/15/10. The first thing you notice when you meet Robert Pinsky is his voice. He has a deep rich tenor, smoother than the saxophone he loves but only plays in private. Pinsky floats each syllable with the practiced musicality of an opera singer. He has called his voice his instrument, and he plays it beautifully, fitting for a poet reading on stage with jazz accompaniment. I sat down with him at a Seattle coffee shop to talk verse, jazz and poetry students of all ages. Here’s an excerpt:

Seattle is known as a jazz town, a poetry town. What are your thoughts on that?
The beauty of Seattle still reminds me of San Francisco…in the late 1960s, when there were fishermen at Fisherman’s Wharf. And there were no high rises there yet….the kind of combination of city excitement and accessibility and scale. It’s very attractive. It’s why everyone wants to move here and you guys that live here want to keep everyone away.

Who would be your fantasy musicians to work with?
I don’t need a fantasy, I’m living my fantasy right now. I happen to know that Stan Getz was white like me and Jewish like me. Stan Getz toward the end of his life got very interested in books…. I have had the fantasy about how great it would be to work with Stan… and let him teach me things about music and I’d read poetry to him.

What do you like better, reading or writing poetry?
It’s like playing an instrument and listening to music: sometimes you feel like one, sometimes you feel like the other, so it’s hard to separate. It’s easier [to read a poem]—anytime I want I can read a poem. But [writing] is like playing my saxophone: you have to take it out of its case, you have to pick out a reed, get the reed wet, clean the horn. But it’s a different kind of satisfaction.

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