Breathe (Medium Swing) SG Parker Birdland. A hot summer night. ‘Move. Along.’ The white cop tells him. ‘Me? For what?’ The man is well-dressed. Black. He points. ‘See that sign up there? Miles Davis. I’m playing inside—’ BAM! Split head. ‘You’re under arrest!’ SLAM! You do the show. Armed Forces Day, Voice of America. Outside. Jude kisses you. She takes the cab while you take a moment. To breathe. A voice shouts, ‘Move!’ ‘For what?’ you say, as you turn to the cop. He smirks. ‘Move on or else.’ You point at the bright-lit marquee above. That's me. 'So what? he says. ‘I don’t give a Goddam where you’re working.' You stand. You do not move. You're struck from behind and taken away. For what? They hear. Miles play Kind of Blue. So clear. They see. A white cop stop and sneer. ‘Move on.’ They shrug. At the daily scene. ‘So what?’ They say. Just a bad apple. Again. Justice. In America. Then. August. 1959. BAM! I play. Kind of Blue and hear the news of George Floyd. Plead. To the white cop. I can’t breathe, again. Again. 2020. Sixty years; what’s changed? <hush> I read. Headlines of hatred, intolerance, bigotry, prejudice. Right and left.For what? How will that create change? When? Will I. Make a stand and say. No. Enough. Enough is enough. Enough. Is enough is enough. Enough is enough is enough is enough is enough is. Enough. SO WHAT? Is enough is enough is enough is. Enough. FOR WHAT? Is enough is enough is enough is enough is enough. Enough. It’s You. And I, Us and Them. Now. All lands. Each and every night. Stand. For what. Is right; for justice. Peace. So what. Is wrong is righted. Changed. For good. Until we all can. Stand. As one. And each be free to. Breathe.
A word from the poet:
The poem uses a form that uses the 2-5-1 chord progression (the most common progression in jazz) for its structure along with the standard form of jazz tunes (head; improvisational verses around a theme; reprise). Each line consists of a two-syllable, a five-syllable, and a one-syllable phrase or multiples thereof (e.g. 2-5-1 or 4-10-2 plus intermixed variations in improvisational verses). In addition, the 2-5-1 made me think of different points of view, so each verse uses a different POV.
For the subject matter, I saw clear parallels between the killing of George Floyd and the infamous arrest of Miles Davis in 1959. ‘For what?’ was his initial response to the cop who asked him to move. For those not familiar with Miles Davis and his music, So What, is a famous tune on Kind of Blue, the best-selling jazz album of all time. He had just finished recording the album a few months before he was arrested outside the Birdland club after having played a radio show for Voice of America to celebrate Armed Forces day. He was a superstar at the time, but that did not save him from unjust harassment from law enforcement.
Greig Parker is based in Doha, Qatar, where he has lived with his wife since 2014.
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