Thursday, August 14, 2008

FORWARD IS WHERE WE HAVE TO GO

by Amiri Baraka

What the young (?) people with the signs in St.Petersburg, Florida said to Obama “You’re undermining the (Black) Revolution” is merely one more sign of how confused and misdirected too many who style themselves “revolutionary” have become. For one thing it is certain that these folk do not even understand what revolution is. I would guess they are more of the tiny throng captivated by anarchism and infantile leftism who think revolution means standing on the sidelines calling who they think are their enemies names.

If you want to stand around with signs of some significant show of political clarity, they should at least be aimed at the crypto fascist McCain. To not even be able to identify who is the main enemy at any given stage of struggle is patently non-revolutionary. To think that Obama is the principle target of our struggle is , at best, infantile left and anarchist. It could be pro McCain.

If we go back to basics, revolution is the seizure of power. The aim of revolutionaries, at most stages of struggle, is the seizure of power, to picket Obama is to move to seize power for McCain.

What is also not understood is the tortuous path of revolutionary struggle. Obama, along with quite a few other “post 60’s” developments is the product of the 60’s struggles, a direct result of the turbulent civil rights and Black Liberation movements. Whether you yet understand it or not, Without Dr. King, Montgomery, Malcolm X, Robert Williams, Rosa Parks, CORE, The Freedom Riders, The Black Panthers, SNCC, CAP, there could be no Barack Obama . Without those bloody struggles against Black national oppression, racism, discrimination, segregation, there could be no Obama candidacy, certainly not of this magnitude.

Jesse’s two runs were admirable , and yes, they were part of the sledgehammer of Black politics from the 50’s through the 80’s. And just as that force created the visible use of Powell and Condoleeza Rice as negro “buttons” within the rightwing establishment of US bourgeois politics , none of that was possible without the Black movement itself, as contradictory as that might seem . The internationally perceived racial conflict in the United States was the most glaring contradiction to US claims as the almighty white angel of world politics.

The colored Secretaries of State provided some of the cool out necessary not only to sublimate that image but to foist on this world of colored people a confusing tactic , so that when the US Secy of State hopped out of plane somewhere in this mostly colored world, friends and righteous enemies would be startled by who was carrying the message.

So that now it’s come all the way to the “top” of US government, this need for another, Yeh! Black , face to cool out the ugliness the last 20 some years have mashed upon the world. We might not agree with the intention of this playacting, but at the same time we must recognize the forces that make this necessary. Recognize those forces, because we are a large part of them. And with that recognition must come the understanding of what is the next step in this protracted struggle to ultimately eliminate imperialism and monopoly capitalism, which are the base of continuing national oppression , racism, gender oppression, anti –democratic hegemony anywhere in the world.

The very negative side of the “post racist” line that Obama runs is that the die is cast for nitwits to say that racism is done and gone and that if you still in the ghetto or still don’t have a job, it’s on you. Bah, Humbug! Obama’s best intention is that there is the making of a post racist coalition that can provide the muscle for his campaign and victory in the election. But reality, the cops, the jails, the unemployment figures puts all that down every day.

But it is a very pimpable figment. The New York Times recent cover story “Is Obama The End of Black Politics?” is a very stinking example of its pimpablity. One obvious answer to that is “Only if Obama is the End of White Politics” which we see even in the way the Clintons as well as McCain and the overwhelming racism of the media are running the primaries, is certainly not the case. One could hope that an Obama victory wd signal an incremental leap in the direction of more democratic allowance for highly skilled operatives within the system, which is what Obama certainly is. But “post racist”?..., gimme me a break.

The Times article, predictably, uses the most visible of stealth negroes , i.e. those who, while profiting by the opening in US politics provided them by the Civil Rights and Black Liberation Movement, and getting substantial Black support at the polls, believe that they have “made it” by virtue of their own impeccable greatness, Booker in Newark, Nutter in Phila, Fenty in DC come to mind. Booker, whom I sent a copy of Marvin X’s book How To Recover from An Addiction to White Supremacy , though more crafty than Nutter, who played gun bearer for Bonnie & Clyde during the Democratic primaries, Booker has raised Newark taxes 8% , fired 4 or 500 mostly black city hall workers, claiming to have a budget problem but hiring at the same time a half dozen non-Newark natives as“deputy mayors”, at $176,000 a piece. My son, Ras, was deputy mayor for four years and took no salary. The top 10 Police officials, including both the Police Director and the Police Chief are white. Fenty who claims his biracial parentage has made him see ”more” than merely black struggle. Booker says “I don’t want to be the person that’s turned to when CNN talks about black leaders…I’m Popeye, “ he says…”I am who I am”. Naturally these would be the people the Times would use to give an obituary for “Black Politics”. But certainly, these kinds of “wooden negroes” are not entirely new on the scene, they are just the most recent crop of negroes claiming they are greater (or safer) than mere black people. The struggle between Langston Hughes and Countee Cullen was essentially the same , when Langston says in The Negro Artist & The Racial Mountain (1926) “ One of the most promising of the young Negro poets said to me once, ‘I want to be a poet—not a Negro poet’ meaning subconsciously, ‘I would like to be a white poet’, “meaning behind that “’I would like to be white’ And I was sorry the young man said that, for no great poet has ever been afraid of being himself” In a recent Esquire Booker comes on like he thinks he is Will Smith in I Am Legend, a single human scientist trapped in a city full of vampires.

When Nutter (Mayor of Philadelphia) says,” I never asked anybody to vote for me because I was Black”, he is missing the essential historic fact of Black life in America and trying with all his might to dismiss it. That he couldn’t even run for Mayor being Black. He might have had to run for his life, if he even said such a thing. It was Black peoples’ unity and struggle that has made even this delusion of self anointment possible.

Black politics will only disappear when the Black majority disappears. And even the wish fulfillment of New York Times “liberals”can never achieve this, nor the creepy self hatred of those incognegroes the Times wants to anoint as post black negroes. Still the question of Obama’s candidacy is a quite different consideration. As I have said , in print and in the flesh at many forums, no matter what is said by whoever thinks to deny this, or even what Obama says himself, the foundation of Obama’s successful candidacy is the 90% support by the Afro-American people. A fact that I’m sure he understands. Obama also understands that it is the rest of the American people he must reach out to, no matter how attempts he makes to do this are questioned, even by Black people. Even 90% of 12% is not enough to win the presidency.

So that for the so called militants, black or white left not to understand that the logic and strength of Obama’s candidacy is the 21st century manifestation of the Civil Rights and Black Liberation Movements, impossible without it. Jesse Jackson’s two impressive candidacy’s were also part of that motion, not to accept both these phenomena as positive aspects and results of our collective struggle is to lack “True Self Consciousness".

The real question now is what is the next step, what is the key link in that chain of progressive struggle that if grasped will hoist the whole of us incrementally to the next level of unity and struggle. For those forces so duped by their erroneous understanding of what constitutes revolutionary movement. The consistent idealism of those who wd waste their vote on people whose most positive contribution would be to point out even more foricibly the link between McCain and a swifter fascist future for the US and critically support Obama’s outright liberalism, but issuing a critical list of planks for a more progressive Obama campaign.

There are even some utterly backward cultural nationalist negroes who say “Obama is their enemy” because he is not demanding that black people stop speaking English and speak their mother tongue (my mother tongue is Afro American) or that he blame the Jews for the world’s ills. My God!, You couldn’t win on those planks even if the election was for the NAACP or the Black Panther Party Or the Student Non Violent Coordinating Committee.

We cannot go backward or even contemplate it. A revolutionary must first find out what it is the people want, what they need. Unfortunately for some, the definition of revolution is to construct some elitist cultural nationalist, religious or infantile leftist , position, the “further out” the better, so they may claim, since few others will get down with that, that they must be the most revolutionary of all. Too often this is just a means of hiding out from the real work of educating and organizing and settling for being the hippest chump in the closet.

What we must be aiming for at the present level of US politics is a Peoples or Popular Democracy, rather than the tongue constructed false democracy real dictatorship (of wealth) that exists today. That must include the replacing of the monopoly capitalist-imperialist domination of US politics at every level with a United Front , which shd be led by the working class in alliance with farmers, the progressive petty bourgeoisie, oppressed nationalities and progressive national bourgeoisie. The loose Obama coalition, as it exists now.

For the Afro American people a National United Front , Democratic Assembly, would be a huge step in the right direction, as what was attempted by the Convention Movement of the 19th Century, the National Negro Congress in the 1940’s and the Gary Convention in the 1972. It is this kind of organized force that would be powerful enough to maintain the correct orientation of any National Coalition of multinational forces to win this election and help steer the ship of state.


The fiercest opponents to such a victorious coalition , the first steps toward moving toward a United front US government, rather than one dominated by corporate Imperialism is the racist right and the juvenile delinquent left (some of whom are quite rightist and even some quite racist..e.g., how can Nader put Obama down for “sounding white” ..what does “white” sound like? And how come Nader don’t sound like that?)


Ultimately this political period will be characterized by what kind of political force Blacks and progressive Americans can put together to secure Obama’s election and push him ever to the Left. What is even clearer and a piercing denial of the NYTimes distortion is Hubert Harrison , the Black Socialist, writing in the New York Call ca: 1911 “Politically, the Negro is the touchstone of the modern democratic idea. The presence of the Negro puts our democracy to the proof and reveals the falsity of it…True democracy and equality implies a revolution …startling even to think of “ ( quoted from Jeffrey Perry’s recent volume Hubert Harrison: The Voice of Harlem Radicalism 1883-1918)


So the question of “Black Politics” must be inextricably bound to progressive politics in this country and just as we fought as Black people and with progressive allies of many nationalities even to vote, or for that matter drink out of public drinking fountains or ride anywhere in a bus, so it is this same “Black Politics” clearly broadened by Obama to include a progressive coalition in the most ambitious attempt to show that Black Politics in its most progressive meaning is the struggle for a Peoples Democracy here in the US. This is what the Obama campaign asserts boldly. We must see that it continues to do so right into the Oval office and beyond.


The following are a few exploratory planks of a document that should be added to by the willing and serve as a basis for a national mass supported document to present to Obama.

Progressive Agenda for Obama

1. End Iraq War, cancel preparations for Iran War. Re-establish that it is Congress that declares war

a. End so called “National Security Government: Close Guantanamo, end Homeland
Security\domination of US political and social life.

2. Make racism a criminal offense assault 1
3. Use of the N Word (by anyone) assault 2
4. Use of the B Word (by anyone) assault 2
5. Begin to push for change in Political Culture of US**

A. End the Electoral College System
B. End Winner Take All System
C. Initiate One Person One Vote
D. Abolition of US Senate -replace with Unicameral system (one House of Representatives based on One Person One Vote).
E. Parliamentary System= As many parties as represent ideological groups, as in Europe, so that Coalition politics emerge
F. Ban on private monies in elections
G. Restoration of Voting Rights to Ex Felons

6. Review of National Debt by National Forum
7. Executive Support for Reparations- Establishment of National Citizens Committee
8. General Investigation & Review of Criminal Justice System
9. Appointment of Progressive Supreme Court & Other Judges
10. Review Diplomatic Relations with all Nations. By National Panel with recommendations

a. Haiti
b. Cuba.
c. Venezuela
d. Saudi Arabia
e. Iran
f. Israel

Strengthen Committee on Africa, investigate relations

11. Investigate Need for Cabinet level Office of Afro American Affairs
12. Review Affirmative Actions statutes, reverse negative trends
13. Housing: “Everyone must have a place to live” bill
14. Education- Reaffirm support with action for Public Education. Veto attempts to weaken PE budget
15. Minimum Wage
16. Investigate Bush-Cheney years, including their election, with National Forum, Recommendations
17. National investigation of 911
18. Review FDA- Reverse Bush’ Rule eliminations
19. Review Environmental Protection Agency –role- laws
20. International treaties review Oslo, Nuclear, Ballistic missile, Trade
21. Plan for direct monitoring and supervision of Voting Apparatus Nationally. Stop “suppression of the Black & Latino vote”
22. Executive intervention for National Health Care plan
23. Presentation of Progressive National Immigration Bill
24. New initiative for National Cultural & Arts Support
25. New Public Works Program to put US back to work
26. Push programs for Regulation of Capitalism, Stop excessive outsourcing , end big capital’s abandoning of factories, cities, industries

People who keep saying: ”The president can’t do anything” should review FDR’s “First Hundred Days” aimed at ending the great Depression. “On his first day in office , Mar 4, 1933, FDR called Congress into a special session. He then proceeded to drive a series of bills through Congress that reformed the US banking industry, saved American agriculture and allowed for industrial recovery. At the same time wielded the executive order creating the Civilian Conservation Corps, the Public Works Administration (WPA) and the Tennessee Valley Authority. These projects put tens of thousands of Americans back to work building dams, bridges, highways and much needed public utility systems.” (About.com) What was called “The New Deal”


What we need from Obama is a Newer New Deal. What we need from ourselves is the political clarity and will to ensure Obama’s election!


Amiri Baraka (formerly Leroi Jones, b. 1934) is one of the major and most important writers of the past half century in the United States, as well as a veteran political and cultural activist and teacher since the early 1960s. Highly gifted and creatively proficient in many different genres of literature--poetry, playwriting, cultural criticism, the essay, fiction, music and literary theory, history, and criticism, as well as journalism --Baraka is also a consummate social organizer, theoretician, and strategist who has founded and/or been an integral part of many different social, cultural, and political organizations and is widely considered the leading force behind the legendary Black Arts Movement (BAM), a national cultural phenomenon that revolutionized American writing and cultural expression in the late 1960s and early 1970s. Amiri is the legendary and prolific author of over 30 books (!), an esteemed member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters, and a past winner of the American Book Award, the Langston Hughes Award, and fellowships from the Rockefeller Foundation and the National Endowment of the Arts. Baraka also taught literature, music history, cultural history, politics, and African American Studies for over 30 years at SUNY--Stony Brook, Columbia, Yale, and Georgetown universities.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

In Memory of 'The Little Giant': Johnny Griffin-- Jazz Saxophone Master 1928-2008
































Steve Berman/The New York Times
Johnny Griffin at the Blue Note in New York in 1997

All,

Johnny Griffin, who passed away at his home in France on July 25, 2008 at the age of 80, was one of the finest and most original tenor saxophone players to come out of an extraordinary generation of African American Jazz artists all born between 1920-1930 who completely revolutionized the art after 1945 with a highly virtuosic and dynamic musical style popularly known to the general public as 'Bebop' and as simply 'modern music' by the players themselves (e.g. Charlie 'Bird' Parker, Dexter Gordon, Bud Powell, Charles Mingus, Fats Navarro, Sonny Stitt, Miles Davis, John Coltrane, Gene Ammons, Julian 'Cannonball' Adderly, Horace Silver, and Sonny Rollins). At five feet five inches tall the nevertheless powerful and extremely proficient Griffin was a technical marvel on his instrument and a riveting virtuoso player who was highly influenced by Charlie Parker, and was well known for his own unique creative synthesis of the best and most advanced musical aspects of the 'Bebop' and 'Hardbop' harmonic and rhythmic traditions welded to,and immersed in, very rich blues and gospel-based tonalities. It was this disciplined mastery, commanding presence, and consistent artistic depth along with his height that led to him being called 'The Little Giant' by his peers early on in his career. It was a popular designation that not only stuck but was well earned. Coming out of the endlessly rich and fecund black Jazz, blues, Rhythm & blues, and gospel traditions and styles of Chicago, Illinois, Griffin-- like the city of his birth-- put his own distinctive and highly individual stamp on the profound history of the music. He will be sorely missed but his outstanding legacy can be found in hundreds of wonderful recordings that he made for many recording labels in the United States, Europe. and Japan. Long live the Little Giant!

Kofi


http://www.nytimes.com/2008/07/26/arts/music/26griffin.html

Johnny Griffin, 80, Jazz Saxophonist, Dies
By Ben Ratliff
New York Times
July 26, 2008

Johnny Griffin, a tenor saxophonist from Chicago whose speed, control and harmonic acuity made him one of the most talented American jazz musicians of his generation yet who spent most of his career in Europe, died Friday at his home in Availles-Limouzine, a village in France. He was 80 and had lived there for 24 years. His death was confirmed by his wife, Miriam, who did not give a cause. He played his last concert on Monday in Hyères, France. Mr. Griffin’s modest height earned him the nickname the Little Giant; his speed in bebop improvising marked him as the Fastest Gun in the West; a group he led with his fellow saxophonist Eddie (Lockjaw) Davis was informally called the Tough Tenor band, a designation that was eventually applied to a whole school of hard-bop tenor players. And in general, Mr. Griffin suffered from categorization. In the early 1960s, embittered by the critical acceptance of free jazz, he stayed true to his identity as a bebopper. Feeling that the American marketplace had no use for him (at a time when he was also having marital and tax troubles), he left for Europe, where he became a celebrated jazz elder. “It’s not like I’m looking to prove anything anymore,” he said in a 1993 interview. “At this age, what can I prove? I’m concentrating more on the beauty in the music, the humanity.” Indeed, Mr. Griffin’s work in the 1990s, with an American quartet that stayed constant whenever he revisited his home country to perform or record, had a new sound, mellower and sweeter than in his younger days. Johnny Griffin was born in Chicago on April 24, 1928, and grew up on the South Side. He attended DuSable High School, where he was taught by the famed high school band instructor Capt. Walter Dyett, whose other students included the singers Nat (King) Cole and Dinah Washington and the saxophonists Gene Ammons and Von Freeman. Mr. Griffin’s career started in a hurry: at age 12, attending his grammar school graduation dance at the Parkway Ballroom in Chicago, he saw Ammons play in King Kolax’s big band and decided what his instrument would be. By 14 he was playing alto saxophone in a variety of situations, including a group called the Baby Band with schoolmates, and occasionally with the blues guitarist and singer T-Bone Walker. At 18, three days after his high school graduation, Mr. Griffin left Chicago to join Lionel Hampton’s big band, where he switched from alto to tenor. From then until 1951 he was based in New York City but mostly on the road. By 1947 he was touring with the rhythm-and-blues band of the trumpeter Joe Morris, a fellow Chicagoan, with whom he made the first recordings for the Atlantic label. He entered the United States Army in 1951; stationed in Hawaii, he played in an Army band. Mr. Griffin was of an impressionable age when Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie became forces in jazz. He heard them both with Billy Eckstine’s band in 1945 and, having first internalized the more balladlike saxophone sound earlier popularized by Johnny Hodges and Ben Webster, became entranced by the lightning-fast phrasing of bebop, as the new music of Parker and Gillespie was known. In general his style remained brisk but relaxed, his bebop playing salted with blues tonality. Beyond the 1960s his skill and his musical eccentricity continued to deepen, and in later years he could play odd, asymmetrical phrases, bulging with blues honking and then tapering off into state-of-the-art bebop, filled with passing chords. In the late 1940s he befriended the pianists Elmo Hope, Bud Powell and Thelonious Monk; he called these friendships his “postgraduate education.” After his Army service he went back to Chicago, where he worked with Monk for the first time, a job that altered his career. He became interested in Monk’s brightly melodic style of composition, and he ended up as a regular member of Monk’s quartet in New York in 1958. In 1967 he toured Europe with a Monk octet. Mr. Griffin joined Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers for a short stint in 1957. The following year he began recording a series of albums as a leader for the Riverside label. On “Way Out!,” “The Little Giant” and other Riverside albums, his rampaging energy got its moment in the sun on tunes like “Cherokee,” famous vehicles for testing a musician’s mettle. A few years later he hooked up with Davis, a more blues-oriented tenor saxophonist, with whom he made a series of records that act as barometers of taste: listeners tend to find them either thrilling or filled with too many notes. The Griffin-Davis combination was a popular one, and the two men would sporadically reunite through the ’70s and ’80s. Mr. Griffin left the United States in 1963, settling in Paris and recording mostly for European labels — sometimes with other American expatriates, like the drummer Kenny Clarke, and sometimes with European rhythm sections. In 1973 he moved to Bergambacht, the Netherlands. He moved to the Côte d’Azur with his second wife, Miriam, in 1980, and then in 1984 to Availles-Limouzine, near Poitiers in midwestern France, where he lived thereafter. In addition to his wife, Mr. Griffin’s survivors include four children: his daughters Jo-Onna and Ingrid and a son, John Arnold Griffin, all of the New York City area, and another daughter, Cynthia Griffin of Bordeaux, France. Mr. Griffin stayed true to the small-group bebop ideal with his American quartet, including the pianist Michael Weiss and the drummer Kenny Washington. The record he made with this group for the Antilles label in 1991, “The Cat,” was received warmly as a comeback. Every April for many years, Mr. Griffin returned to Chicago to visit family and play during his birthday week at the Jazz Showcase. During those visits he usually also spent a week at the Village Vanguard in New York, before returning home to his quiet house in the country.








Johnny Griffin: In Memoriam
By Becca Pulliam



















Andrew Kounitskiy

Johnny Griffin performing in Moscow.

WBGO, July 29, 2008 - Jazz musician Johnny Griffin, once billed as "the world's fastest saxophonist," died of undisclosed causes at his home in France on July 25, 2008. He was 80. JazzSet offers this remembrance.

Pianist Michael Weiss remembers the first time he saw Johnny "Griff" Griffin — onstage with Dexter Gordon at the 1978 Ann Arbor Jazz Festival. "The whole audience levitated off their seats," Weiss says. "[Hill Auditorium] was full of people going nuts" to the finger-flying, all-over-their-horns, roof-lifting, two-tenor extravaganza.

Weiss didn't even bother to dream that he would play with Griffin someday, but in 1987, drummer Kenny Washington brought Weiss into the band for an amazing tour. It commenced with 11 nights in a row, hitting cities across the country and, soon thereafter, Japan. The tours continued every year until 2001. Griffin looked forward to them: As he reconnected with his U.S. trio from his home in France, he would say, "I'm going to have to get ready to play with you cats."

As a student at DuSable High School, under the legendary Captain Walter Dyett, Griffin learned the reeds, including oboe and English horn. In the Army, Griffin was sent to Hawaii to play oboe in a military band; most of the soldiers drafted with him were killed in Korea. In New York in the late 1950s, he worked most notably with Thelonious Monk. Griffin's first booking as a leader at the Village Vanguard came in November 1959, but he moved to Paris in 1963. The concerts with Dexter Gordon — one in Ann Arbor, one at Carnegie Hall — marked his homecoming after 15 years in Europe.

Vanguard proprietor Lorraine Gordon cites a big old poster of Gordon and Griffin from 1978 on the wall and says, "He was a great star. Everyone loved him because he was adorable, lots of fun, a true musician in the best sense... He was an original. No matter what he played, it 'swang.'"

Weiss says he agrees. "Griff was fun to be around. He listened closely to what the other musicians played and enjoyed listening to the struggle. His eyes would light up, and he'd smile that big smile when he heard me wrestle with something. He was along for the ride. Although he was deadly serious about making music on the bandstand, playing jazz for him was a positive, joyous experience. That feeling spread to everyone in the audience. He had the people, all the time." Weiss last spoke to Griffin five weeks before the leader's death.

In the words of Dee Dee Bridgewater, who moved to France 25 years after Griffin, "[Johnny's] playing reflected his personality — crisp, soulful, heartfelt, clean, smooth. Johnny always had a glint of playfulness in his eyes. His outlook on life was youthful, and he kept that youthfulness alive throughout his life, even during his suffering.

"I rejoice at having had the opportunity of personally being touched by Johnny, laughing at life with Johnny," Bridgewater adds. Though writers invented the phrase "tough tenor" for Griffin and his few peers, Bridgewater calls him something else: "a true jazz angel."

Additional research provided by Alexander Hotz.

Michael Weiss Remembers Johnny Griffin

Long before he won the Thelonious Monk Institute Composers Competition in 2000, Michael Weiss established himself as a pianist. Fresh out of Dallas in his early twenties, he was soon working with Jon Hendricks, Junior Cook, Charles McPherson and Lou Donaldson, among others. He went on to play with Art Farmer, George Coleman, Frank Wess, Slide Hampton, and the Vanguard Jazz Orchestra. Following his Village Vanguard debut as a leader in 2006, The New York Times noted that Weiss was "a confident and sparkling presence on piano," exhibiting "sensitivity and logic, along with crisp control."

In The Chicago Tribune, Howard Reich wrote of Weiss, "Even at full tilt, his sound is sleek, his lines lucid, his textures virtually transparent." The New Yorker reported that his "shrewd writing and arranging skills [are] as clearly in view as his sleek piano work." Weiss's longest association was with Johnny Griffin. He played with the tenor saxophonist from 1987 until Griffin's death last month at the age of eighty. Shortly after Griffin died, Weiss wrote an appreciation and offered it to Rifftides. We are pleased to have it.



Reminiscing About Johnny Griffin
by Michael Weiss

Johnny Griffin was one of the great personalities and individuals of jazz, and if jazz is supposed to embody anything, it is individuality, together with improvisation and collaboration. Griffin was one of the very best soloists who could fully express their personality through their instrument. You hear one note and you know that it's Johnny. Everything that came out of his horn was a magnification of who he is. You don't even notice his influences anymore. He really played like nobody else. His phrases were so unpredictable. He had this way of abruptly lunging at things at any moment, but could also finish the same line with a sweet lyrical melody. Griffin should be remembered not only for his technical virtuosity but for how he used that technique in his overall expression, woven into the fabric of his style.

Long before I played with Johnny I knew all his records with Monk and Jaws very well and had even transcribed a few of his solos. In 1985 I had been working with his drummer Kenny Washington so when Griff's regular pianist was unable to make a gig, Kenny recommended me and I joined the band shortly after that. We toured every year up to 2001.

Working with Griffin was among the most - if not the most - exhilarating and electrifying experiences I've had on the bandstand with any leader. And not just because Johnny liked to play fast tempos. At any tempo there was a level of energy and excitement on the stage that never felt commonplace. Even after I worked hundreds of gigs with Johnny over several years, there was an intensity, focus and energy with each set that was unlike any other group I've played with. It was like mental weightlifting. Griffin, a real extrovert, had a lot to express through his horn and was such a commanding presence that he drew the same thing out of you. Having to solo after him night after night I was compelled to make sure my musical statement was meaningful and worthwhile. Accompanying him was also no easy task, but it didn't take long to realize the best modus operandi was to just stay out of his way. Overall, it was a great training ground to experience that level of seriousness of purpose and integrity on the bandstand.

Griff was fun to be around. He knew how to enjoy life and seemed very comfortable in his own skin. This generally happy demeanor was quite contagious. On the gig, he listened closely to the rhythm section as we worked our stuff out in our solos. He especially delighted in listening to us wrestle through a particular musical idea. During such occasions, I might look up and see Johnny with his eyes aglow and a big smile. He enjoyed the creative struggle and he was along with you for the ride. Playing jazz for him was a positive, joyous experience and he spread that feeling to everyone in the audience. He had the people in the palm of his hand all the time. He was very comfortable on the mic and frequently said some very funny things. But he was deadly serious about musicmaking - on the bandstand there was no nonsense, no messing around.

The Johnny Griffin Quartet was one of the few working bands in jazz that was still touring regularly throughout the 1990s. As performing night after night is the only way a musician can really develop and improve on his craft, I'm grateful to have been able to do exactly that with Johnny Griffin.

To hear Michael Weiss in two of his many collaborations with Griffin,listen to the 1990 CD The Cat and to Griffin's 2000 quintet album with Steve Grossman. Grossman, also an expatriate American tenor player in France, is an improviser whose zeal and vigor nearly match Griffin's.

Johnny Griffin April 24, 1928- July 25, 2008
Interview from 1994
by Bob Bernotas

A few years ago a new recording came out that showcased five young tenor saxophonists. The album's title, inspired, no doubt, by a desire to cash in on the "young lions" craze so much in vogue, anointed its youthful stars as "young tough tenors." Well, there used to be a time when it meant something to be called a "tough tenor." It wasn't just a title your record label bestowed upon you. You had to serve your time on the frontlines of jazz, locking horns nightly with cats called Illinois, Sonny, Jug, Dexter, Wardell, Lockjaw. And when you finally earned the rank, the other tough tenors-not record producers or agents or publicists or critics-let you know. Johnny Griffin won his "tough tenor" stripes in crack regiments like the Lionel Hampton big band, Art Blakey's Jazz Messengers, and the Thelonious Monk quartet. In the early 1960s he co-led a quintet alongside that underrated monster of the tenor saxophone, Eddie "Lockjaw" Davis. Then, in 1963, he emigrated to Europe and immediately became a fixture on the continent's thriving jazz scene. Griffin did not return to the States until 1978, when he was coaxed back for a guest appearance at fellow emigre Dexter Gordon's Carnegie Hall triumph. Now, every April, the 65-year old Chicago Southsider makes an annual trip to the US, a highlight of which is a week-long birthday gig (April 24) at Chicago's Jazz Showcase, either preceded or followed by a week in New York. When he's not on tour, Griff enjoys his idyllic life in the French countryside, two hundred fifty miles outside of Paris.

"It takes me almost an hour to drive to the nearest train station," he laughs.
How did you get started in music? My father had played cornet, although I never saw him play it. I found his mouthpiece when I was a kid. I used to buzz it. And my mother played piano and sang in the church choir for different functions. So there was always music in the house, jazz, gospel, or whatever. Especially jazz records. I began to study piano when I was about six. Then I studied Hawaiian steel guitar for a few years. I started on clarinet in high school when I was 13, all the clarinets, oboe, and English horn, then alto saxophone and then tenor saxophone. That was at DuSable High School in Chicago. Yeah, under bandmaster Walter Dyett. He made me play the clarinets first. I didn't want to play clarinet, but it's a good thing I did. Clarinet, to me, is the papa of the modern reed family. And he made me start playing oboe because the oboist graduated from school and he had this program of some music by Ravel. He needed an oboist in the band, which was good. It gave me another insight. But you really wanted to play the saxophone. My grammar school graduating class in 1941 had a little party for 13 or 14 year-old kids. [Trumpeter] King Kolax's band played for the party and Gene Ammons was playing tenor saxophone with the band. And that's when I said, "That's it!" Just like that, tunnelvision ever since. Ben Webster was my first favorite, then I went to Johnny Hodges, 'cause I tended to play alto like a tenor anyway. Then, of course, Pres, Charlie Parker, and Don Byas, a master. And then I was influenced by Dexter and Wardell Gray and Lucky Thompson. But I was also influenced by trumpet players, pianists, the whole gamut. I mean, Charlie Christian influenced me, Jimmy Blanton. So everything that I heard musically has influenced me one way or the other. I was playing alto before the bandmaster actually let me play alto in the school dance band.

Outside of school, I started playing with T-Bone Walker when I was 15 years old. T-Bone's brother had a big band and T-Bone was the star of the show. We played the off-nights in the large nightclubs on the South Side of Chicagoóthe Rum Boogie, the DeLisa, and the El Dorado.
Walter Dyett was a big influence on you, then. He was a big influence on Nat Cole, Gene Ammons, Bennie Green, John Gilmore, Clifford Jordan, Pat Patrick, Charles Davis, everybody who went to that school. He was a real disciplinarian with the band. He could become a father-like figure in a way, too, with his kids. Well, you can see the results. Right. I graduated from high school on a Thursday and I was playing with Lionel Hampton's band on Sunday. Hamp had come by my school for some reason-I think it was a pep assembly for something, I can't remember-in about January or February, 1945. He brought [pianist] Milt Buckner and Herbie Fields with him. Herbie Fields was a clarinetist and alto saxophonist. [Griff likes to accent the second syllable: "sax-AH-phonist."] The bandmaster had me jam with Herbie and Milt Buckner and Hamp at the school. At that time Hamp picked up the late Jay Peters to work with the band, but Jay got drafted into the service a couple of months later. So when Hamp came back to Chicago in June to play the Regal Theater he needed another saxophone player and he looked for me. That's when I transferred from alto to tenor. All along I'd played with the band on alto and when the band left at the end of the week to go to Toledo, Ohio, I took my alto with me. I had always wanted to play tenor, but my bandmaster said, "Oh, the tenor's too large." I was walking on the stage at the theater in Toledo and the late Gladys Hampton stopped me and said, "Junior, where is your tenor saxophone? What are you doing with that alto?" I said, "What do you mean tenor?" She said, "You're playing tenor in the band." So I went back to Chicago and found an old Conn and rejoined the band. You played in the Army band during the early 1950s, didn't you? Saved my life. I had orders to go to Korea. Seven other young men who went in with me, Afro-American kids, all died. I had my orders to go with them, too. What happened was, when the battalion was graduating I already had my orders to go to FECOM, which was Far East Command, to go to Korea. On the bulletin board in the orderly room they asked anyone with any talent to put on a little act or something for a show for the officers. The officers were graduating and having a party. So I knew some soldiers who could play a little bit, and we got together a little group and got on the show. And a colonel there was stoned out of his mind. "Put that boy in the band," he said, the Army band in Hawaii. Other than that, I probably would have been killed, too. How did you join Art Blakey's Jazz Messengers? He sent for me. I met Art Blakey when I was playing with Hamp's band and he was playing with the Billy Eckstine band. I had seen him with the band in 1944 when they came to Chicago, which shook up the world. We were both in LA in 1945, and somehow, somebody asked me to play this jam session at Billy Berg's in Hollywood. Art Blakey was the drummer and we had been tight ever since. When I came out of the service he had gotten Wilbur Ware and Horace Silver to come and play with him, and he tried to get me to come with him. But I had just gotten home and I had just gotten married, so I said no. Then he had me come to do a record date with him at RCA. I think it was the music from My Fair Lady. That would have been back in 1957, and he demanded that I come join the band, which I did. It was fun. Fun, fun, fun, all the time. As it was with Monk, too. It's funny, 'cause Art Blakey always wanted Monk to come and play with him in his band, and Monk wanted Art Blakey to come and play in his band, which was ridiculous. And a year later, you joined Thelonious Monk's quartet. I had known Monk for ten years. I met Monk through Elmo Hope and Bud Powell, who I had known for years. I used to go to Bud's house or Elmo's house and play with Monk. And I used to hang out with Monk. Even when I was with Art Blakey we used to hang out together after he finished down at the Five Spot. Monk was one of the most influential and admired-by me-of all the musicians that I've ever known. He had such a rare sense of humor, not by overly verbalizing. He could say three or four words that could shatter an hour of malicious gabbing. He could shatter the whole conversation with just a thing that he would say, the cutting edge. He'd be walking along with that face, that facade like the Mau Mau, so the idiots wouldn't bother him. But behind that mask was a very warm, humorous person. I'll tell you something he did for me one time. We were someplace and he said, "See, I can play like Art Tatum if I want." And I said, "Get out of here, Thelonious! Stop kidding around!" He said, "Well, check this out." He made a Tatumesque run on the piano and my eyeballs and my ears almost fell off of my head. He said, "But I don't need that." So he played what he had to play, that's all it is. He didn't need to be making flourishes and doing pianistic aerobics. He just played what he wanted to play and he did it perfectly. You never heard him uptight, man."

Many people fondly remember the "tough tenor" combo you and Eddie "Lockjaw" Davis had in the early 1960s. For me, the great thing about that group was that each of you had his own identity. There was never any doubt which one of you was playing. Exactly. We really had great contrasts in our styles. I could never understand how Jaws was playing. For years I was around him-he was like my big brother after a while. I could never understand how he'd do things. He put corks under some of the keys! I said, "Jaws, what're you putting corks-?" He said, "I don't need them, I don't need them." He didn't use the keys, didn't need them! I'm always looking for a way to put more keys on it, but he didn't need 'em. He played more for sound than for notes. And strong. And that style he had, why no one could play that style. Sometimes we'd call him "Little Ben," referring to Ben Webster, but he was really his own man. I was amazed at some things he'd do. I thought he was gonna chew up the mouthpiece sometimes. He did some athletic things, whatever, but the sounds coming out of that horn! I don't mean like "free jazz," nothin' like that, but what he could do! That book that Eddie Harris had out, intervallic exercises, why Jaws could do that with ease. And I know he never saw Eddie Harris' book, 'cause he was doing that before Eddie Harris ever put it down. Such strength! Wow! But today, with some of the younger musicians, sometimes it's hard to tell them apart. Yeah, I have trouble with that, too. I think it comes from the way the musicians have to learn their craft these days, being at the universities, the Berklee Schools of Music. The teaching that they give makes very fantastic technicians with fantastic abilities to play and to read. But you know, when I came up, and the other musicians like Jaws, Dexter, Wardell, Jug, jazz was not learned in the classroom. The "classroom" was playing in public, whether on some street corner, in the park, in some smoke-filled clubs or whatever. Or in big bands. I think that you need an audience to bring the personality out of yourself. You need other people for that. That's why I hate to play in the studio, 'cause I don't have anyone to play to. When I play I like the vibrations of people, 'cause it helps me create. I want to see people, not microphones. So I think that's why it's hard for you to tell most of these young cats apart, because they've more or less learned technically the same way. It's almost like having the same teacher. But while I had Dyett as my teacher, I never sounded like Gene Ammons or John Gilmore or Clifford Jordan or whoever. We learned how to play out in the street, I mean, in public. You see, there are no clubs like that anymore. When I went to Europe in '63, there were clubs everywhere, from Harlem to Brooklyn, all over New York. Now you have four or five clubs and that's it. And then all these wonderful musicians, they have no place to play, which is a pity.

Why did you move to Europe?
Problems. Plus I had been well-received in Europe in the months before that. Coming back to New York I had family problems, government problems, tax problems. And the way that the supposed jazz critics were promulgating the avant-garde or "free jazz," I thought it was a bad joke. I thought it was a pity. I liked some of the musicians, but the playing was making me sick. I had the chance to go back to Europe and be free without the pressures here, people telling me what I could do and what I couldn't do, the agents in New York. And racism. There was such a big difference. Before I went, the record company, Riverside, said, "Go to Europe. Promote these records." "Go to Europe for what? I mean, New York, this is heaven." But I went to Europe and spent three months there and my eyes were opened. You know, America is very chauvinistic. "This is the world," that's what the soldiers say. "This is the world. The rest of it is nothin'," which is ridiculous. And being from the Middle West, you didn't hear people talking about Europe or Asia or anything. But there's some people over there, too. And musicians-especially now-over there. Then I went back to Europe, 'cause Bud Powell was there and Kenny Drew was there. Kenny Clarke was there. Dexter was there. I had a big family over there. Sahib Shihab, Idrees Sulieman were there. Memphis Slim, the blues singer, was there. Art Taylor came over the same year that I did. He had been over there earlier. And a lot of musicians were coming over at that time. In fact, at any given time I think there are more American musicians living in Europe than there are in America. They're always coming. Young cats that I don't even know, that I haven't met, but I keep meeting when I go to Paris because they're working. Well, the United States, you know what it's like here. Jazz music has a much higher profile in Europe than it does in America. It's really different there. I'm sorry to say it, but it's true. I've been coming back for 15 years and I really know it's true.

So in 1963, there was enough work for you in Europe? Well, I worked six months at the Blue Note in Paris at a time. You could go outside of France to Belgium, Holland, Germany-the Germans started waking up to jazz-Italy, Spain, England, Scandinavia. So in that small area, there was a lot of music, a lot of venues to play. When I lived in Paris, it was the golden age of jazz there, at that time. Is it still good today? Yeah, really. I've had my compositions arranged for different bands. I played in Hamburg. I just did 10 titles there five months ago. I'm going to Stuttgart this summer with the band with five or six titles, to Frankfurt, to Cologne, to Munich, to Berlin. And then I'm going to be doing some ballads with a string orchestra in Heidelberg and some things in Holland with the Metropole Orchestra. And I'm doing 10, 11 concerts with the National Jazz Orchestra of France. Then I have my groups that I work with, French and Italian musicians in France. When I go to Copenhagen, I work with Kenny Drew. [Note: Pianist and longtime expatriate Kenny Drew died in Copenhagen in August 1993.] So it's a good way to be bobbin' and weavin' through all this. Sure, it's a good life. You did live in Holland for a while. Seven years-my wife is Dutch. The weather ran me out of Holland, bad weather over there. But there's a lot of music in that little country, 14, 15 million people, because the government subsidizes the small clubs and the musicians straight away. They subsidize classical music, they subsidize jazz-not rock. And in France, you have a Minister of Culture, he sees that jazz gets its share of the money. There's that interest. You see jazz on television. You hear it, of course, on the radio. All the different FM stations have "jazz hour." Unfortunately, that's very rare in the US. This country's changed so much. When I grew up, we had music appreciation class for eight-, nine-year old kids. I mean, we had to listen to an hour of classical music every week. It's no more. I went back to DuSable High School where I learned music. They were honoring my late bandmaster, Dyett, and I had one wish to see the band room where I had studied. There was no band room, there was no music department. They cut it out! And I can't tell you how many kids that program saved, kept off the streets, kept the kids busy doing something worthwhile. Why is that they always cut music out when they have any budgetary problems? They cut music out, like it's not necessary. They don't realize the importance of music for the emotional health of people. They're so busy commercializing everything. I think that every kid should be able to play an instrument, even if it only lasts one or two years. A little piano, a little something. It brings a sensitivity to the soul that will be missing later on if it's not offered. You write most of your compositions on computer now. How did you get started doing that? I was speaking with Dave Holland, the bassist, when he was doing this Philip Morris tour back about five or six years ago. He was talking about how he was using computers as a teaching device, also. And then I went to Chicago and met my daughter's boyfriend. He plays drums now, I think, with some rock band, but he was working for some great securities company or something. They have to watch the markets all over the world and he was working on computers. He had this Mac in his house. This young man couldn't read a note as big as this building. But he was doing music for Porsche automobile commercials with the keyboard he had, 'cause he knew computers. And I got interested in it. So I got me one. I play something on the piano and I write it into the computer. Or I play it in with the synthesizer-but usually I like to write it in-and play it back through the synthesizer and get all these different variations of sound. Synthesizers are OK for what they are. I'm an acoustic person, but this gives me a good idea how acoustic instruments would sound. And of course with the memory of the computer, which is fantastic, man, I can print all the music out and just hand it to the musicians, which is much better than my writing it out by hand. The computer just does it. With the software that they have now for composing, it's fantastic. Then I've been talking to Jimmy Heath out at his house and now I've found some French musicians who are doing it, which really helped me a lot. It just grew. I can't wait to get back to it with the ideas that I have acquired just in these few weeks since I left home. So France really is home to you, now. Do you think you'll ever move back to the US? No. I feel good where I am. That's not to say that I would never come back after all, but the way I feel now, I don't see no reason to go anywhere. I love it where I am. It's heaven. I can't think of any better place to be, really. I eat vegetables from my garden, fruit from my garden, and the people are nice around me. I have my music room with my piano, my computer, my synthesizer to play it back. That's my "rehearsal band." Of course, it's a safari when I have to go to work, but when I get back home, it's lovely.

Johnny Griffin still makes his annual birthday visit to the United States, with his week-long gigs in Chicago and New York. But he always returns to his beloved French countryside. © Bob Bernotas, 1994; revised 1999. Used by permission. All rights reserved. © COPYRIGHT 1996 - 2007 and Beyond - Mel Martin mel melmartin.com

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Mahmoud Darwish, Great Poet, Critic, and Activist: 1941-2008

Mahmoud Darwish, 1941-2008

http://www.nytimes.com/aponline/world/AP-Obit-Darwish.html

All,

The world has lost one of the greatest and most profound poets of the past century, the extraordinary Palestinian poet Mahmoud Darwish. A legendary and iconic cultural and political figure of the Palestinian people (who traditionally deeply cherish, honor, and appreciate the art of poetry) Darwish wrote over 20 volumes of vastly popular and critically acclaimed poetry and his work was translated into over 20 languages throughout the world. Darwish was instrumental in making a global audience conscious of the heroic struggles of the Palestinian people for independence from Israeli colonial occupation and the ongoing fight for sovereignty and statehood This is a major loss but the tremendous legacy Darwish has left for people everywhere who revere art, freedom, and justice will never die.

Kofi


Published work by Mahmoud Darwish

Poetry

Asafir bila ajniha (Wingless birds), 1960
Awraq Al-Zaytun (Leaves of olives), 1964
Ashiq min filastin (A lover from Palestine), 1966
Akhir al-layl (The end of the night), 1967
Yawmiyyat jurh filastini (Diary of a Palestinian wound), 1969
Habibati tanhad min nawmiha (My beloved awakens), 1969
al-Kitabah 'ala dhaw'e al-bonduqiyah (Writing in the light of the gun), 1970
al-'Asafir tamut fi al-jalil (Birds are Dying in Galilee), 1970
Mahmoud Darwish works, 1971. Two volumes
Mattar na'em fi kharif ba'eed (Light rain in a distant autumn) 1971
Uhibbuki aw la uhibbuki (I love you, I love you not), 1972
Jondiyyun yahlum bi-al-zanabiq al-baidaa' (A soldier dreaming of white lilies), 1973
Complete Works, 1973. Now al-A'amal al-jadida (2004) and al-A'amal al-oula (2005).
Muhawalah raqm 7 (Attempt number 7), 1974
Tilka suratuha wa-hadha intihar al-ashiq (That's her image, and that's the suicide of her lover), 1975
Ahmad al-za'tar, 1976
A'ras (Weddings), 1977
al-Nasheed al-jasadi (The music of human flesh), 1980. Joint work
Qasidat Bayrut (Ode to Beirut), 1982
Madih al-zill al-'ali (A eulogy for the tall shadow), 1983
Hissar li-mada'eh al-bahr, 1984
Victims of a Map, 1984. Joint work with Samih al-Qasim and Adonis in English.
Sand and Other Poems, 1986
Hiya ughniyah, hiya ughniyah (It's a song, it's a song), 1985
Ward aqal (Fewer roses), 1985
Ma'asat al-narjis, malhat al-fidda (Tragedy of daffodils, comedy of silver), 1989
Ara ma oreed (I see what I want), 1990
Ahad 'asher kaukaban (Eleven planets), 1992
Limaza tarakt al-hissan wahidan (Why did you leave the horse alone?), 1995. English translation 2006 by Jeffrey Sacks (ISBN 0976395010)
Psalms, 1995. A selection from Uhibbuki aw la uhibbuki, translation by Ben Bennani
Sareer El-Ghariba (Bed of a stranger), 1998
Then Palestine, 1999 (with Larry Towell, photographer, and Rene Backmann)
Jidariyya (Mural), 2000
The Adam of Two Edens: Selected Poems, 2001
Halat Hissar (State of siege), 2002
La ta'tazer 'amma fa'alt (Don't apologize for what you did), 2003
Unfortunately, It Was Paradise: Selected Poems, 2003. Translations by Munir Akash, Caroyln Forché and others
al-A'amal al-jadida (The new works), 2004. A selection of Darwish's recent works
al-A'amal al-oula (The early works), 2005. Three volumes, a selection of Darwish's early works
Ka-zahr el-lawz aw ab'ad (Same as almond flowers or farther), 2005

Prose

Shai'on 'an al-wattan (Something about the homeland), 1971
Wada'an ayatuha al-harb, wada'an ayuha al-salaam (Farwell, war, farwell, peace), 1974
Yawmiyyat al-hozn al-'aadi (Diary of the usual sadness), 1973
Dhakirah li-al-nisyan (Memory for Forgetfulness), 1987. English translation 1995 by Ibrahim Muhawi
Fi wasf halatina (Describing our condition), 1987
al-Rasa'il (The Letters), 1990. Joint work with Samih al-Qasim
Aabiroon fi kalamen 'aaber (Bypassers in bypassing words), 1991
Fi hadrat al-ghiyab (In the presence of absence), 2006


See poem entitled "Under Siege" by Mahmoud Darwish following the obituaries


Palestinians plan big funeral for poet Darwish
Sun Aug 10, 2008
By Mohammed Assadi

RAMALLAH, West Bank (Reuters) - Mahmoud Darwish, whose poetry encapsulated the Palestinian cause, will get the equivalent of a state funeral in the West Bank on Tuesday -- an honour only previously accorded to PLO leader Yasser Arafat.

Tributes for Darwish poured in on Sunday, a day after the 67-year-old writer died from complications following heart surgery in a U.S. hospital in Houston, Texas.

"He translated the pain of the Palestinians in a magical way. He made us cry and made us happy and shook our emotions," said Egypt's vernacular poet Ahmed Fouad Negm.

"Apart from being the poet of the Palestinian wound, which is hurting all Arabs and all honest people in the world, he is a master poet," Negm told Reuters in Cairo.

Darwish's funeral in Ramallah will be the first sponsored by the Palestinian Authority since Arafat died in 2004.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas declared three days of national mourning. People held candle-lit vigils on Saturday and Sunday in the darkened streets of Ramallah, where Darwish's poems were read aloud and some mourners wept.

French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner said his country shared Palestinian admiration for "this great figure whose poetry, which reflects nostalgia and liberty, speaks to us all.

"Mahmoud Darwish knew how to express the attachment of an entire people to its land and the absolute desire for peace. His message, which calls for coexistence, will continue to resonate and will eventually be heard," Kouchner said in a statement.

The poet, born in territory now Israel, had made his home in the West Bank city since returning in the 1990s from a long exile during which he rose to prominence in Arafat's Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO).

"The Palestinian question, in Mahmoud Darwish's poetry, was no longer a legend, but the story of people made of flesh, blood and feelings," said Zehi Wahbi, a friend of Darwish and a Lebanese television presenter and poet.

For Arab League Secretary-General Amr Moussa, Darwish was "the voice of Palestinian civilisation, with its pains, sadness and ambitions".

Widely seen as the Palestinian national poet, Darwish's writing was much translated.

Several of his books were translated into Israel's vernacular, Hebrew, though the nationalist message of his work was largely shunned in the Jewish state, where a plan in the 1990's to teach his poetry in state schools was quickly shelved.

Darwish won new generations of admirers with work that evoked not just the pain of Palestinians displaced, as he was as a child, by the foundation of Israel 60 years ago, but also subtle paradoxes and broader human themes.

He enjoyed a following across the Arab world, where he had the kind of readership contemporary poets in English and other European languages, eclipsed by novelists, can only dream of.

"He turned the Palestinian cause into songs that transcended the cause and all other Arab issues," said Abdel-Rahman al-Abnoudi, a prominent Egyptian poet and a friend of Darwish.

Darwish gave voice to Palestinians' dreams of statehood, helping to craft their 1988 declaration of independence.

He penned the words Arafat spoke at the United Nations in 1974: "Today I have come bearing an olive branch and a freedom fighter's gun. Do not let the olive branch fall from my hand."

(Additional reporting by Allyn Fisher-Ilan in Jerusalem, Thomas Perry in Beirut, Alaa Shahine in Cairo and Tamora Vidaillet in Paris; Writing by Alistair Lyon, edited by Richard Meares)

August 9, 2008
Palestinian Poet Mahmoud Darwish Is Dead at 67
By THE ASSOCIATED PRESS


GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip (AP) -- Mahmoud Darwish, a Palestinian cultural icon whose poetry eloquently told of his people's experiences of exile, occupation and infighting, died Saturday in Houston. He was 67.

The predominant Palestinian poet, whose work has been translated into more than 20 languages and won numerous international awards, died following open heart surgery at a Houston hospital, said Nabil Abu Rdeneh, a spokesman for Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.

Born to a large Muslim family in historical Palestine -- now modern-day Israel -- he described his people's struggle for independence while also criticizing both the Israeli occupation and the Palestinian leadership. He gave voice to the Palestinian dreams of statehood, crafted their declaration of independence and helped forge a Palestinian national identity.

''He felt the pulse of Palestinians in beautiful poetry. He was a mirror of the Palestinian society,'' said Ali Qleibo, a Palestinian anthropologist and lecturer in cultural studies at Al Quds University in Jerusalem.

Darwish first gained prominence in the 1960s with the publication of his first poetry collection, ''Bird without Wings.'' It included the poem ''Identity Card'' that defiantly spoke in the first person of an Arab man giving his identity number -- a common practice among Palestinians when dealing with Israeli authorities and Arab governments -- and vowing to return to his land.

Many of his poems have been put into music -- most notably ''Rita,'' ''Birds of Galilee'' and ''I yearn for my mother's bread'' -- and have become anthems for at least two generations of Arabs.

He wrote another 21 collections, the last, ''The Impression of Butterflies,'' in 2008.

Qleibo described Darwish's poetry as ''the easy impossible,'' for Darwish's ability to condense the Palestinian narrative into simple, evocative language -- breaking away from the more traditional heavy, emotive and rhythmic verse of other Arab poets.

Darwish wrote the Palestinian Declaration of Independence in 1988, read by the late Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat when he unilaterally declared statehood. The declaration was symbolic and had no concrete significance.

Darwish's influence was keenly felt among Palestinians, serving as a powerful voice for many.

''He started out as a poet of resistance and then he became a poet of conscience,'' said Palestinian lawmaker Hanan Ashrawi. ''He embodied the best in Palestinians ... even though he became iconic he never lost his sense of humanity. We have lost part of our essence, the essence of the Palestinian being.''

Last year, Darwish recited a poem damning the deadly infighting between rival Palestinian groups Hamas and Fatah, describing it as ''a public attempt at suicide in the streets.''

Darwish was born in the Palestinian village of Birweh near Haifa, which was destroyed in the 1948 Mideast war that led to Israel's independence. He joined the Israeli Communist Party after high school and began writing poems for leftist newspapers.

''When we think of Darwish ... he is our heart, and our tongue,'' said Issam Makhoul, an Arab lawmaker and veteran member of the Israeli Communist Party.

Darwish left Israel in the early 1970s to study in the former Soviet Union, and from there he traveled to Egypt and Lebanon. He joined the Palestine Liberation Organization, but resigned in 1993 in protest over the interim peace accords that the late Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat signed with Israel. Darwish moved to the West Bank city of Ramallah in 1996.

His work is widely admired on the Arab and Palestinian street. In Israel, it evokes different feelings.

In 2000, Israel's education minister, Yossi Sarid, suggested including some of Darwish's poems in the Israeli high school curriculum. But Prime Minister Ehud Barak overruled him, saying Israel was not ready yet for his ideas in the school system.

In 1988, a Darwish poem, ''Passing in Passing Words,'' was read by then-Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir inside Israel's parliament as an example of the Palestinians' unwillingness to live alongside Jews. The poem suggested that Darwish called for Jews to leave the region.

Adel Usta, a specialist on Darwish's poetry, said the poem was misunderstood and mistranslated.

''He created a national Palestinian identity that no other poet could achieve,'' Usta said.

Darwish married and divorced twice. He does not have any children.

Siham Daoud, a fellow poet and longtime friend of Darwish, said he traveled to a hospital in Houston, Texas, ten days ago for the surgery and asked not to be resuscitated if it did not succeed. She said Darwish had a history of heart problems, and had been operated on twice in the past.

Akram Haniyeh, Editor-in-Chief of the Al Ayyam newspaper and a close friend of Darwish, was by Darwish's bedside in Houston. He said Darwish underwent an operation on Wednesday and there were complications.


Mahmoud Darwish, poet of the Palestinians, dies Sat Aug 9, 2008 By Mohammed Assadi and Ali Sawafta


RAMALLAH, West Bank, Aug 9 (Reuters) - Mahmoud Darwish, whose poetry his fellow Palestinians embraced as the voice of their suffering, died on Saturday after heart surgery in Texas.

President Mahmoud Abbas declared three days of national mourning to honour the 67-year-old writer who, a close friend said, never came round from a major operation two days earlier.

"The passing of our great poet, Mahmoud Darwish, the lover of Palestine, the pioneer of the modern Palestinian cultural project, and the brilliant national leader, will leave a great gap in our political, cultural and national lives," Abbas said.

"Words cannot describe the depth of sadness in our hearts," he added. "Mahmoud, may God help us for your loss."

The death of a man whose life and words were tightly bound up in a struggle for a Palestinian national rebirth that seems little closer now than when his first work was published in 1960 immediately triggered a wider outpouring of popular emotion.

As news from Houston filtered through, people, some weeping, gathered round candles in the darkened streets of Ramallah. The poet had made his home in the West Bank city since returning in the 1990s from a long exile during which he rose to prominence in Yasser Arafat's Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO).

Palestinian television interrupted programmes to air film of Darwish, the "national poet", reading from his work. Officials said his body would be flown back for burial in Ramallah.

He won new generations of admirers with work that evoked the pain of Palestinians displaced, as he was as a child, by the establishment of Israel 60 years ago, but also did not shrink from criticism and touched on broader human themes, like love.

An intensely private man who largely lived alone, he enjoyed a mass following across the Arab world, where he had the kind of readership contemporary poets in other languages only dream of.

Palestinians at home and abroad spoke of intense, personal feelings of bereavement. "His death is a loss to the Palestinian people, to the Palestinian cause and to freedom-loving people around the world," said Ahmad Ibrahim, a banker in Ramallah.

Philosophy professor Abdel-Rahim al-Sheikh was choked with emotion: "I cannot speak now. My soul is not helping me."


EXILE

Just last month Darwish packed out a hall for a reading in Ramallah and millions watched on television an event to mark the 60th anniversary of the Palestinian "Nakba", or catastrophe.

In 1948, Darwish was among that half of the Arab population of Palestine driven from their homes, in his family's case near the port of Haifa. They later returned to live in the area.

Jailed several times, Darwish left in 1971 for the Soviet Union. Exile in Cairo, Beirut, Tunis and Paris followed.

In 1988, Israel's parliament debated one work which incensed Israelis who saw an attack on the existence of the Jewish state -- though Darwish said he wanted an end only to their occupation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip: "So leave our land. Our shore, our sea. Our wheat, our salt, our wound," he had written.

"Take your portion from our blood and go away".

In 2000, an Israeli minister proposed adding Darwish to the school curriculum -- but the proposal went no further.

Darwish served on the executive committee of the PLO but broke with Arafat when the two disagreed over the 1993 Oslo accords on establishing a Palestinian state alongside Israel.

Fifteen years on, negotiations appear to most observers to be going nowhere. Violence, a split between Abbas and his Islamist rivals in Gaza and continued Israeli settlement in the West Bank leave few Palestinians hopeful of a viable state.

Last month, Darwish, a heavy smoker who had twice before undergone major heart surgery, spoke to Reuters of his fading health and his gloomy assessment of the world he would leave.

His last works are imbued with a sarcastic humour and a sense of both Israelis and Palestinians, however antagonistic, bound irredeemably together to share an uncertain future.

"Sarcasm helps me overcome the harshness of the reality we live, eases the pain of scars and makes people smile," he said.

"History laughs at both the victim and the aggressor."

In a new poem called "The Written Script", Darwish related a dialogue between a victim and his enemy who fall into a pit:

He saw Israelis bent on suicide, taking Palestinians with them, if the occupation of the West Bank went on: "A killer and his victim die together in one hole," he says in the piece.

Another recent poem "The Dice Thrower", told how Darwish saw death coming yet he clung to life: "To Life I say: Go slow, wait for me until the drunkenness dries in my glass.

"I have no role in what I was or who I will be.

"It is chance and chance has no name.

"I call the doctor 10 minutes before the death, 10 minutes are sufficient to live by chance." (Additional reporting by Wafa Amr, Joseph Nasr and Houston bureau; Writing by Alastair Macdonald)






Poem by Maumoud Darwish


Under Siege

Here on the slopes of hills, facing the dusk and the cannon of time
Close to the gardens of broken shadows,
We do what prisoners do,
And what the jobless do:
We cultivate hope.

***
A country preparing for dawn. We grow less intelligent
For we closely watch the hour of victory:
No night in our night lit up by the shelling
Our enemies are watchful and light the light for us
In the darkness of cellars.

***
Here there is no "I".
Here Adam remembers the dust of his clay.

***
On the verge of death, he says:
I have no trace left to lose:
Free I am so close to my liberty. My future lies in my own hand.
Soon I shall penetrate my life,
I shall be born free and parentless,
And as my name I shall choose azure letters...

***
You who stand in the doorway, come in,
Drink Arabic coffee with us
And you will sense that you are men like us
You who stand in the doorways of houses
Come out of our morningtimes,
We shall feel reassured to be
Men like you!

***
When the planes disappear, the white, white doves
Fly off and wash the cheeks of heaven
With unbound wings taking radiance back again, taking possession
Of the ether and of play. Higher, higher still, the white, white doves
Fly off. Ah, if only the sky
Were real [a man passing between two bombs said to me].

***
Cypresses behind the soldiers, minarets protecting
The sky from collapse. Behind the hedge of steel
Soldiers piss—under the watchful eye of a tank—
And the autumnal day ends its golden wandering in
A street as wide as a church after Sunday mass...

***
[To a killer] If you had contemplated the victim’s face
And thought it through, you would have remembered your mother in the
Gas chamber, you would have been freed from the reason for the rifle
And you would have changed your mind: this is not the way
to find one’s identity again.

***
The siege is a waiting period
Waiting on the tilted ladder in the middle of the storm.

***
Alone, we are alone as far down as the sediment
Were it not for the visits of the rainbows.

***
We have brothers behind this expanse.
Excellent brothers. They love us. They watch us and weep.
Then, in secret, they tell each other:
"Ah! if this siege had been declared..." They do not finish their sentence:
"Don’t abandon us, don’t leave us."

***
Our losses: between two and eight martyrs each day.
And ten wounded.
And twenty homes.
And fifty olive trees...
Added to this the structural flaw that
Will arrive at the poem, the play, and the unfinished canvas.

***
A woman told the cloud: cover my beloved
For my clothing is drenched with his blood.

***
If you are not rain, my love
Be tree
Sated with fertility, be tree
If you are not tree, my love
Be stone
Saturated with humidity, be stone
If you are not stone, my love
Be moon
In the dream of the beloved woman, be moon
[So spoke a woman
to her son at his funeral]

***
Oh watchmen! Are you not weary
Of lying in wait for the light in our salt
And of the incandescence of the rose in our wound
Are you not weary, oh watchmen?

***

A little of this absolute and blue infinity
Would be enough
To lighten the burden of these times
And to cleanse the mire of this place.

***
It is up to the soul to come down from its mount
And on its silken feet walk
By my side, hand in hand, like two longtime
Friends who share the ancient bread
And the antique glass of wine
May we walk this road together
And then our days will take different directions:
I, beyond nature, which in turn
Will choose to squat on a high-up rock.

***
On my rubble the shadow grows green,
And the wolf is dozing on the skin of my goat
He dreams as I do, as the angel does
That life is here...not over there.

***
In the state of siege, time becomes space
Transfixed in its eternity
In the state of siege, space becomes time
That has missed its yesterday and its tomorrow.

***
The martyr encircles me every time I live a new day
And questions me: Where were you? Take every word
You have given me back to the dictionaries
And relieve the sleepers from the echo’s buzz.

***
The martyr enlightens me: beyond the expanse
I did not look
For the virgins of immortality for I love life
On earth, amid fig trees and pines,
But I cannot reach it, and then, too, I took aim at it
With my last possession: the blood in the body of azure.

***
The martyr warned me: Do not believe their ululations
Believe my father when, weeping, he looks at my photograph
How did we trade roles, my son, how did you precede me.
I first, I the first one!

***
The martyr encircles me: my place and my crude furniture are all that I have changed.
I put a gazelle on my bed,
And a crescent of moon on my finger
To appease my sorrow.

***
The siege will last in order to convince us we must choose an enslavement that does no harm, in fullest liberty!

***
Resisting means assuring oneself of the heart’s health,
The health of the testicles and of your tenacious disease:
The disease of hope.

***
And in what remains of the dawn, I walk toward my exterior
And in what remains of the night, I hear the sound of footsteps inside me.

***
Greetings to the one who shares with me an attention to
The drunkenness of light, the light of the butterfly, in the
Blackness of this tunnel!

***
Greetings to the one who shares my glass with me
In the denseness of a night outflanking the two spaces:
Greetings to my apparition.

***
My friends are always preparing a farewell feast for me,
A soothing grave in the shade of oak trees
A marble epitaph of time
And always I anticipate them at the funeral:
Who then has died...who?

***
Writing is a puppy biting nothingness
Writing wounds without a trace of blood.

***
Our cups of coffee. Birds green trees
In the blue shade, the sun gambols from one wall
To another like a gazelle
The water in the clouds has the unlimited shape of what is left to us
Of the sky. And other things of suspended memories
Reveal that this morning is powerful and splendid,
And that we are the guests of eternity.


Translated by Marjolijn De Jager


Submitted by C.K.

Mahmoud Darwish


Copyright 2008 The Associated Press