Jazz Verse: Jukebox Review
The atmosphere at Hoxton Hall was welcoming, without a bad seat in house. The venue was dimly lit and the theatre spanned across three stories. Although small, it bustled with excitement as people sat down, drinks in hand, eager for a night of innovative and stimulating acts. Next to me, two women engaged in animated conversation, then turned to me and explained why they were here, at this stunning venue. They helpfully drew my attention to one of the coming acts, Pete Bearder, a seasoned poet with a passion for the marriage between activism and poetry. I made a mental note of this for later.
Suddenly the lights went down entirely. There was nothing but the silence of the audience who held their breaths as the Jazz Verse Jukebox trio (consisting of a highly skilled cellist, pianist and drummer) took their places. Purple light flooded the stage as our host, BBC Radio London’s Jumoké Fashola, emerged in a glittering silver gown coupled with a beautiful blue head wrap. She brought an upbeat energy to the stage that riled the audience into laughter and a voice so powerful it sent vibrations through the place.
The music was a rich homage to familiar jazz ballads accompanied by personal pieces written by the pianist. This development of the intimate created a perspective of poetry I had not yet encountered, one where the personal is always political.
The first poet of the night, Steven Maddrell, was a lively northerner in a calculated rainbow scarf he states he wore to signify his identity as a gay man. His poetry flit between awkwardly funny and light, to a deeply introspective, personal performance in his reflection on the 1980s HIV crisis whilst drawing attention to World AIDs Day.
Just behind him was Zia Ahmed, who holds a poet Laureate and is currently showing a 5-week play. At first there was a slight uncertainty as he stepped on stage, quiet and unassuming with an oversized jacket, long curled hair and an even longer beard. The tone possessed that of scathing wit and a deadpan observation surrounding Britain’s current political turmoil and the racism surrounding Brexit. Like Maddrell, he walked the line between comedy and tragedy to the nth degree. By far his best moments resided in his shorter poetry consisting of eloquent jokes and a manipulation of music that brought a sinister and hypnotic tone -it was a fresh and innovative performance.
Other memorable moments came from Pete Bearder. Not only did he entertain me, but I felt as if I’d been taught a subtle lesson in the way words can become physical through certain enunciations, especially in his poem on energy which contorted a series of noises to newly explore the space that language holds. His last poem was compiled of many young children’s writings and carries a hopeful message about the younger generation’s optimism in the face of future difficulty. At this point I notice the other poets and musicians from earlier. The full cast joined the audience to watch the following performers, enhancing a sense of strong diverse communalism. This is clearly a platform for freedom of expression and a shared passion for each other’s work.
The last poet of the night was Theresa Lola, a British Nigerian woman who incorporated a lot of her personal experiences into her writing. She incorporates her grandfather’s battle with Alzheimers and how the memory of melody allowed her grandparents to briefly reconnect, reminding the audience of the importance of music within life. The format of the night meant this beautiful expanse of emotion was met by a talented and classically trained singer, Rachel Maby, who continued this theme of family sentiment. Her voice was indeed astounding and incredibly flexible given her ability to go from opera to the wildly different style of jazz, exhibiting brilliant control. Fashola herself joined with a beautiful song about her mother coming to Britain as an immigrant and the conversations she wished they’d had.
As the evening closed, the audience rose into uproar as the whole place came together to sing ‘Natural Woman’. It finished the night off in a feel-good manner and left many of those in their seats smiling and chatting away long after the lights went up. The poets and singers stayed in conversation with each other and other audience members, which gave me an opportunity to have a quick chat with Bearder about his poetry. We talked extensively about his new book and the way he believes his delivery provides a visualisation and texture to his words. It is at this point I took my leave, and walked, still giddy from the night’s events.
Photo Creds: Jazz Verse Jukebox
Article By Rea Moore
Edited by Grace Vickers