is this distance between me and what I see."
Lamantia, one of the four members of "The
Jazz/Poetry Trio" (Lamantia, Jack Kerouac, Howard Hart and
David Amram) passed on March 7th at his home in San Francisco, CA. He was 77.
friend and fellow Trio member, David Amram, looks back fondly with his reflect
. . .
Nancy Peters e-mailed me on a snowy day in early March of 2005 that Philip Lamantia
had passed away, I re-read the e-mail two times, hoping I had misread it.
was in Lowell Mass, Jack Kerouac's hometown, in the middle of a snow storm, where
I was performing at the annual celebration of Jack's birthday, presented by Lowell
Celebrates Kerouac. It was also the 50th anniversary of Charlie Parker's death.
Earlier that day, I has
spoken to a group of students visiting Lowell Mass from the University of Denver
about what a blessing it was to have known, as well as to have first played with
both Kerouac and Charlie `Parker a half a century ago when, I was their age. Now
another great original was no longer with us.
day before I received Tyler news of Philip passing, I had told their professor
Dr Audrey Sprenger and all the students about Philip Lamantia, Howard Hart, Kerouac
and myself presenting the first jazz/poetry readings ever formally held in NYC
in the Fall of 1957, first in October at the Brata Art Gallery, on December 27
at the Circle-in-the-Square Theater and then at Brooklyn College, in early 1958.
I told them about the exciting days of early 1957, when Jack introduced me to
At the time Phil
was already a veteran of the poetry scene. Lamantia had been one of the featured
poets, along with Michael McClure, Philip Whalen, and Gary Snyder, with Kenneth
Rexroth as the MC, at the Six Gallery in San Francisco Oct 7 1955, which is where
Allen Ginsberg first read Howl. Jack Kerouac was there that night as well, but
as a cheerleader of sorts, and along with Lawrence Ferlinghetti and others, an
enthusiastic member of the audience.
our readings with music two years later in NYC with Phil, Kerouac and Howard Hart,
no matter how insane everyone else's behavior became during the course of our
1957 late night/early morning marathon spontaneous presentations, Philip always
remained our anchor, with his mellifluous voice, brilliant delivery and seemingly
was Philip who created the name for the four of, the Jazz/Poetry Trio, which we
used for our public presentations. I think he realized that this way, in case
one of us showed up really late, we would still have a trio.
Howard Hart, Phil and I all called what we did together Poetry/Music-Music/Poetry,
long before our first official public appearance at the Brata in Oct of 1957.
When we were all together hanging out, we often gave countless unsolicited performances
at coffee houses, painters lofts, assorted parties, park benches and even once
on the subway on the way to Brooklyn for a formal reading.
wasn't only playing jazz. I tried to create spontaneous music in many genres,
all created on the spot to enhance the music already inherent in the phrasing
and nuances of Phil's beautiful poems.
never rehearsed. Phil was so musical that it was like playing with a great musician.
Phil's poetry tapped into the roots of many sources, from the `classic styles
and rhythms of the great poets of antiquity to the current urban street sounds
of today, and word/pictures of pastoral moments inspired by his years of travels
through the wide open spaces of the USA, Mexico, and all of the American Continent.
event we did was unforgettable, unpredictable, spontaneous, full of positive energy
and always fun. When I would talk to Phil over the ensuing years about doing another
series with Jack and Howard Hart in NYC someday, he always said "We should,
but if we don't, we can always know that we were the first to do it there."
and I had our final reunion in the Spring 2001, when I was in San Francisco, performing
for the showing of the original scroll for On the Road. The day after the showing
of the Scroll, I performed music which I created to accompany Lawrence Ferlinghetti
reading his poetry, for a CED/DVD of his Pictures of the Gone World . That night,
following the afternoon recording at Zoetrope in North Beach, photographer/film
maker Chris Felver took me to visit Philip, who had temporarily recovered from
the acute depression which had plagued him during much of his life.
night in the spring of 2001, he was as vivacious, brilliant, warm and as he was
the first time we met in early 1957, when Jack Kerouac brought Phil up my old
walk up apartment at 114 Christopher Street to play music, read poetry, and call
up our various sweethearts.
reminded Phil how I first heard his voice that night, in counterpoint to Jack's,
as their non-stop rapping got louder and louder as they trudged up the six flights
of stairs to hang out until dawn.
recalled how after I played them some music, and after they read some poems with
music, Jack made a second series of calls 1 a.m. calls to their friends and admirers
to let everyone that Philip was back in town.
remember perfectly how I listened that night to Phil and Jack, as they rapped
non-stop about the collective spirit of jazz and its sociologic effect on the
American psyche, about their shared love of Catholicism and Bhuddism, about poets
past and present from around the world who gave us all mirrors to see ourselves
in a fresh light, and about the courage and grace of various athletes, explorers,
painters, actors, painters, composers, poets and everyday folks who dared to follow
their hearts and go their own way in life.
I got to know Phil better, it became clear that Philip seemed to know, even back
in 1957 that his work spoke for itself and would always continue to do so. He
was a modest person but he had such a great intellect and flawless critical ability,
that combined with his enormous knowledge of so many forms of art, Philip knew
his work was of lasting value. While he was unfailingly generous in judging the
work of others, if one of his own poems didn't meet his high standards, he would
keep rewriting it until it did.
loved Phil's work as much as he loved Phil's spirit, humor, erudition and pure
appreciation of the beauty of all that surrounded us, which so many people in
the 1950s took for granted or ignored. Phil was always ahead of what was supposed
to be happening, (but still always right in time). He had an understanding of
the machinations of the international arts scene that none of us ever did. This
was because He had been acclaimed as a child prodigy, hailed as a Surrealist poet
while still a teen-ager, but early on abandoned the whole international literary
scene to pursue his own pure path.
all thought that he was much more than a Surrealist poet, just as we knew that
Kerouac was much more than a Beat writer and that Charlie Parker a true genius
and vastly more than just a be-bop saxophone player. Like any significant artist
or person of substance, Philip walked his own path, and defied categories. No
title could do him or his work justice.
was and always will be Philip Lamantia, poet extraordinaire. If you ever needed
to know more about him than that, or wonder now why he has been held in such high
esteem for over a half a century, all you have to do is read his poems.
he is gone, but through his timeless writings, his voice will always be with us.
recently discovered an old acetate recording that Phil, Howard Hart and I made
in early 1957, and am transferring it to CD and giving it to Nancy Peters so that
she and Phil's estate can let future generations hear what it was like to hear
him read his poetry than. Chris Felver filmed us in 2001 at our reunion/jam session
at Phil's apartment, to celebrate our continuing efforts forty-four years later.
We are giving copies of that to Phil's estate as well.
always carry a copy the old black and white poster of our 1957 jazz/poetry readings
at the Circle-in-the-Square Theater, with Phil, Kerouac and Howard Hart, in my
pocket with me. I always tell kids, when they see it, that we all hoped that what
we did back then now proves that a thing of beauty is a joy forever, and all of
us would be happy if our work could in some way inspire them to pursue their dreams,
to never give up trying, and to be brave and collaborate with others.
as I do with Jack and Howard, I will always carry, along with the copy of that
old poster in my pocket, the memory of the spirit of Philip Lamantia in my heart.
March 16, 2005
Learn More about Philip Lamantia.