A Note On This Past Fall

I’ve described this whole period since this past Fall as a kind of downhill slalom where I’ve taken a spill, and have been hoping for a big boulder or tree stump to slow me down. ‘Parenthesis’: However, this downhill slalom is wonderful and beautiful… And I’m just now wrapping up one of the most creative periods in my life, with my upcoming George Duke Tribute occupying an apex point in it all. That will have its own post or many posts, as it has been an extraordinary project that we’ve been working on here.

This period of creativity began with a 10-city summer tour, which we’ve already talked about. Then I went into the Fall season with a very serious project in mind, that required a sizeable chunk of personal quiet private time, to write. To write a piece called, “Ode to Ballet.” A lot of you guys remember Freddie Ravel. He was music director in my band for several years, and collaborated with me on several songs including “Tomorrow Today” and “Betty Bebop Song.” Well, his wife is a serious ballet dancer, born in Quebec, and has danced with Nureyev and Baryshnikov, pas de deux. I met Marie, “Sweetie,” just a short time after she and Freddie met. And I remember hearing parts of their telephone conversations backstage in any number of cities between her and Freddie, who addressed her as “Sweetie” to begin every sentence. It was so funny. Marie even accepts my calling her Sweetie.

Well, it’s 15 years and two children later, not to mention a serious car accident and an extensive rehabilitation, and Marie has continued to dance. In fact, she’s started her own ballet company. As I posted in November, I joined Freddie in writing our special “Ode to Ballet,” for her program On Pointe at 50… And Beyond. The poem is reproduced here:

My Kite, the Dancer (Ode to Ballet) by Al Jarreau and Freddie Ravel, 2013

We made a kite of the birch wood’s finest parchment,
Pages of paper that trees made and poets share.
It soars like the church chimes that fly through the hills and gardens
All sunlit and silent with a pigtail, like little girls wear.

My dancer, my partner, my kite tells a past
Of when kites were dancers indeed:
A tinkling piano, a bar glued to glass
And mornings with Erik Satie.

Alice and Dorothy—Good name for a song—
They hurry and scurry and curtsy at dawn.
Alice and Dorothy, pastels and chiffon,
Tchaikovsky and Dickens on Christmas Morn.

Ba-rish-nina-kovas, Marias from Spain
Come calling from towns far and wide
With waltzes and polkas and strange sounding names
From mothers who squeezed every dime.

So, is it insane: Sweet feet in binds?
On pointe in pain—Oh butterfly!

Silk satin slippers and ribbons disguise
The long hours and powers unfurled when… you… fly…

With heart beating bellows no tunics can hide
And blood pumping whispers and murmurs and sighs,
Just honey and berries and tea and plain rice
For sugar plum fairies in training to fight.

Then wonder that effortless look on your face
Right here in one moment such power, such grace.

A music box. A figurine.
A lords and ladies-a-leapin’ dream.

Some kinsmen say:
“Sweet feet in binds, on pointe in play, Brave Butterfly!
When aches and pains and agonies
Turn into joys and ecstasies.
And mark ye well this other place
Where aches and pains forge power and grace…
And gold and silver fantasies await your noble Alchemies.”

So sinews and old shoes, bright eyes off to class,
Your heart’s in your hand, your pulse pounding fast,
You twist and you bend; reach up, out, and past
As though this one moment could be your last.

My kite, the dancer, will always say:
“I’m from deep woods and forests where hummingbirds play
And the rings of these trees found in ships bows and bays
Become stories and rhymes of our times and our days.”

My paper kite dances, then stops, and then dives.
The oak and birch wood up there, still alive.

Whirling and twirling, above the lake
With shimmering reflections – a blue sky ballet.
My heart skips in awe and do I dare say
Just like the White Swan that stole the day.

And you of the dance might have used all your might
To fly over a bar or a finish line…
Well, shout “De-ga-je! Gran plié! Port to bra!”
With bouquets of roses, we stand and applaud
As you gracefully reach out and touch the face of God.

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