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Jazz in the Poetry, Poetry in the Jazz

Friday at the Forum for Contem porary Art, a rare treat is planned for jazz and literature lovers. "Jazz in the Poetry, Poetry in the Jazz" program features alto and soprano saxophonist and former St. Louisan Eric Person, performing with St. Louis poet Jonathan Smith. Accom panying Person will be bassist Willem von Hombracht, who's currently providing rhythmic support in the Willie Atkins Group.

A graduate of Normandy High School, Person left town in 1982 when he was 19. During a recent phone interview, Person said that while gigging around town, he was "just gearing up for New York. I kind of decided when I was 11 that I wanted to be a professional musician." Since leaving St. Louis, Person has focused on apprenticing with some of the most innovative jazz groups. His two-year stint with pianist (and also former St. Louisan) John Hicks and three years with Ronald Shannon Jackson's Decoding Society caught the ear of veteran drummer Chico Hamilton. Person has since played with the McCoy Tyner Big Band, David Murray's Big Band and drummer and fellow former hometowner Ronnie Burrage's Quintet. He also spent three years with the groundbreaking World Saxophone Quartet. He now leads his own group and plays with bassist Dave Holland's Quartet. Concerning his time with the World Saxophone Quartet, Person says "a lot of the things I learned about playing and the goals I wanted to {achieve}, I wasn't able to bring to fruition until after I left. I feel I'm playing far better than I was then. I'm trying to develop a sound that can be thoroughly recognizable, but not to get into any formulas. By doing what I'm doing, I feel like I'm revitalizing the music, bringing it into the future." While Smith and Person have not met, Smith has performed similar readings with Steve Kirby's group before that bassist also left for New York. Smith's work has been published in Callaloo, River Styx, Obsidian II and Quarterly West. After graduating from Princeton, Smith received a master of fine arts degree in creative writing from Washington University. Smith says that he relishes opportunities like this one. "My poems have many lives. You can read them and enjoy the aesthetics of the printed page, but as a performance piece they take on a new life. I don't look at poetry as a static art object. Poetry is part of the nature of jazz and the art of improvisation a there's something dynamic about it. " I'm influenced much more by musical forms than by literary forms, especially the black church rhythms of gospel," he says. …


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