"Jazz is a great big sea. It washes up all kinds of fish and shells and spume and waves with a steady old beat, or off-beat." Langston Hughes, "Jazz as Communication," 1956.
Poetry and jazz; words in meter and the syncopated beat of drum and melody are twin passions of poet and drummer Jym Marks, the 81-year-old leader of the Jym Marks Quartet, which will give a free performance in the Menlo Park City Council Chambers on Saturday, Jan. 9.
"Music and poetry," Marks said, "are one family. ... Whether you sing it or speak it, it all comes out one family of creativity."
The owner of Markstyle, a hair salon and barbershop in Menlo Park, Marks says he began drumming as a teen, but became serious about it after a stint in the Army. He was living in San Francisco then, and attended every drum clinic he could, learning from musicians such as Art Blakey, founder of the Jazz Messengers, and Elvin Jones, who played with John Coltrane.
Forty-seven years ago, he also opened Markstyle at 828 Willow Road. He says the shop serves as the hub for his other artistic enterprises, both the Jym Marks Quartet, and his poetry, which has been published in 12 volumes. His latest book is called "Can't Hold My Tongue in Captivity."
His poetry, he says, is intended to foster motivation in its listeners.
"I like to feel that when I do a poem I'm not only entertaining you, but motivating you to be better at what it is you're trying to be," he said.
Marks says he brings nearly 50 years of skills and leadership to his role as band leader, and even more as drummer of the Jym Marks Quartet (and occasionally Quintet when the band is joined by its saxophonist), which has been playing together for about six years now.
"With hip hop and other fusion music that's out there today," Marks said, there are "not too many people carrying on the tradition of jazz."
And what is that tradition? Marks' metaphor for jazz sounded a little like Langston Hughes' when he said, "Jazz is the music of the world."
The Jym Marks Quartet's Jan. 9 performance will be from 11 a.m. to noon in the council chambers in the Menlo Park Civic Center. Titled "Remembering Miles," the concert pays homage to trumpeter Miles Davis' work, mostly drawing from his post-"Kind of Blue" oeuvre, with the exception of "All Blues," Marks said.
The program will include tunes such as "So What," "Straight No Chaser," "Footprints," "Stella," "Starlight," "Bye Bye Black Bird," "Eighty-one" and "Walkin'." During the performance, Marks said, he may sneak in a couple of poetry readings.
Other members of the quartet are Larry Chinn on keyboard, Mike Hallesy on bass, and Fred Berry on trumpet. Each possesses a strong musical talent and history, Marks said. Chinn has played with many "top singers in the Bay Area," while Hallesy's nickname is "White Ron Carter" because he is "always on time." Berry is the music director of the Stanford Jazz Orchestra and a professor, teaching jazz history.
Refreshments will be available at the event.
Free wheelchair accessible van service is available for Menlo Park area seniors and people with disabilities. Call 330-2512 for van reservations.
For event details, visit the Menlo Park calendar or call (650) 330-2501.