by Steve Heilig
Poetry married with jazz enjoyed a brief heyday in the San Francisco Bay Area and elsewhere during the fabled Beatnik era, although legendary poet Kenneth Rexroth reportedly called the melange “a shotgun wedding.” Still, some musicians and poets have soldiered on, melding carefully chosen poetic forms and adventurous music into something, well, cool indeed.
Longtime Marin cohorts Peter Coyote and Lewis Richmond, decades-long colleagues in Zen Buddhism, have now forged an artistic collaboration in a one-time performance of poetry and music on Sunday, October 25 at 2pm at the Throckmorton Theatre in Mill Valley. Richmond’s contemporary classical music group, The Melanthium Ensemble, will perform his original compositions, and together they will present premieres of poems by Coyote, for which Lewis composed original music.
Besides Coyote’s renown as an actor, author and narrator—who recently received an Emmy for his work on Ken Burns’ The Roosevelts—he has for decades quietly cultivated the craft of poetry, which he will be reading in public for the first time. Richmond, a Zen teacher and author (most recently of Aging as a Spiritual Practice), brings a lifetime of musical studies in piano and composition to the stage with his “chamber fusion” blend of classical, jazz and blues influences.
Coyote has been Richmond’s Buddhist student for many years, and now they teach together. Of their Zen relationship, Richmond says, “Peter and I are a natural fit. I have always felt that the true role of Buddhist practice is to develop the clarity and courage to actually be truly of help to people wherever you might find them. In all his various activities and roles, as a political and social activist, performer and teacher, Peter has always done that; he has a natural gift for it which his Zen study has further enhanced.”
“My work with Lew has been an inspiration,” notes Coyote, who is now an ordained Zen priest. “He has inspired me to dedicate myself to ‘Suzuki-roshi’s way’—the path clarified for him by his teacher, the founder of San Francisco Zen Center. The icing on the cake is humor, mutual respect and a common dedication to helping others. Plus, he swings musically.”
The other members of the Melanthium Ensemble are all highly regarded veterans of the Bay Area music scene. Craig Fry, violin, is a veteran of many styles, including tango, klezmer and vintage jazz. He was the long-time violinist for The Paul Dresher Ensemble, a featured performer with the Margaret Jenkins Dance Company, and has performed at Lincoln Center, and in Japan, Europe and Indonesia. Fred Randolph, bassist, is widely known as a master jazz performer. He leads his own jazz group, and his latest CD is Song Without Singing. Jay Rizzetto, trumpet, is a master teacher and performer whose career as a soloist and symphony musician spans many decades.
Thus, this musical and poetic wedding, “shotgun” or not, promises to be a happy and fruitful celebration.
The Melanthium Ensemble with Peter Coyote; Sunday, October 25; 2pm; 142 Throckmorton Ave., Mill Valley; $21-$36; throckmortontheatre.org/event/melanthium/; 415/383-9600.