Get jazzy with it: CSU seniors create “The Beat Sessions”

On a Sunday afternoon last December, a group of Colorado State University senior English majors gathered in a recital room at the University of Denver’s Lamont School of Music to record the first volume of what they called “The Beat Sessions.”

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The group of six created a Soundcloud session combining slam poetry and jazz music. The idea started in their beat generation literature class after studying writers like Jack Kerouac and Allen Ginsberg. The group decided to combine the two art forms for their final project.

“Jazz and poetry have found communion since the beats started doing jazz poems in the 50’s,”

Photo courtesy of Kate McHargue.
Photo courtesy of Kate McHargue.

said Summers Baker, the brain behind the project. “We decided that we wanted to continue that tradition — to see how the writers and musicians of this day and age could alter an art form that was birthed 60-plus years ago.”

Matthew Cooperman taught the class and was impressed with the group’s collective effort.

“They decided to do a collaborative inhabitation of beat aesthetics with music,” Cooperman said. “They were able to explore a collaboration with musicians which is a touchstone of beat work. It extended our sense of literature.”

Baker paired up with his high school friend and DU jazz student Jack Dunlevie for the musical side of the collaboration. The creative process behind it was simple: the poets would stand on the stage in front of a microphone and explain the poem to the band. The band would interpret the mood of the poem and create a music piece on the spot.

Having known each other and creating music together for years, Baker said he considers his friendship with Dunlevie to be more like an artistic brotherhood.

“Since (Jack) started playing piano, we have looked for ways to combine our crafts,” Baker wrote in an email to the Collegian. “I have always had a fascination with the possibilities of combining poetry and music.”

Kate McHargue said she finds poetry to be an interesting medium of writing, even though her forté is fiction. She met Baker through a poetry slam and started a slam at Avogadro’s Number on the last Sunday of each month. She said that the creative and progressive poetry community that this group of friends created inspired her piece “Here’s What We’re Gunna Do.”

In an email to the Collegian, Chris Vanjonack said he is no stranger to reading poetry aloud, but he thinks the tone of the written work is changed when paired with music.

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“It’s a completely different ballgame to read (with) live music as opposed to the polite quiet you get at something like an open mic,” Vanjonak said.

Although this idea started in class, the group is hoping to release a second volume of “The Beat Sessions” later in the spring semester.

“There’s a reason the first CD was Vol. 1, so look out for more,” said Moonier Said.

In addition to recording more accompaniments, they want to begin performing the poetry with jazz music live, according to Dunlevie.

“We are interested in bringing the concept to clubs in a jam session kind of format,” Dunlevie said. “There would be a house band with one or two house poets, but jazz musicians and writers could come sit in and get involved.”

The group’s hard work paid off and they received an A on their final project.

“When Summers pitched this idea, I couldn’t have said yes fast enough,” Vanjonack said. “And I’m so glad I did. This was one the best experiences of college.”

Collegian Reporter Zara DeGroot can be reached at news@collegian.com or on Twitter @Zar_DeGroot