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Sunday, March 05, 2023


by Dick Altman

In a 2014 interview, the saxophonist Wayne Shorter was asked how often his working quartet rehearsed. His reply was evasive and illuminating: “How do you rehearse the future?” This was classic Shorter—gnomic, gnostic, mischievous, wise. It was a bit of a humblebrag too. For more than six decades, he conjured the future of music into being, with or without the benefit of rehearsal. Shorter, who died yesterday at 89, was a giant of jazz as an improviser, bandleader, and thinker, but above all as a composer—arguably the greatest in jazz since Thelonious Monk, and inarguably one of the greatest the genre, and the United States, has ever produced. —David A. Graham, The Atlantic, March 3, 2023

                               “All or nothing at all
                                 Half a love, never appealed to me
                                 If your heart, it never could yield to me
                                Then I'd rather, rather have nothing at all…”
Wayne—I once thought Sinatra’s voice was the best one alive
to interpret the ballad that launched his career into the musical
stratosphere—until I heard yours—heard your sax—above
a hundred-and-fifty other memorable voices—wrap its breath
around my soul—your intimate—languid purr—as if stroking—
rather than playing—the notes—imbues “longing” with the blade
of desire unshared—I imagine us conversing at The Five Spot—
Greenwich Village’s storied jazz dive—your “All or Nothing at All”
doing all the talking—softly—soothingly—trying to mend
a twentyish broken heart—you keep it low and slow—no evidence
of Sinatra’s signature swing—you’re standing at the other side
of the table—answering the sadness you see in my eyes—my face—
so very you to sing as if I were the only person in the room—
                                 I said all, or nothing at all
                                 If it's love, there ain't no in between
                                 Why begin then cry, for something
                                 that might have been
                                 No I'd rather, rather have nothing at all
Your sax bewitchingly mouths the words—shares their ache—
this is your magic—to get beneath the skin of the music—to find
the pulse—to release its essence—I close my eyes—draw into me
the air filled with your genius—wonder if there will ever be another
like you—like her

Note: The poet’s father Arthur Altman composed the music to “All or Nothing at All.” Lyrics used in the poem by permission.

Dick Altman writes in the high, thin, magical air of Santa Fe, NM, where, at 7,000 feet, reality and imagination often blur. He is published in Santa Fe Literary Review, American Journal of Poetry, riverSedge, Fredericksburg Literary Review, Foliate Oak, Blue Line, THE Magazine, Humana obscura, The Offbeat, Haunted Waters Press, Split Rock Review, The RavensPerch, Beyond Words, The New Verse News, Sky Island Journal, and others here and abroad. A poetry winner of Santa Fe New Mexican’s annual literary competition, he has in progress two collections of some 100 published poems. His work has been selected for the forthcoming first volume of The New Mexico Anthology of Poetry to be published by the New Mexico Museum Press.