H e a r t   S o n s   &   H e a r t   D a u g h t e r s   of   A l l e n   G i n s b e r g

N a p a l m   H e a l t h   S p a :   R e p o r t   2 0 1 4 :   A r c h i v e s   E d i t i o n



Kirpal Gordon


To listen to "Searching for Big Daddy Midnight: An Ellington/Strayhorn Suite," click on the play button in the audio control bar above.



Searching for Big Daddy Midnight: An Ellington/Strayhorn Suite


In a Sentimental Mood (AABA)


Ganga closed the hospital room door,

put Ghost & Grip’s Tribute CD to Duke & Strays in the boom box,

eyed the prone, unconscious Ghost & hoped his music unlocked

some sanctified Nawlins’ mojo for ill outfoxed.

The suite opened with “In a Sentimental Mood”

& in the liner notes she read the paragraph starred

& as she shrewdly suspected his words fell right in

with the tune’s first eight bars.                                  

Brooding on the peculiar coincidence

that on the bandstand this beat for beat connect

of his note & her lyric cast the spell

uniting them in their magic mission,

launching her from mere impersonation

to manifestation of a dead legend,

Ganga uttered his words now

as if aloud they could invoke Ghost

out from under his comatose condition:


“In a sentimental mood

angels of beatitude in Billy Strayhorn’s musicale

blow a mad blue chorus for us most medicinal:

freedom from hate that plays unconditional;

freedom from self-pity & all forms of takin’ it personal;

freedom from the fear of doing something that might help

someone else more than it may help me myself;

& freedom from the blister

that thinks I’m better than my brother & sister.

These freedoms Strays long ago wrote

shine alive in the bending of an ax’s blue note.”



Daydream (A A B A B)


“Stray beam, ‘twas in a day dream’s scene

I gleaned the crash head-on,

a pavane gone to broke down done,

my songboat hauled upriver to Dead’s Town

where nothin’ floats back from. 

A chronicle of an ironical hex foretold,

there me was, Jim,

Mickey Finned & Gone Within,

compin to stompin’ sax lines

walkin the bar’s war crimes,

talkin feisty, greasy & funkified fried

but in the end tied less to a distressed mess

than a zombie’s mess line,

rhymin tin pan corn to shine

mellow & fine on hard nods,

large ‘You Send Me’ mends

now no longer maskin’ their bouts

with the bends, amen.


“Not quite baskin’ in clover,

my numb jaw kept askin’, When gig over?,

thrashin down stash-busted’s crash course

in pain & achin’, moanin’ almighty cash elastic

in rollin’ stone-slammin’ hospital zones,

slippin C notes gin-soaked in Sellin’ Hope,

how hauled afloat we owned a lone flight’s delight

of low notes bowed but so slightly. Up nightly:

a cell of terror, a ward of cancer, a bin of loony,

solitaire’s chance meeting of goon squads

in gloomy doomsday’s bare gray & blue bars.

Let’s call this last stop a humble station,

the junction of extreme unction’s kyrie eleison

or daren’t I mention obituary complication

or why Big Nursie won’t give me my medication?”



Mood Indigo (A B C D)


“An underground juke joint’s exalted reception

called me out of my no-see-‘um mausoleum

to tool a mood indigo in mad flow’s cobalt-malted heavens. 

Before an encore we paused & the speak-easy’s MC

interceded me immediately sayin’,

Just ‘cause the notes once needed playin’,

the muscled & hustled think they got it made

in the shade opening for Hades’ Hit Parade

while the best of the restless know

how the homegrown gets lost or disowned

on darkening roads home. 

But from the darkening crossroad

horse-backed Eleg Grip now showed,

chock full of mock laughter,

his double-mask facing my funeral march north

& south the wild parade what come after. 


If it be he who’d brung me back

from the cross-haired despair

of my own truth-or-dare disaster,

it fixed me hard ‘plexed

with a deep breath

bout the mastery my bandleader commanded

over life & death

but as for whatever musical tests of gnosis

might come up next or go down, Moses,

in exodus, I was ready

for ever since I said to his band goodbye,

I’ve been haunted by hues of a mood indigo

so twilight spooky I thought I died

so I stood still as death now while his smile

stretched its elegant mile

from warm to wide

& soon my huckleberry friend & I

were walking together side by side.”



Bloodcount (A B A C A B)


“Blood count, in whose heart’s fount

buds the just-so amount

of red & white corpuscles whose zero sum

spells utter equilibrium? 

In a fever dream I saw, torn from sundown,

Eleg Grip with the younger Grips, Baby & Junior,

hangin on the corner with their horns

dressed to meet Big Daddy Midnight

whom they held in scorn & rarely saw.

That old story, for sure,

but true as fever blue,

Grip stepped through the dream

& opened the way with a wave of his hand

as if to say, Good to see ya, Ghost,

cause we gotta get you on the bandstand, man. 


“My dead head under a flooded fountain

told him I’d been drowned awhile

so I didn’t know the score,

but as he handed me the charts,

my sear-suckered memory seeped ocean-sent tentacles

tear-wrenched deeply

for the music had loved me once, Black Butterfly,

all too Lotus Blossom completely.

Need me say tunes

like Things Ain’t What They Use to Be

stacked me up indiscreetly 96 feet

above the club on Great Jones Street

for in the old days,

hard hopped in eye drops,

we played it breakneck & reckless. 

But first tune out of the gate I could see

Grip had grown up, gave it space, let it breathe.


“Blood count, his alto took aim as he opened

with a bang that shot the place in blue flame.

Cookin’ hard schnapps in Pentecost & better

without the butter, brother,

so I comped lean & clean,

but could I solo, Napoleon,

only everyone wanted to know so it seemed.

Maybe a bad note’s but what hangs up unfulfilled,

yet I too wondered could I conjure still

that sweet dissonance in my signature style?

Was I too gone to try

or just not back from the dead yet?

The tension mounted,

then hung a long while.


“Blood count, the fountain drip

of a repeating left hand riff

let my right hand unlock an unknown sky

where limbo’s children come out to play sayin’,

Hosts of white doves,

bursting from love’s most blood-effusin’,

Rosacrucian power,

make the Paraclete complete

& I played the ten-fingered flower runs

they sang to me in that song brook’s bower

hiding now & at the hour

of our unscheduled but nevertheless perpetual abiding.

Blood count, what if in the end

there’s nothing to attain

but to grow more humane,

circulating the heart’s open fount,

a motherlode sum of utter equilibrium?”



Upper Manhattan Medical Group (A A B A)


“Overwhelmed to find I’m the cause of the applause,

Grip failed me not.

He met me on the bridge,

soared deeply through the skyline

of the seventh heaven I’d outlined

before the Brothers Grip stretched

the sound-scape stratospheric.

Then encore shouts

& ecstatic roars of the house

& the thought What’s it all about, Alfie,

when you sort it out playing in the wrong key

or wherever destiny leads me newly,

so they sat me on the stoop

of the Upper Manhattan Medical Group

where surgeons convinced me I was alive

as the music was still breathing

through my fingertips unduly

in purely befuddled buffoon-a-rooney.”



Tell Me It’s the Truth (Three Choruses)


Tell me it’s the truth I said

for word from Sweet Pea Street had reached us:

Big Daddy Midnight was APB

seekin Grip & his group out.

While Grip grabbed his horse,

the storm teeming, I sank into love’s labor lost,

a world now without meaning:

had my boss come all the way upriver,

past the realm of every lament in Dead’s Township

only to have me sit in for the evening? 


Tell me it’s the truth I said

for heart split in conflict about buyin’ the hype

into darkness I yearned to slip,

but Grip returned to gripe,

Don’t you get it, Ghost?

The shot with Midnight’s coast to coast,

not to sing it or wing it but once.

Rain on my own parade with my last breath?

Having escaped the masquerade of my own death,

I’ll let the music live on

in the mystery of who I am now

& that entity shall play it.”


Ganga looked up at the comatose Ghost

and wondered how she knew

his words & Duke’s music could bring him around. 

Tell me it’s the truth she said later

when flashing lights & high-pitched alerts

burst out at the same instant

followed by a cadre of doctors caregiving,

but right now Ghost opened his eyes,

looked at Ganga and smiled,

glad once again to be back among the living.




Notes on “Searching for Big Daddy Midnight: An Ellington/Strayhorn Suite


The Songs:


In a Sentimental Mood (D. Ellington; I. Mills; D. Katz), Duke Ellington, piano; Rex Stewart, cornet; Johnny Hodges, soprano & alto sax; Harry Carney, baritone sax; Wellman Braud, Billy Taylor, bass; recorded 1935 (spoken word solo: AABA)


Day Dream (B. Strayhorn; D. Ellington), Sonny Criss, alto sax; George Arvanitas, piano; Rene Thomas, guitar; Pierre Michelot, bass; Philippe Combelle, drums; recorded 1963 (spoken word solo: AABAB)


Mood Indigo (B. Bigard; D. Ellington; I. Mills), Johnny Hodges, alto sax; Shorty Baker, trumpet; Lawrence Brown, trombone; Arthur Clark, tenor sax; Leroy Lovett, piano; John Williams, bass; Louis Bellson, drums; recorded 1955 (spoken word solo: ABCD, ie 32 bars)


Blood Count (B. Strayhorn), Stan Getz, tenor sax; Kenny Barron, piano; Rufus Reid, bass; Victor Lewis, drums; recorded 1987 (spoken word solo: ABACAB)


Upper Manhattan Medical Group (B. Strayhorn), Claude Bolling Big Band; recorded 1985 (spoken word solo: AABA)


Tell Me It’s the Truth (D. Ellington), Duke Ellington Orchestra; recorded 1966 (spoken word solo: 3 choruses)



The Narrative Context:


At three in the morning Ganga Ghose, jazz impersonator, waits in Miami Hospital for word on Ghost Wakefield, her piano player & boyfriend, sidelined by a coma, thanks to a New Year’s Eve champagne bottle that burst through the club’s glass roof & down on his head. When she finds a CD copy of the Ellington-Strayhorn tribute he arranged & played on, the music that back in India had changed her life, she discovers that it has the power to change his life as well.



[A free jazz trio version of “Searching for Big Daddy Midnight” premiered at Dactyl Foundation and A Gathering of the Tribes, NYC, in 2003 with bassist Peter Priore and percussionist Steve Hirsch. This MP3 version was recorded, mixed and mastered by Thomas Dyer in March, 2013. The suite was published in the inaugural issue of Mad Blood. Used by permission of the author. Originally published in NHS 2013, http://www.poetspath.com/napalm/_special_edition_nhs_2013/.]