Plastic Saxophone

John Koethe

I hate authenticity.  I don’t mean truth
Per se, which is common sense
Plus science.  What I dislike
Is the sound of truth without the facts
To back it up, the rhetoric of conviction
Without the underlying ground, the poetry
Of air, of personality---
                                      which is why I love jazz:
I love the way its argument develops
As pure sound, in terms that remain unstated
Until the melody comes around again, and it ends.
Ornette Coleman didn’t blow up that frame
So much as deepen it, with individual instruments
So palpable they were the melody.  He bought a plastic
Saxophone out of necessity, then came to adore its sound. 
He urged Terry Gross to bring her clarinet to his group
And see what happened (she didn’t go).  I should
Elaborate these themes, but that would betray the point:
That the logic of creation isn’t based on truth,
As understanding is, but on nerve and free association
In the service of a common good, which only reveals itself
In retrospect, as a way of feeling rather than a vision.
When he died last week there was a long obituary
In the Times and an old interview on NPR.
He began each answer with “Well, . . .”---a mark
Of modesty---followed by an astonishing articulation
Of just what he meant, like his records.
He had a kind mind, a large heart and his music---
A term that seems too narrow---is a testament
To the art of someone who begat the simplest change
Of the century and remained a perfect gentleman to the end.