PUTNEY — An avant-garde jazz legend will lead a group of multi-genre musicians in an incantation of poetry by his longtime collaborator, the late Vermont poet David Budbill.
“The world needs to hear the poems, whether it is set to music, or read,” said William Parker, a multi-instrumentalist, in a recent Zoom call. “It should be mandatory that every school in every city in America should have those poems in the library. And every kid should be reading those poems as soon as they learn how to read. That’s how important I think they are.”
Southern Vermont will get a chance to hear these poems at 5 p.m. Sunday at Next Stage Arts, 15 Kimball Hill, when Parker leads famed percussionist Hamid Drake and vocalists Lisa Sokolov, Kyoko Kitamura, Morley Shanti Kamen, Andrea Wolper and Amirtha Kidambi in “Sutras for a Suffering World: The Poetry of David Budbill Set to Music.” Tickets are $15 in advance and $20 at the door.
Budbill, of Wolcott, authored eight books of poems, seven plays, two novels, a collection of short stories, two picture books for children, dozens of essays and the libretto for an opera, according to the poet’s website. Much of his work was inspired by life in rural Vermont, and the details of ordinary people captivated Parker, leading to their collaboration. Budbill died in September 2016 at age 76.
According to an essay by Nadine Budbill, David’s daughter and the literary executor of his estate, Parker and Budbill met over 30 years ago after her dad, having read an article about the multi-instrumentalist in a magazine, wrote a fan letter and sent it to Parker’s hotel room in Paris, where he was playing with Cecil Taylor. The two exchanged books and music before meeting in person when Parker played a concert in Burlington.
“I was just very, very moved by the stories of the people because even though I’m a city person, I’m a people person,” said Parker, who grew up in housing projects in the South Bronx and still lives in New York. “I always was on the side of the people who were underrepresented, and people who were just what one would call regular, working-class people.”
A lot of these people, Parker said, were in Budbill’s poems, “but then he brought out another side of them,” he said. “Even though you don’t have money, and you don’t have status, you have personality.”
The two began to collaborate: Budbill reading, with Parker backing him up musically.
“It wasn’t like setting the music to the poems. It was more like jazz, was more improvisational, where he would be reading and I’d be backing him up,” Parker said. “And then we’d sort of shape that according to the poem. He did not read like a singer; he read just like David Budbill. And so, I was just setting up a backdrop for him to read.”
In her essay, Nadine highlights the differences between the two artists’ backgrounds: “One black, from the high-rise projects of the South Bronx. One white, from the coal-grit covered streets of Cleveland. One inhabits the concrete jungle of New York City. The other, rooted in the rural hills of Northern Vermont. One is a musician. The other, a poet. How is it that these two men, from such different places and experiences, became steadfast friends and collaborators?”
In the recent Zoom call, with her mother, David’s wife Lois Eby, and Parker, Nadine said the history of this friendship is an important part of the concert experience.
“This concert will be, just as a piece of art, beautiful and moving and incredible. But then there’s the stories behind the concert, and the people and the relationship between my dad and William,” Nadine Budbill said. “I think there’s just a lot of stories to tell there.”
Eby called the response to her husband’s poetry “gratifying.”
“It’s really moving that the poetry means so much to other people, to William, and I’ve learned more since David died about what it does mean to William, because we’ve now been talking about it in a way that we didn’t at the time we were living it,” Eby said.
Tickets for the show at Next Stage and more information are available at nextstagearts.org.