Program for Jazz isn't a poetry reading, and it's not a jazz band ... it's both. The performance returns to Thalian Hall this Saturday night with poetry, percussion, and a double bass. All profits benefit the New Hanover County Humane Society.
Clark Holtzman, aka "Lord Byron," is a poet and performer who hooked up with acclaimed Durham percussionist David Shore a few years ago. The duo is now a trio with the addition of double bass player Rick Eckberg. The performance is a blend of rhythms, stories, and poems ranging from Shakespeare to ee cummings to William Carlos Williams. This performance also features an interesting work from the 19th century theatre critic and poet, Leigh Hunt.
Hear our interview above with Clark Holtzman and New Hanover County Humane Society Manager, Jamie Kilgore. Find our extended conversation below. To really get a feel for this performance, listen to these clips.
Gina: Lord Byron, you were here last year and you did the Program for Jazz for the first time in Wilmington. I did see that performance and it was stunning.
Clark: Thank you very much.
Gina: I understand you've made some changes to the program this year?
Clark: Yes, we have. We have some new material and some new band members. We added a double bass player. You know, the big, fat, sexy instrument that you make love to onstage when you play it. And this guy is really good. His name is Rick Eckberg. The drummer, as you recall, his name is David Shore. So we've added Rick Eckberg. Rick has played with folks like Rosemary Clooney, Perry Como. He's one of those players who, when a band comes into town and need some pick-up players, he does that. So he's played with a lot of stuff and he also plays with the Durham symphonies. So, my point is, he knows what he's doing.
Gina: And how did you hook up with this guy? How did you walk up to this amazing double bass player and say, “I like to read poems with music behind me and could you do that?” How did that happen?
Clark: He came up to me, he came to one of our concerts. He plays in some bands with David, the drummer. That's how you hook up with anybody in the Triangle area—David knows everybody. So Rick came to one of our concerts and thought it was really cool and said, “You know, bass would be pretty neat with that.” And I said, “Let's give it a try.” So we did. So, there we go, third. And recently we've added a cornetist. We're not sure he's going to be with us in Wilmington, because he's brand new to the group, we haven't worked out all the material. Rick said not long ago, "Hey, we're a jazz band now!" And I said, let's be careful. This is about the poetry.
Gina: Tell me about the beginnings of this, what it is and what you do.
Clark: Sure. Well my background is academia and poetry. I'm a poet, or a writer of poetry. I teach a poetry class once a week up around Chapel Hill. And I taught English for many, many years. I have a PHD in English. And I've always loved especially the Renaissance, Elizabethan poems, and the metaphysicals—John Donne, Shakespeare, Ben Johnson, Robert Herrick, those folks. Partly because they write these great love poems with lots of passion and expression to them. But partly because they write damn good lyrics—I'm sorry, awfully good lyrics. Lyrics that just, for me, seem to be well-suited to a beat. And so for many years, when I've been listening to Miles Davis or Dave Brubeck or whomever, I'd start reciting some of these poems and I thought, this can be done. This is kind of a neat thing.
So one day I was hearing David play with a band that he normally plays with around Chapel Hill, and I started reciting some of these poems to him—not to him, to myself, and my wife was sitting there trying to shush me because it wasn't a restaurant... but I was having fun with it. And so I approached David afterward and said, “You know, I was doing some poems to what you guys were doing, have you ever thought about this?” No, he hadn't. But again, we gave it a try and we knew pretty fast that this was gonna work.
Gina: And you're talking about David Shore, who is a phenomenal drummer. I think I could say that without bias. I think that's like, kind of a fact.
Clark: Couldn't agree with you more. He has a repertoire—which surprised me, not being a drummer, that drummer's actually have a repertoire to pull from, of famous beats that all drummers know. Like a pianist or a trumpeter has a repertoire of music to pull from a song book. He's got a songbook of beat syncopations to pull from—from New Orleans beats to Progressive Jazz beats to Coltrane-type beats or Brubeck-type beats. And there are actually names to some of these beats, and some of these beats come from famous tunes. He pulls them out in the middle—I'll be doing a poem, and he'll be hearing one of these tunes as I'm doing the poem. Somehow he hears it in the rhythm. And then he pulls it out. So there's two things: one, he's got a great ear for rhythm and syncopation, and two, he's been playing drums since he was 14 years old. So he knows how the skins work.
Gina: And what is the repertoire, poetry-wise?
Clark: Well, you know, our tagline has become, in the last year, "Shakespeare in 5 4 time." So we're doing more Shakespeare. We're doing some Lewis Carroll. We're doing some of my own poems, and we're doing Leigh Hunt. Anybody out there who's listening, who recognizes the name Leigh Hunt, we're doing a pretty good number based on a poem of his. He was a 19th century essayist and theater critic, who happened to write one really good anthologizable poem. That's the one we're doing. Not going to say more about it though.
Gina: There's another addition this year, which is that you are actually using this opportunity to help the New Hanover Humane Society. Can you tell me about that?
Clark: Well, this came to be because of the weather that unfortunately the coast has had, especially this part of the coast and this year, this hurricane season. It has been so devastating for people, but I'm a dog owner and you know, my wife and I sit at home and we watch the news and we wonder what's happened to the dogs and the cats. Not to mention the wild animals, but we're thinking about the dogs and the cats. And so I was thinking this year—it's still close enough to that terrible experience, every dog and cat must've suffered down here—that we ought to expand our horizons a bit and try to work with a local group on behalf of those dogs and cats. Hence the humane society.
Gina: And we have with us Jamie Kilgore, the manager of the New Hanover County Humane Society. Jamie, what can you tell us? Clark was moved by the suffering and, as we know, in our area and all across our region, it has been a hard time for some animals. How have you been impacted, in terms of the work that you're doing over there, by the hurricane?
Jamie: Well, right now everything at our shelter is storm-related. Every dog and cat that is there at this time is related from people who've lost everything. They've tried to relocate, though a lot of them cannot relocate with their animals. We've offered food, basically anything to try to keep the family together, but people just can't take their animals with them, and a lot of times they don't have a place to stay themselves. So the animals are winding up in our shelter to be placed for adoption. And so right now that's what we have, a shelter full of hurricane victims, so to speak—of the four-legged kind.
Gina: And what kind of burden is that on you? I mean, let's see, we're two months out from the hurricane? Are you still packed with animals?
Jamie: We are. We have space now. We actually helped Carteret County, which is up near New Bern. Their shelter lost its roof and they had no space for animals, so we did take several dogs from them and we're trying to find them a home. So we're still getting animals pretty much every day.
Gina: And in terms of the type of help that you can take from the community—obviously money is always good?
Jamie: Always good.
Gina: Is there any other kind of help that the community can give to you?
Jamie: Well, we're using a lot more supplies. We did have a lot of things donated in the beginning. We still have a lot of food, and we've become a distribution center, so a lot of people that are displaced have come and picked up food from us. Supplies, cleaning supplies are always needed. Clay cat litter—everyone uses the scoopable kind, we use the old fashioned clay kind, and there's always a shortage of that. So if anybody would like to donate some of that, we'd welcome it.
Gina: Can you just tell us a little bit about the Humane Society in New Hanover County?
Jamie: Well, we're a small nonprofit. We run basically on donations. We employ 3 people and we have several volunteers—which, we couldn't do it without our volunteers. We've had several new ones since the hurricane, which is excellent, and we hope they stay because we do have a shelter full of animals to take care of. We've been in New Hanover County over 40 years in the same location on North 23rd Street. We're open on Saturdays and generally close at 2:00 every day.
Gina: And folks can come in to adopt a pet?
Jamie: Yes, absolutely. Our adoption fees are $80 and every animal that's in our shelter is spayed and neutered and vaccinated and on heartworm preventative. So we try to send them out with everything they need—a bed, a blanket, some food.
Clark: What I like best about what Jamie and her crew do out there is they don't just give a dog to somebody who comes in with the cash. It's my understanding that they have to fill out some forms, they get vetted. You actually visit where the dog's going to be so you know the dog's going to a good home.
Jamie: And not every dog requires a fenced yard. You know, there was a time when, if you didn't have a fenced yard, you couldn't get a dog, but that's not necessarily the case any longer because there are dogs that we can place in homes—you're not required to have a fenced yard because of the animal. But at our shelter we get to know the animals that are there and we try to place them where we know they're going to remain for the rest of their lives. If you're living in an apartment and you can't have a pet and you think you're going to sneak it in, that doesn't work out. We try to make sure if you are in an apartment that your landlord knows you have a pet and you've done all the things you're supposed to with your pet deposits and that sort of thing. You're not just gonna walk in there and hand over $80 and walk out with whatever you want. There's a process and application and everything to do that.
Gina: Yeah. Yeah. I know it's tragic when people get pets that they can't actually hold onto.
Jamie: We don't want it to be an impulse item, you know, and around Christmas time people come and say, "Oh, we want a puppy" or "We want a kitten" and it's not something that's for the holidays. It's not something you should take on just because your child wants a puppy or a kitten. This is a lifelong commitment for this animal, so we try our best to place them where we know they're going to stay for the rest of their lives.
Gina: Or how about those bunnies that people get at Easter for their kids?
Jamie: Ah, yeah.
Gina: It's like, are you kidding me?
Gina: Do you euthanize animals in this situation?
Jamie: We do not. Nothing's euthanized at our shelter. The only reason that an animal would be euthanized is for a behavioral problem that we couldn't work out—aggression issues, aggression towards other animals, towards people, that sort of thing. But we don't really have a time limit at our shelter, even though it is a small shelter. And our adoption rate is very good. The animals come there and they go out pretty quickly. So we're very fortunate to have, I guess, a good visibility where we are, and people are aware of our shelter.
Gina: And this performance of Program for Jazz is going to help our New Hanover County Humane Society.
Clark: In fact, all of the proceeds—of course, after Thalian takes its cut of the tickets. But the band's not taking any money out of this. The band is giving everything to Jamie and her crowd over at the Humane Society, whatever we can. We're in the Stein Theater, which holds up to 100 people. So our goal is to get 100 seats paid for there.
Jamie: We're looking very much forward to it. We're excited about it and so happy that he contacted us. We're gonna push it as much as we can. You know, we have our web page and we have our Facebook and all the social media.
Gina: What you should do is, you should put a picture of Clark on the body of a dog—
Clark: A four-legged Lord Byron.
Gina: Yeah, and a cat playing standup bass in the background.
Clark: I think there is a painting of a jazz band of all dogs, you know, you've seen those paintings of dogs and cigars, or dogs around the poker table.
Jamie: We'll have to look at that.
Clark: I think there is one of dogs playing jazz.
Clark: I don't know if my bandmates would appreciate that…
Jamie: They may not [laughs]. But we are looking very much forward to it. It's exciting.
Gina: Before we end, would you like to give me a poem, sir?
Clark: Yeah, thank you. I wanted to read a poem. We're going to do this poem at the show, to music, but I'm just going to recite it today and it's written for—actually, I have to admit, full disclosure, it's a rip-off of a Billy Collins poem, whose title I can't remember at the moment, but his first line is, "What I like best about the dogs of Minneapolis." So I ripped off the idea because it's timely and it fits our purpose here. And we tried it with the band the other night. The guys love it. So I have a little sound effect to start this with…
[sounds of dogs barking]
"The Dogs of Wilmington"
What I like best about the dogs of Wilmington is they have no idea they're in Wilmington.
They don't even have an idea they have no idea.
The same could be said about the dogs of Houston-
They have no idea they're in Houston
And about the dogs of Philadelphia-
If you asked the dogs of Philadelphia,
you'd never hear them say,
what the hell am I doing here in Philadelphia?
You could tell a dog it's in St. Petersburg
You could say it's in Schenectady
You could point out that it's in New York or Opelika or Barcelona or Vladivostok or Daytona Beach
You could tell all the dogs that they're sniffing around the base of Mount Olympus on Mars, but it wouldn't make any difference.
Dogs don't know what dogs don't know
That's what I like about the dogs of Wilmington.
They don't know. They don't even know they don't know.
Lucky dogs of Wilmington.
That's a fun poem. It's even more fun with bass drums and if the cornet is there. The guys love playing it, too. We also do a cat poem, by the way.
Jamie: Of course!
Clark: It's about a barking cat, but we'll do the cat poem.