Thursday, June 4, 2020


This piece was published in the international anthology Poems from the Lockdown (UK: Willowdown) in April 2020.

A Fallout Unspoken

The air about us in
The coming of Spring
Feels a little more still now.
A bit more static,
Almost solid.

Gray, it hangs low, this
Concrete sky.
It casts silence over
The city that can’t seem to wake.

Sullen city
Doesn’t know where to turn.
Living herein,
Standing afar, it’s
Whispers lie dormant.

And the pall that holds us
We thought would arrive with
Howling boom and argent glow
Carries instead
A fallout unspoken.

-John Pietaro
April 4, 2020, 2:35am
End of week two, the quarantine

video/collaboration: Days of Rage


photo by Sherry Rubel

 "Days of Rage" is a collaborative vision in every sense. When photographer/filmmaker Sherry Rubel asked me to add some poetry, very late one night, to this project--before I'd seen or heard any of this film--I dug into it rapidly, feeling deeply moved by the news reports of George Floyd's horrible, tragic death. It inspired me to write two brand new works that night, both directly inspired by the struggle; she still has the other one on hold, but for very real reasons, I hope we never need to use it.

Seeing my poem "Still Winds" close this piece as Chris Forbes' music pushes the last ounce of fight-back into the skirmish, left me feeling a vital part of this. Sherry and I are collaborators on two current book projects; she is a singularly gifted photographer with a sight all her own. And Chris, I'm proud to say I've worked with in a few ensembles. As a music journalist, he is the pianist I vote for as most woefully under-recorded. The woe, however, is in the ears of the listener who has not heard him. “Days of Rage” is music of tomorrow, words of everlasting radicalism and imagery of the never-ending battle for equity.

Visuals, concept, choreography by Sherry Rubel
Music by Chris Forbes
Poetry by John Pietaro

#justiceforgeorgefloyd #blacklivesmatter #resistance

Sunday, April 12, 2020

Review and pondering: Jazz From Hell

In the days and nights leading up to the covid-19 lock down, many of we night people were convinced that the virus and resultant urgency would be captured: It has to be, this is New York; they can't just close down the damned city! But the reality set in all too soon. As one who is a music reviewer, a performer and event organizer, life without nightlife feels awfully hollow. One can count their blessings of health, but shuttered nightclubs, bars and halls remain a terrible sight. When I look back on the last show reviewed just before it all hit the fan, an event dubbed JAZZ FROM HELL, I realize how prescient that moment was.

Since the quarantine, I've been writing one hell of a lot and this includes an Apr 4 poem called "A Fallout Unspoken" which was just published in an international anthology (more on that in my next posting). But this last live review, completed on the cusp of corona chaos, somehow never made it into this blog. So, as I complete a bit of site clean-up, here it is:

NYC Jazz Record, NY@Night, April 2020 issue

“Jazz From Hell”: Kilter, ir, Titan to Tachyons
NuBlu 151, NYC, March 10

Performance review by John Pietaro

The tandem NuBlu performance spaces, favorites among the avant, boldly program improvisational new music with disparate strains of jazz and rock from the underground. Now with “Jazz From Hell” (March 10), Nublu 151 reached still deeper. Organizer Laurent David affirmed that the event title was an homage to the Frank Zappa album, but much of the music seemed inspired by…other forces. Opening was Titans to Trachyon led by composer-guitarist Sally Gates with drummer Kenny Grohowski (John Zorn, Brand X) and Matt Hollenberg all over a baritone electric guitar. The desired effects—surreal and sci-fi heavy—were evident over rhythmic accents and rapid shifts of meter and dynamics led from within by Growhowski. Next was the duo ir: 12-string banjo player Mick Barr and cajon player Erik Malave. Barr’s rolling melodic patterns against the rumbling cajon were wonderfully subject to phasing (a la Steve Reich), sashaying downbeats in this direction or that, to great effect. The final set belonged to Kilter, which included Growhowski, Ed Rosenberg III, whose bass saxophone was electronically armed, and bassist Laurent David. The trio erupted in thickets of sound with bass and bass sax unisons shredding the house. Rosenberg ignited visions of Adrian Rollini (Braxton too) as his horn painted the venue black, Growhowski drove mercilessly and by the time vocalist Andromeda Anarchia joined in, the sheer volume became an entity. Her howl recalled Diamanda Galas, dipping into Death Metal lows and ghostly highs, at once conjuring the evening’s necessary brimstone.

Saturday, February 8, 2020


Café Bohemia hosts West Village Word’s Neo-Beat experience

New York, NY: West Village Word, a monthly curation at the legendary Cafe Bohemia by poet and jazz journalist John Pietaro, launches Wednesday, February 26. This month’s artists, featured in 45-minute sets, are downtown perennials Puma Perl & Friends and rising stars Lindsey Wilson & the Human Hearts. Pietaro’s duo SHADOWS will play a brief opening to each set. The series, planned for the last Wednesday of each month, will present integrated spoken word and music, conjuring Greenwich Village's underground arts past while exploring today’s unique JazzPoetry, Neo-Beat and Post-Punk poets.

Café Bohemia was a favorite 1950s haunt of jazz legends such as Miles Davis, Charles Mingus, Art Blakey and Cannonball Adderly as well as the original Beat Generation writer, Jack Kerouac. The club, recently re-opened in its original address, is already being touted as a space for a creative community displaced by ever-rising costs. “The heritage of this place is built into its foundation”, Café Bohemia manager Christine Santelli states. “You can feel it. Between 1955 and ’60, most every jazz great played here and many recorded live on the club’s stage”. The space’s history goes back to the 1940s when, as the Pied Piper, it hosted stride piano pioneer James P. Johnson and traditional jazz trumpeter Max Kaminsky.
With live music scheduled seven nights per week—from the “cool” progressive and trad “hot” jazz schools, rollicking blues and folk, and a new residency by noted singer-songwriter Michelle Shocked, the club’s promise has quickly been realized. “All that was missing was performance poetry”, said West Village Word curator Pietaro. “Hey, the Beats walked these quarters”.

West Village Word
February 26, 8PM and 10PM sets (see below)
Admission: $20 per set
Café Bohemia 15 Barrow Street, New York NY

-8PM: PUMA PERL & FRIENDS: This Village poet and writer has five solo collections in print, most recently, Birthdays Before and After (Beyond Baroque Books, 2019.) Her band paints musical portraits behind the words: Joff Wilson, guitar; Walter Steding, violin; Danny Ray, saxophone; Joe Sztabnik, bass; Dave Donen, drums.
-10PM: LINDSEY WILSON & THE HUMAN HEARTS: The singer-songwriter, poet, actress and guitarist is a performer steeped in story-telling, social justice and the liberation of creativity. The band includes Reggie Sylvester, drums and Michael Trotman, bass.

Thursday, December 5, 2019


(Yes, it crosses boundaries judiciously)
-Sarah Bernstein
-Jason Kao Hwang
-Sana Nagano

-Melanie Dyer

-Tomas Ulrich
-Lester St Louis

-Wallace Roney
-Wadada Leo Smith
-Thomas Heberer

-Steve Swell       
-Howard Johnson
-Joseph Daley

-Nicole Mitchell
-Robert Dick
-Cheryl Pyle

-Patrick Holmes
-Ben Goldberg
-Guillermo Gregorio

Bass clarinet:
-Josh Sinton
-Michael Lytle

Soprano saxophone:
-Lee Odom
-Dave Liebman

Alto saxophone:
-Marty Ehrlich
-Kendrick Smith
-Chris Pitsiokis

Tenor saxophone:
-James Brandon Lewis
-Ras Moshe Burnett
-Evan Parker
Baritone saxophone:
-Clare Daley
-Dave Sewelson

-Ava Mendoza
-Marc Ribot
-Mike Baggetta
-Julian Lage
-Anthony Pirog

-Bill Ware
-Patricia Brennan
-Steve Nelson

-Ran Blake
-Aruan Ortiz
-Mara Rosenbloom

Upright bass:
-Ken Filiano
-William Parker
-Adam Lane

Bass guitar:
-Jamaaladeen Tacuma
-Steve Swallow

-Ronnie Burrage
-Ches Smith
-Kenny Wollesson
-Michael TA Thompson

-Warren Smith
-Cyro Baptista
-Newman Taylor Baker

-Zeena Parkins

Multi-instrumentalist (winds):
-Daniel Carter
-Scott Robinson

-Jay Clayton
-Christine Correa
-Shelley Hirsch
-Kyoko Kitamura

Poet/Spoken Word Artist:
-David Henderson
-Tracie Morris
-Yusef Komunyakaa
-Puma Perl

  • 2.    ENSEMBLES:
Large ensemble:
-Marshall Allen and the Sun Ra Arkestra
-Slavic Soul Party
-Go Organic Orchestra
-Hungry March Band

-Ran Blake and Christine Correa
Sarah Bernstein and Kid Millions

-Harriet Tubman
-William Hooker Trio with Mara Rosenbloom and Adam Lane
-Rocco John Trio with Chris Forbes and Charlie Sabatino
-Free Form Funky Freqs
-the Messthetics

-Zodiac Saxophone Quartet
-Todd Capp’s Mystery Train

-Truth Revolution
-Alternative Tentacles

-Wall to Wall Coltrane, June 9, Symphony Space, NYC
-Arts for Art Tribute to Steve Cannon, September 6, Clemente Soto Velez Cultural Center, NYC
-Ronnie Burrage:Tribute to Hamiet Bluiett, May 25, Sista’s Place, Brooklyn NY

-Lady Stardust (East Village)
-The Bar Next Door (West Village)
-Jazz at Kitano (mid-town)
-Union Pool (Williamsburg)
-Downtown Music Gallery (LES)

-David S Ware, Theatre Garone (AUM Fidelity)
-Mike Baggetta/Mike Watt/Jim Keltner, Wall of Flowers (Big Ego Records)
-Ben Goldberg, Good Day for Cloud Fishing (Pyroclastic)
-Green Dome, Thinking in Stitches (Case Study)

-David S Ware, the Balance (AUM Fidelity)

-Charles Mingus, Mingus at Antibes (Speakers Corner; originally released 1976, Atlantic)
-Thing, Thing (Cultures of Soul; originally released 1972, Innerview)

-Ben Goldberg, Good Day for Cloud Fishing (Pyroclastic)
-Charles Mingus, Mingus at Antibes (Speakers Corner; originally released 1976, Atlantic)

-Death of Steve Dalachinsky

Wednesday, October 30, 2019


NYC Jazz Record, November 2019

Performing my poem for Bern "Dancing to Incessant June" at the
2019 Bern Nix Jazz Festival accompanied by Charlee Ellerbe.
Photo by Robert Sutherland-Cohen
 By John Pietaro

As the Bern Nix Jazz Festival wrapped on September 28, Charlee Ellerbe crouched at stage-right, packing up his Steinberger 6-string. “The truth is”, he said sans irony, “I’ve never called myself a guitarist.  This is a vehicle for the melodies, the arrangements I hear”. Ellerbe, esteemed guest artist of this event honoring Prime Time’s other guitarist, held the audience in a state of fixation as he crafted melodic assaults and agitational pulsations on this vehicle he played 14 years with Ornette Coleman, time with Sun Ra and for the Coleman memorial at Lincoln Center and beyond. And then there is Matrix 12:38, which Ellerbe pridefully cites as wholeheartedly Harmolodic. “Each note can be everything to every other note”.

Born in Philadelphia, 1950, Ellerbe was inspired by the R&B and pop sounds in his midst. Seeing a guitarist friend perform in 1964, he delved into the instrument, listening closely to Kenny Burrell but, “I was more interested in what non-guitarists did, how McCoy Tyner juggled keys”, he explained. “And I loved Burt Bachrach; the arrangements gripped me”.  Drawn to rock music, his propensity for loud volumes and distortion grew along with the genre’s development. “Jimi Hendrix changed everything. And (Chicago’s) Terry Kath. His playing was creative, so unpredictable. What matters most is that the instrumentalist speaks from their soul”

Ellerbe studied composition at Philadelphia’s celebrated Combs College of Music, preparing for a career as a studio arranger. “I played in Top 40 bands and worked as a spot-welder. Caught fire a couple of times when the sparks flew!” A friend then playing trombone with the Trammps, whose “Disco Inferno” was a mass hit, advocated for Ellerbe’s hiring over months. “Finally I got the call and was touring within two weeks”.

His tenure with the band continued, but he was also recruited by organist Charles Earland, via his friend, bassist Jamaaladeen Tacuma. “Earland liked Jamaal so much he asked, ‘Are there more like you at home?’ I was in that band for a season, then Earland fired me one minute before I was going to quit! His ego was like too much oatmeal in a pot that bubbles over. The following summer, Jamaal got fired too!”, he added, laughing. But by then, Tacuma was already a member of Ornette Coleman’s latest aggregation and immediately recommended Ellerbe. “I didn’t want to do it at first. I wanted to play rock. I had my distortion pedals and I figured Ornette would be playing acoustic jazz”. Arriving at Coleman’s legendary Prince Street loft, Ellerbe saw Bern Nix already present. “Ornette wanted two guitars and two basses to cover the lows and highs of the orchestral string section. I plugged into the amplifier which was set on ‘5’ and after several songs he approached me. I thought here it comes—but he asked me to turn UP the volume. When I next looked over, hours had gone by”. At session’s end, Coleman simply asked Ellerbee if he had a passport. “I reminded him that I don’t play jazz. Ornette nodded and said ‘Okay’. So, I said it again to make sure he understood: ‘I really don’t know any jazz’ and he again said ‘Okay’. So, I said ‘Ornette, I play hard rock’. Finally, he just said ‘Well, play that then’.

So, what was Prime Time like for a hard rock guitarist and wishful arranger? For Ellerbe, nothing short of total immersion. “It was like driving on a highway: anyone can change lanes at the last minute, but the cars also paved the highway they drove on. After the melody, there’s nothing on the page. Ornette wanted to hear what he couldn’t predict”.

Still, the pace seemed insurmountable and three years in, Ellerbe offered his resignation. “Harmolodics is a bootcamp, a university without walls. I didn’t think I could keep up”, but instead, Ellerbee came to hold the title of “Ornette’s henchman”, so close was his approach in performance.
Listening to the band’s recordings, one is struck by the orchestral scope, the impossibly intricate lines like Escher staircases leading to a common destination. It’s said that Nix doubled the melody and Ellerbe played rhythm, but they morphed roles and Ellerbe’s chordal patterns became banshee howls, industrial crunches and trademark lamentations. “I needed to play aggressively. I’m not a sight reader, I’m basically a soloist, so I beat those strings up”.

By the ‘90s, Coleman reached into directions beyond Prime Time, so Ellerbe taught at Philadelphia cultural center the Clef Club before joining Sun Ra’s Arkestra for several years. “It taught me a whole other responsibility. In the 1940s, big band guitarists held down the rhythm and I’d never done that before”.

However, the lure of Harmolodics proved lasting, moving Ellerbe to form the riveting ensemble Matrix 12:38, “We’re the only band branched off from Prime Time which fully perpetuates the Harmolodic concept.  I write the melodies and they bring in everything they know”. With a line-up of Ellerbe, drummer Anthony Matthews, bassist Kenny Jackson Jr and percussionist Ready Freddie, with various horn players, the extension of Prime Time is apparent, but so is the relationship between music and atmosphere. Ellerbe is planning a recording through Philly radio station WRTI, with the goal of New York dates, followed by Europe. “Out of the Prime Time band, the public has heard from everyone but me. When I come out, it’ll be brand new. Unpredictable”

Poetry: 5:03 AM (for Steve Dalachinsky)

5:03 AM
Photo and lay-out by Sherry Rubel; excerpt of my poetry

(for Steve Dalachinsky)

3:15AM. Shhh. Speak nothing now.
Speak not.
There’s a fading din beneath the well of silence.
It turns envious the darkling.

The sun now rises later than it once did,
Doesn’t it?

4:37. September’s torrid dampness cedes to nothing
Here in Brooklyn, but
The chill of the Long Island Sound
Steve and I performing together, Brecht Forum approx 2014
Freezes the poetry in time, like
Burroughs in Morocco,
So far from home.

4:55, this day which bordered no sleep,
Mind festering, precious pain.
The sun must rise later than it once did.
Tell me it does.

The call of gulls falls deaf on hospital walls,
Where strange machinery turns, tabulates,
And sways through
Cross-rhythms of tap, scrape,
And sob.

My photo of Steve, Bowery Electric, June 2019
A dancehall of wire brushes ignites
Booming skins and shimmering bronze,
Gassing the flame of sauntering yesterday,
As after-hours haze covets
A thicket sound in vivid black

The call of Gayle in the wild, he, Streets the Clown
Seething through tubes and drips, submerged in
The unfettered, busking improvisation.
And the final night erupts joyously, leading you
South of Houston.

The colors, the shapes which fall from your pen
Cast a reflection of then into tomorrow.
Many tomorrows,
Poet Laureate of Outside.

5:03AM. The sun halts in its place, as
The mist purples
Over Spring Street.

The clouds are but a
Painted backdrop.

-John Pietaro, 9/16/19, 11:52pm,
Brooklyn NY

"5:03 AM" was first published in  John Pietaro's chapbook SMOKE RINGS (2019)

Poetry: "The Remaining"