A chill evening of slam poetry, jazz, and... vocoder? William BH with permission for Varsity

There are a lot of dynamic and iconic duos throughout history that have almost become inseparable from one another. Fish and chips, for one. Or Simon and Garfunkel. Salt and Pepper. Maybe even week 5 and feeling miserable. However, in the midst of all these memorable pairings, I’d like to add one more duo to the mix: jazz music and slam poetry.

It seems like an unlikely combo, or one that runs the risk of combining two things that are separately great into something less than the sum of its parts. At least, that was the impression I was under as I made my way to the Blackbirds poetry society x Jazzsoc event “Poetry Jam, Jazz Slam” one Wednesday evening. Fortunately, all my scepticism was blown clear out the water the second I stepped into Hidden Rooms. Instantly greeted with the calm sounds of smooth jazz and a relaxed atmosphere, I settled into an unforgettable and unique evening.

“The lines between poetry and music became more and more blurred”

Even without the addition of the astoundingly talented house band providing the jazz accompaniment, the spoken word performances were refreshingly diverse and irreverent. As a slam poetry sceptic, I’ll be the first to admit that I turned up to the event with the impression that slam poetry was a pretentious po-faced affair mainly featuring people in black tutlenecks who clicked after every reading. But forget all your hang-ups about slam poetry being boring, austere, or overly shouty; here, performances ranged from a poignant rumination on the perfect day, dramatic readings of lyrics from bands such as Better Oblivion Community Centre, and (admittedly one of my favourites of the evening) a reading of Edward Lear. Lear’s often silly nonsensical verse seems miles away from the work usually associated with slam poetry, but here, accompanied by vocoder vocals and jazz backing, it just worked. Other highlights included a fantastic original piece on stigma, half-sung, half-spoken, where the lines between poetry and music became more and more blurred. 

“This evening was the perfect mix between two fantastic student creative scenes”

Of course, no jazz jam or slam poetry night is complete without an open mic portion, and this particular one did not disappoint. The house band showcased an incredible amount of talent; jazz improvisation is never easy, and adding the extra dimension of spoken word on top creates a whole new challenge, not that you’d ever know from the way that the band effortlessly matched the poetry. The talent on display was immeasurable; original poems ranged from hilarious to heartbreaking, political to personal, sometimes all at once. An entire evening is a very long time to kill, but the night never got stale or boring thanks to the sheer talent on display, a feat that’s extremely difficult to pull off successfully, standing as testament to the fantastic organisation going on behind the scenes, as well as the student talent on display. 


Mountain View

‘Women in jazz have to be quite thick skinned’: jazz trumpeter Yazz Ahmed

As a frequent attender of other Jazzsoc events, I was pleasantly surprised by the slightly more laid back vibes of the evening, with attendees being encouraged to sit on the floor and be quiet to maximise being able to soak up the music and poetry. The perfect remedy to a term as notoriously dismal as Lent, this evening was the perfect mix between two fantastic student creative scenes, creating a brilliant atmosphere to forget all degree-related stress, just chill out and tune into something incredible. Here’s to hoping this dynamic duo come together again in the future!