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The texts for Shoe Jazz are found in a 2009 collection entitled Bicycles by African-American poet Nikki Giovanni (b. 1943). These poems speak to all ages -- young and old. There is humor, tenderness, rhythmic energy and strength, with an over-riding message of I am who I am!
The opening song, "First Chair," speaks of a desire to play first chair (the premiere seat in an orchestra section), but knowing I'm too jazzy...I am Gospel...and Rhythm and Blues. I make my own music. This song uses a swing rhythm almost throughout. The astute listener may hear the high octave motive (elevated) for the words First Chair. References to the music of Vivaldi and Beethoven provide contrast between "preferred" music, and the poet's natural music.
"No Heaven" is a pure song, in the key of C Major. How can there be no heaven, when rain falls gently on the grass. A charming image comes with: And little finches eat upside down. Here the chorus sings upward grace-note figures to suggest upside-down chords. The song ends very simply with How can there be no heaven...when you smile at me.
"Shoe Jazz Blue Jazz" makes reference to Miles Davis (iconic American jazz trumpeter). Miles Davis -- All Blues. This is an especially, swing rhythmic, relaxed tempo song. The shoes come in many colors. Perhaps these are dancing shoes. But they also tap out any little ants scurrying across the floor! Vocal sounds enhance the rhythms: ta-ta-ta-ta...
"I Know the Song the Moon Sings" is an extended song, due to the expanded message of the poem. The mood ranges from ephemeral moonlight (gentle high tremoli in the accompaniment, chorus with upward thoughts of the moon) to a more down-to-earth soulful singing (I, too, am a motherless child). The music briefly quotes from the spiritual, "Sometimes I Feel Like a Motherless Child." However, this motherless child is full of energy, running wild! Thus, a refrain from "Shoe Jazz Blue Jazz" returns to close the set.
Notes by the composer
Erratum in first print of choral score:
In "I Know the Song the Moon Sings", measure 81, the right hand of the piano should double the voice part (i.e., piano notes are a whole step higher than printed).