Sing On

Sitting alone
in Preservation Hall
such an unexpected gift.
Echoes of jazz men past,
and women like Sweet Emma,
over 50 years of sweat and swing
too many artists to name
and the walls untouched,
an unscrubbed shrine –
stained pegboard,
cracked floor boards,
old tour posters,
original paintings,
the big bass drum
illuminated from within,
as I am,
with letters of soulful legacy
ready to come to life
at a master’s touch.

My reed is wet
with my inner tears
humbled by this moment
before the audience enters
and tonight’s band
takes them
to places
many of them have never been.
A time before rock
and bop
and country
and way before the internet and
television’s hot media
escalated our expectations.

When Jazz was young
this town
was the catalyst
the secret spice
in the gumbo
that made the senses
with awe.
How did this
rhythmic concoction
come to life,
dancing the generations,
and me not notice?

Yet now I sit
in rapt attention
in an empty room
which exists for one purpose only
to preserve the early jazz
born in this city
when 4 string banjo
and clarinet
were essential
and even violin
was still welcome in the band.

My reed
is now dripping wet
and the horn comes
to my lips
with an impossible mission.
How do I even dare
to attempt to play
amongst these echoes,
now fixed in my head?
the urge comes
from deep within
and only I
can play jazz in my own way.

Practice I must.
To woodshed
is to enjoy the heat twice
in private
and on the stage.
This improv is mine,
really it is me,
suddenly encased in tone
and time
and licks
and even I will reverberate
between these hallowed walls.

My heart,
my soul,
my longing.
Whatever gift
I can honestly offer,
even if my inner critic
erases it all –
this is my expression
in this moment.
And it is true.

a20This poem has helped me digest two events on August 1. In the afternoon, the New Orleans Traditional Jazz Camp took over Preservation Hall, and all the student ensembles got to perform. My group was the first after the break, so I got to sit in one of those old fashioned oak chairs and look out, soaking in the history of that place, knowing that my clarinet was soon going to fill that room. And after dinner, I came back to hear the Preservation Hall Brass Band, and paid extra for a VIP ticket. I was the only taker – the best $30 I have spent in a long time! And I sat alone in there letting the echoes of past jazz players just wash over me.


Blaise Kielar received Honorable Mention in the 2022 Alex Albright Creative Nonfiction Prize for an excerpt from his memoir in progress, "Be Heard: The Quiet Kid Who Started the World’s Loudest Violin Shop." He opened Chapel Hill’s first violin shop in 1978 and retired from a music retail career by transitioning Electric Violin Shop into the first worker-owned co-op music store in the United States. He plays jazz violin and clarinet in several bands and leads the Bulltown Strutters, Durham’s community New Orleans brass band.


  1. Kevin Cameron


    Thank you Blaise…!

  2. Leslie Cooper

    Now that is what I’m talking about. I had a moment with a camper a few years back. As I stood next to him while we waited for the rest of his group to gather. I noticed his hand shaking over the strings of his beautiful instrument. My first thought was “air banjo”… I then noticed that both hands were really shaking and as a nurse, I thought early stages of parkinson’s…. The I noticed a terrified look on his face. So I bent over and asked if he was ok…His response…”DO YOU KNOW WHO SAT IN THIS CHAIR?!?!?!?!?!” I loving told him that he was at the moment and someone would say that about him one day.
    That’s why we do what we do…..

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