Media Contact: Henry Reese 412-670-1202 rhreese@cityofasylumpittsburgh.org

The return of audience favorites from the first 9 years, at a new location

August 18, 2014—PITTSBURGH, PA: City of Asylum Pittsburgh presents its 10th Annual Jazz Poetry Concert on September 6, 2014, from 7:45 – 9:45. The concert has been relocated from its longtime home on Sampsonia Way to West Park, near the National Aviary, to accommodate its ever-expanding audience. It will take place under a giant tent, rain or shine. As always, it is free to the public.

To celebrate our tenth year, we have invited back favorite performers—based on audience surveys—from the first nine years. Except for performing at Jazz Poetry Concert, none have ever performed in Pittsburgh before. For the first time, we have invited only English-language poets, in order to showcase how English sounds and is transformed as a global language.

  •  Oliver Lake Big Band (first appearance 2010)
  •  Kei Miller (Jamaica, 2007)
  • Gerald Stern (U.S./Pittsburgh, 2008)
  • TJ Dema (Botswana, 2012)
  • Plus special guest, Ali Cobby Eckermann (Yankunytjatjara Aboriginal Australia)

Due to costs, there are very few surviving big bands, and they almost never tour. The 17-piece Oliver Lake Big Band is also unusual among big bands, in the way it blends classics, contemporary non-jazz music, and free-wheeling improvisation. After playing Jazz Poetry Concert they will be returning to New York, where they will play at Iridium, where it will cost $45 to hear them.

In addition to playing in and conducting his Big Band, Lake will be premiering “Stoopin is a Verb.” This song is the first of eight he is creating about what it is like to live on the Northside, during a 10-week residency at City of Asylum Pittsburgh.

The lyrics are a mash-up of comments taken from the transcripts of focus groups that Lake conducted at seven Northside organizations. Tami Dixon will be the vocalist.

Jazz Poetry Concert has received awards from the National Endowment for the Arts each year since 2009. It is, in the words of the Allegheny City Central Organization “one of the most eagerly anticipated, widely admired, and culturally diverse literary events in Pittsburgh.”

Jazz Poetry Concert is free; but reservations are suggested: http://www.cityofasylumpittsburgh.org/events/ or call 412-323-0278.

The concert is live-streamed at:



Interviews are available with the artists. Non-U.S. poets will be arriving in Pittsburgh at different times the week before Jazz Poetry Concert.

About Jazz Poetry Concert

Jazz Poetry Concert was begun in 2005, to showcase Chinese poet Huang Xiang, the first exiled writer-in-residence at City of Asylum Pittsburgh. Jazz great Oliver Lake agreed to waive all fees and came to Pittsburgh to collaborate with the poet and local jazz musicians.

The first event was very informal and intended to be a one-off, but post-event surveys showed that it struck a deep chord with the audience. In addition to high ratings for the performance, comments like “It put me in touch with my humanity”, “It made me feel good to be part of mankind”, and “I felt connected” were common. We were encouraged to do it again.

Jazz Poetry Concert now consists of an hour of jazz by a nationally prominent but new-to-Pittsburgh jazz ensemble and a series of collaborations between the musicians and poets from around the world in many languages. Each year, Oliver Lake invites a different set of musicians to perform with him.

The jazz-poetry collaborations are unique, created at a rehearsal in Pittsburgh the evening before the concert. In the words of poet Yusef Komunyakaa, who participated in 2010: “If any ghosts of the Beats were hanging around that night, they were finally learning something about how music and words can reach an unbelievable register of bittersweet truth that’s unforgettable.”

About the Artists in Jazz Poetry Concert 2014

Ali Cobby Eclermann’s (b. Yankunytjatjara Aboriginal Australia, 1963) first poetry collection Little Bit Long Time celebrated her successful search to find her family. She has written much about the legacy of the Stolen Generations (Aboriginal children forcibly removed from their homes and placed into orphanages and put out for adoption), including her first verse novel His Fathers Eyes. In 2013 her second verse novel Ruby Moonlight won the Kenneth Slessor Poetry Prize and the NSW Premiers’ Book of the Year and released her poetic memoir Too Afraid To Cry. In 2014 she was Artist In Residence at the University of Sydney and performed at the Ledbury Poetry Festival in England. She comes to us, courtesy of the International Writing Program of the University of Iowa and U.S. State Department.

TJ Dema (b. Botswana, 1981) is a founding member of Botswana’s spoken word movement and former chair of the Writers Association of Botswana. She runs Sauti A&PM a Botswana-based cultural production organization. In 2012 she took part in the Cultural Olympiad’s Poetry Parnassus and has also read in Denmark, India, France and Germany. She has produced a multilingual CD, “Dreaming Is A Gift For Me,” featuring twelve Botswana poets and her own solo EP “Tabula Rasa.” She performs with the band Sonic Slam Chorus (also the album name) and has published a chapbook, Mandible.

Oliver Lake is the musical curator of Jazz Poetry and has appeared in each concert since 2005, with different accompanying musicians. Composer, musician, poet, painter and performance artist, he is a featured artist on more than 50 recordings. He is a BNY Jazz Legacy artist and recently the winner of a Doris Duke Artist Award for career achievement. The mural on Jazz House at 324 Sampsonia Way is based on Oliver’s artwork. Oliver has spent much time at City of Asylum Pittsburgh that he considers Sampsonia Way his vacation home.

Kei Miller (b. Jamaica 1978) is the author of The Same Earth, winner of the Una Marson Prize for Literature, Fear of Stones, which was shortlisted for the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize for Best First Book, and The Last Warner Woman. His most recent poetry collection has been shortlisted for the Jonathan Llewelyn Rhys Prize, the Bocas Prize for Caribbean Literature, and the Scottish Book of the Year Award. He currently divides his time between Jamaica and Scotland.

Gerald Stern (Pittsburgh, 1925) is the author of 16 books of poetry, including most recently, In Beauty Bright; Save the Last Dance; This Time; and Stealing History, a kind-of memoir of one year, in 85 sections. His New and Selected Poems won the 1998 National Book Award. He was awarded the 2005 Wallace Stevens Award by the Academy of American Poets, was the 2010 recipient of the Medal of Honor in Poetry by the American Academy of Arts and Letters, was inducted into the 2012 class of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and was the 2012 recipient of the Rebekah Johnson Bobbitt National Prize for Poetry from the Library of Congress and 2014 winner of the Frost Medal. He has a new book of poems coming out in the fall titled Divine Nothingness.

About City of Asylum

Founded in 2004, City of Asylum is a model for arts-based community development, bringing writers, readers and neighbors together through global literature and cultural exchange. Located on Sampsonia Way in Pittsburgh’s Northside, City of Asylum’s campus of redeveloped houses serve both as homes for exiled writers and as public artworks. It has presented more than 250 authors and musicians from 42 countries in free readings and concerts. Sampsonia Way, the publishing arm of City of Asylum, specializes in banned books in translation and anthologies of contemporary writing from countries where free speech is under threat; SampsoniaWay.org, its online journal of free speech, literature, and justice serves as a virtual home for persecuted writers and serves a growing global audience online.






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