Sound Off


Sound Off: a book of jazz is the 13th book of poetry by Vancouver poet Stephen Bett. His work has been published extensively in literary journals in Canada and internationally. His personal papers are being archived by Simon Fraser University Library in British Columbia….

78 jazz musicians, the name of the musician as the title of the poem often with a quote from a music review as an introduction to the stereographic riffs of the Poet…. The poetry forms like another layer to the music, half impressions, half review mixed in with pieces of the daylight world, metaphors to sports, physics, classic literature, humor, his personal life, a dance with the Muse. As if painting a picture, the poetry responds and is in response to the music, the poetry chops a mirror, you can almost hear the jazz music playing in the background, in quiet cacophony. (Perhaps suggesting an art installation of poetry and music as an audiorecording).

Influenced by minimalist poetry and the San Francisco Renaissance Poets, the style suggests a crucible for the loss of grace from the First and Second World Wars and the violent places of the war economy [of] North America as it morphs into a new day. A poet from the postmodern school, the poetry is an incantation of broken thought, captures The Muse, the jazz music as if a snapshot in a moment of time.

This poetry is jazzspeak, as if on a cloud drawing down fragments of light in broken thought forms, a celebration of some of the greatest modern jazz musicians of our time. Sound Off: a book of jazz, by Stephen Bett.

Subterranean Blue Poetry (Montreal)

“I’ve read the poems from Sound Off several times over and must say I’m impressed. Nice to see you’re writing Jazz, not writing about jazz. Some very subtle, sophisticated rhythm changes. Admit if I hadn’t been studying music of late and learning the basics of different drum rhythms I would have missed some of this. Love the way your love of the music, with a kind of insider’s obsessiveness, permeates the whole collection. Your headers and intros are enough background and kind of serve as liner notes for the different pieces. Also appreciate the interplay between pieces, little tonal cues and echoes that evokes the playfulness intrinsic to jazz. For all its understated, unassuming airs you’re really taking some risks here (not something I’ve seen much of in the last 20 years of Canadian Writing), pushing out against the perimeters with a kind of edgy assurance. Like this stuff a lot. Shows how thoroughly the craft must be learned before one can make it this malleable.”

Ken Cathers, Canadian poet

The claim on the back cover of Stephen Bett’s latest collection of poetry [says] “This is a book of poems celebrating music, but essentially the poems are for readers - no jazz experience required.” There are aspects of the poems collected in Sound Off that will appeal to aficionados and non-aficionados of jazz alike - naming a dog after a favorite performer (as in a poem titled “Avishai Cohen (bassist, composer, not trumpeter”), for example, or imagining the soundtrack to one’s own funeral (as in “Keith Jarrett”)…. The poet’s love for jazz shines through in all of the poems in Sound Off, and fans of the genre … will find much to appreciate (and likely debate) in this collection.

Small Press Reviews

Stephen Bett’s hip, lean poetry encompasses a huge range of jazz and moves like mercury between styles. He captures musicians’ sounds superbly, paying tribute with humour and a fine nuance to their place in jazz history, writing in a minimalist style that manages to create a linguistic resonance that is ultimately so allied to music the poems sing. Reminiscent of the Beats and E.E. Cummings, Bett improvises deftly on the poetic legacy that is the best of the avant garde and is as charged as a Miles Davis solo, and in doing so he is as spontaneous as Jack Kerouac. This is a poet who writes with a subtlety that keeps with the rhythm of his verse as he makes it all modern again. At times as sweet as a Pat Metheny lick, this collection is both musical and as good a commentary on the form as anything out there. This is an important and enjoyable book. For lovers of jazz and of poetry, Sound Off is a great introduction to a major poetic talent who is also an acute observer of the contemporary world.

Richard Godwin.

The Literary Press Group (distributors for 58 Canadian literary presses) have chosen Sound Off as their feature book for “Poetry Month in Canada” (2013)!

Co-winner of Honourable Mention at the Paris Book Festival, 2014.

(Read more praise for Sound Off)

Sound Off Sound Recording

Below are nineteen recordings of poems (WMA files) from my upcoming book, Sound Off:

Below are ten selected poems from Stephen Bett’s forthcoming book of poems, Sound Off: a book of jazz, a book of 76 poems, each poem “riffing” on the music of contemporary jazz musicians — no jazz expertise required by reader!

Stefano Battaglia / Michele Rabbia

Pure loveliness

(& throwing in Rilke, too,
Sonnets to Orpheus)

We have been
here before

But isn’t that
Jarrett shadowing
the trail?

Alright, The Anxiety
of Influence


And lovely

Burnt Sugar the Arkestra Chamber

crusty…tectonic funk of Miles Davis’
Dark Magus and Agharta bands
Bill Milkowski

Not Brown Sugar
—a band with something
to say

Lean into tone conversations
the ensemble echo chamber
Splashes of argot color, triple-X
axes, rhythm section,
horns & voices
(bells & whistles
squeaks & squawks
in the risible ark)

Rollick on a groove
soul-infused funk
—all the way over
improv-pure sprawl
to “Eno-meets-Teo”
laptop sound-
(I don’t know
what I’m doing
neither do we)

Listen up!

Yup, we’re thinking
Sun Ra
right back to our
unrisen, easy
gone youth

Miles Davis

from bebop through hard bop, cool, third
stream, modal, funk, fusion, and doo bop>
Richard Stevenson

Just repeating ourselves:

Genius is a word
to be respected

We started so very
long ago kind
of blue

But it really started
with the cool, pure
tones sketched in

Nothing wasted
nothing left of that
freakish, frenetic

—bebop to freebop
to “minimalist”
playing around
in a silent
milky way

Record by record
tracking toward that
fuse thing you do
(your discursive

Exquisite interjections
into blank space

That full round tone
& sound bites
that can break
the heart in

Mathias Eick


Play it again

We’re just re-

Off the track


Stopped Dead at The Door

Mathias Eick,
your horn
is so

you’re just
long puffs
of smoked

right out of
the heart

And right
back in



We said (many
times already)

on my

& sits there

Still breathing
still (simply)
blowing us

Bill Frisell

Don’t know anyone
who can play chords
like you
—so dangerously

(In the moment’s

Otherwise, voracious

Top drawer

And top draw-er, too,
at the local
Jazz Festival

When dreaming the blues
how could anyone
do better?

(Truly picking raw
steel off
the soul,

Julia Hülsmann Trio

A little ponderous, yes
—but in a totally good

a Manfred Eicher way
an ECM way

a Zen less-is-more

Like the chorus—
strophe, then

Here / There
in confident measure

Wander into each corner
to hear how
it sounds

Beauty will ponder

That’s what it
does best
—& in good

Pat Metheny

Another Mr. Popularity
(& for good reason)

Profoundly sad &
joyous & sweet
(ad infinitum…)

Nice & easy

Easy is nice, too

Warm summer evenings
windows rolled down
Meth (lite) cranked up

Ride us to the town
called love
(it’s in the pink)

No tip, you know
better than that

The pleasure was always
both of ours

And don’t wait outside,
we’ll be up late
listening to it all
bleach out
white silence

Highly produced, yes
(Mr. Popularity, &
for good reason)

Nils Petter Molvær

Nils Petter Molvær (NPM), Norwegian trumpet player, composer
and producer, takes multiple music styles—jazz, ambient, house,
electronic and break beats, as well as elements from hip hop, rock
and pop music—and effortlessly reshapes them into unique and
dramatic soundscapes of deep intensity.

Mind-blower on albums
mind-Bender in concert

Soundscapes that deconstruct like this:

Miles meets Godspeed You Black Emperor
meets 28 Days Later meets shape-
shifting sonic set of ears

Blowing through both ends
of his horn
…can look gimmicky
Playing trumpet with one hand
computer dial electronica
with the other
…can look nu-age flakey

That’s look, not sound (no)

Add unrelenting driving throbbing
electric bass (w/ feedback bite)
& concussive percussion—

Some of the most transformative
(& freaking)
freeflow sound (not free “blowing”)
you’ll ever be fortunate enough
to hear

This man has dangerously arrived
(ready to stun)

Listener, caught in the headlights

Todd Sickafoose

Here is jazz for 2008: thoroughly original,
endlessly creative, unabashedly modern
without being iconoclastic.

Steve Greenlee

Take a Previte &
a Zappa
ramp down the frenetic
edges (the hysteric)
add subtlety… or just
ironic self-reflection

& you have the expansive
(hello slow twilight!)
compositions of this
Brooklyn Sickafoose

So much from so
many (in good order)
comes to a still center
to groove on

If Bill Frisell played
in an ensemble jam-band
they’d probably sound
like this

There’s a disparate sound here
that coheres, that is
considerably accomplished

Seriously whimsical
“postcards from the
bent edge of jazz”*

* Jeff Simon, The Buffalo News

Bobo Stenson

The cliché is true in this case. A new recording
by Bobo Stenson is an event. Since 1979, he
has made only six albums as a leader for ECM.
They constitute one of the important piano trio
canons in modern jazz.

Thomas Conrad (Nov., ‘08)

Manno manno, the most gorgeous
contemporary jazz is, like, happening
from disparate & often dark solitudes:
Norway & Israel

OK, so this Nordic pianist
is Swedish (a technicality?)
but the “gorgeous” still stands

Probing & melodic
Poised & delicate

Austere, poignant, ascendant—
words critics use
to approximate
this music

As in… such ascendancy
it is as if his right hand
finds a way to keep climbing
even when the keyboard ends*

This keyboard that does end
restrained in its certain beauty
beautiful in its restrained certainty

These Nordic jazzer guys…

Remember the golden rule
that goes Miles—

Don’t overplay
(let silence
have its say

* Ditto epigraph