“The Negro Speaks of Rivers” is not commonly considered one of Langston Hughes's jazz poems, but saxophonist Gary Bartz's appropriation, “I've Known Rivers,” the title track of a live double album recorded in 1973, reveals how Hughes's poetics were jazz-shaped from the very beginning. Not really a musical transposition of poetic script, “I've Known Rivers” instead improvises modalities of transaction with and in new-old sonic topographies, and in the process limns an aural modernity that constantly reinvents itself, a transaction of meaning across cultural time and physical space propelled by the Afro-kinesis of jazz improvisation. This very same Afro-kinesis propels not only “The Negro Speaks of Rivers” and the two jazz albums Hughes helped record, his own Weary Blues and Randy Weston's Uhuru Afrika, but also the prose of The Big Sea and I Wonder as I Wander, for example.

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