Betsy Westendorf produced this video, a document of the art-form Rhina Espaillat learned at the home of her grandmother in the Dominican Republic, and brought with her when she came to the US in 1939. She and guitarist John Tavano began performing melopoeia in the Newburyport area about twenty-five years ago. At some point, I joined the mix, and in recent years, we’ve benefited from the participation of other talented musicians and artists, calling ourselves The Diminished Prophets. You’ll hear bassist/cellist Roger Kimball on several of the pieces recorded here for presentation at the 2021 Newburyport Literary Festival.
Celebrated blues harpist Justin Quinn’s new album includes his recording of a song we wrote together almost ten years ago, called “A Woman’s Trick.” The lyrics are mine; Justin and guitarist Jon Ross teamed up on the music. Other members of this all-star band include Dave Sag on bass and Per Hanson on drums. Here’s a list of just SOME of the artists members of the band have played with: James Cotton, Ronnie Earl, Jay Geils, Magic Dick, Buddy Guy, Junior Wells, Commander Cody, John Hammond Jr, Ronnie Earl… I like to think —because Ross played guitar for Duke Robillard, who played for Bob Dylan and Tom Waits— that puts me at only two degrees of separation from two of the greatest songwriters of our time!
Lazy by Nature is available from iTunes or at Amazon.com
Espaillat / Nicol / Tavano
In this new program of melopoeia —poetry recited to musical accompaniment—poets Rhina Espaillat and Alfred Nicol and classical/flamenco guitarist John Tavano explore various kinds of journeys, or passages: the very different sea-voyages of conquistadors and exiles; the swift travel of atomic particles; a seemingly inconsequential walk from the work-place to the bus; and finally, the passage of time and the final border-crossing that lies ahead of us all. In addition to their own work, Espaillat and Nicol read poems by A. E. Stallings and Richard Wilbur.
Passages is available at Jabberwocky in Newburyport and through iTunes, Amazon.com and through a number of streaming services, including Spotify. View track listing and listen to samples here: Amazon.com
Nine original songs written by the exquisitely gifted guitarist and composer John Tavano (music) and myself (lyrics), featuring the beautiful voice of Ann Harter. Chris Plante (formerly of The Brew) makes a major contribution on melodica and keyboards, as well as engineering and production. Alex Sandman plays terrific bass and also had a big role in engineering the CD. We’re proud to have the otherworldly Albert Lamar play flute and saxophone for us; Albert belonged to the Mississippi Symphony for 15 years, and has performed in orchestras for Ray Charles, The Chieftains, Doc Severinson and others. Aaron Zaroulis, who was The Brew‘s drummer, adds his musicianship to several tracks.
The Subtle Thread is available at Soufflés, Dyno Records and Jabberwocky in Newburyport, and online at iTunes, Amazon.com and a number of streaming services, including Spotify.
Music and Lyrics from the CD
Espaillat / Tavano / Nicol
Melopoeia is an ancient art whose Greek name—a combination of “melos” and “poitria”— suggests its nature: a performance involving poetry recited to a musical accompaniment. The poetry is spoken, not sung in the form of song lyrics, so that the two arts flow separately, through and around each other, without either becoming dominant over the other.
Rhina Espaillat, renowned author of seven books of poetry, and Alfred Nicol, winner of the Richard Wilbur Award, recite their poems as classical guitarist John Tavano plays pieces composed by Bach, Satie, Tarrega and others.
Recordings of Melopoeia
Empty Streets by Alfred Nicol (Tavano plays “Corcovado” by Antonio Carlos Jobim)
Sunday by Alfred Nicol (Tavano plays “Gavotte” by Johann Sebastian Bach)
I Dreamt You Young by Rhina Espaillat (Tavano plays “Lagrima” by Francisco Tarrega)
Look to the Small Birds by Rhina Espaillat (Tavano plays “Capricho Arabe” by Tarrega)