Last Sunday, I left one of my long rambling phone messages on Jazzman’s home telephone. A top record producer friend Asier d'Opakoa had been in contact as he had ‘hired the most wonderful microphone for recording voice’ and he wanted to capture some of London’s most important poets for posterity, not to publish, just for the poets to have for themselves and use as they pleased. Jazzman was the first to come to mind, his love of the microphone, of performance, of sharing poetry love could never be denied. Unusual for Jazzy, there was no call back, being August I assumed he was at a festival or something similar.
Jazzman was my radar, my litmus paper, my go to performer, as well as my dear friend. I have stuck him in madly busy train and tube stations, in baking hot parks and freezing cold cemeteries at night, all in the name of sharing the spoken word. And never once, in all these years did he say no, or complain, or even say ‘this is just too mad!’ We thought on a similar wavelength, shared a dry humour and cynicism while looking for a positive in often bleak subject matter. I would tell Jazzman of an event I was planning and what I was looking for, he would then hone in on a poet I had never heard of and say ‘that is your person’ – he was always right. My good friend and master of spoken word, David Lee Morgan is just one example of a Jazzman recommendation. But John’s radar went deeper than poetry performance. Before engaging with any poet I would always check in with JC to see if he knows of them and their temperament, tantrums and strops were not our thing, quality and timekeeping. If Jazzman shook his head, I would go no further.
Unsure when John and I met, it was during the days I owned Moonbows, so sometime in the early 2000s, probably through the monthly poetry night. As Memhatice Mustafa (ex-owner of Madison’s Café New Cross) will testify, Jazzman liked coffee shops and cafes, often becoming a feature and a magnet for people in their early 20s, especially young women, who just seemed to love him instantly. When we ran into each other, and a young woman began chatting to him (as inevitably always happened) I would put him on the spot insisting on an instant poem. A little blush, that dirty chuckle of his and then straight into full flow, completely blowing away the person in front of him, sealing yet another new fan, while occasionally attempting to flog them a book or two!
I am in a very hot Spain this week feeling very sad about John. Guilt hit me this morning for not being at his Firkin birthday party, I had chill in my bones that night and now the regret. But I saw Jazzman as an 85+pluser, sudden death was one of our dark jokes, not something that was to happen. I am trying to use another of his birthdays a few years back to dilute the guilt. I got one of Jazzman’s all-time favourites, Ronnie McGrath to read from ‘All The Way From Kathmandu’ at a Made In Greenwich poetry night to celebrate his day, John was deeply moved and felt honoured, he loved Ronnie.
As the years passed, John’s written poetry split opinion. I personally loved it and felt it was moving towards a solid body of work becoming most suitable for the times in which we now find ourselves. He began to feel a little frustrated in the last few years that his writing, effort and performance were not recognised more widely, especially (I am guessing here) among the poetry establishment. This I would assure him is now only a matter of time, ‘the world is coming around to what you are saying’ I would tell him, ‘just don’t go and do something silly like die!’
I have been out of London all summer so unaware if there was any change to Jazzman. The upside is that my last memory is a healthy one of him, us giggling like a couple of kids at Boat-Ting on the Thames. JC will leave a large hole in my life, a man who I admire, enjoy, love and will miss massively. London has also lost a pivot and a key connector, a unique character who was the glue between so many different nights and performers. The impact of Jazzman JC John Clarke (this is the name he was originally known by) will probably only now be truly recognised that he is on his forward journey.