By Kevin McNeilly

Nightwood Editions
5.5 x 8 - 96 pages
Paperback - $18.95
April 2011

McNeilly’s poetry is lyrical, free, down-to-the-bone, as real, fresh, and immediate as true jazz always is. Embouchure is where your mouth is, where your ear is, and where your eyes are right on time. Damn!
–George Elliott Clarke

In riffs that are sharp, savvy, nimble, opinionated, obsessive and wry, [McNeilly] renders fitting tribute to the spirit of the great and not so great jazzmen and women.
―Don McKay

Kevin McNeilly’s debut poetry collection, Embouchure, compiles the intertwined lineages of trumpet players who came to prominence in the States during the “pre-bop” era, loosely defined as the period between 1890 and 1939. This series of vignettes betrays a broad and detailed knowledge of the players’ lives and work, yet reads like a collection of conversational anecdotes shared between the musicians and those around them. Rather than focusing on the solid facts of their lives, McNeilly brings to life the characters they inhabited and stories that surrounded them, all in a vibrant, slangy dialect that adeptly reproduces the feel of the period.

Within the course of Embouchure’s thirty-seven portraits, Buddy, Satch, Bix, Jabbo, Cootie, Cat and the rest are resurrected in their smoky, brassy, sepia-toned glory as figures deeply steeped in their own mythos. Despite embracing the fictional aspects of their lives, however, McNeilly styles these remarkable men and women with pure love and admiration, not only for their shared history and contribution to the evolution of jazz, but also for the pure, loud, messy beauty of the music itself. In this stunning and highly readable debut, McNeilly boasts finely honed poetic chops, proving that heart remains the first and finest ingredient in any truly virtuosic solo.