The Poetry of Walter Bishop, Jr.

Besides being one of the quintessential second generation bop pianists, the late Walter Bishop, Jr., who played with a broad range of masters, from Charlie Parker and Miles Davis to Archie Shepp and Makanda Ken McIntyre, was a man of letters, authoring two instructional books, and even doing some acting in his day. He was also a serious poet and member of the poetry society known as Poets Four. Special thanks to the gracious lady Valerie Bishop for sharing some of the unique poetic expressions of Walter Bishop, Jr. which the Independent Ear will share with you over the next few weeks.

Cover of Coral Keys (Black Jazz), one of Walter Bishop, Jr.’s essential recordings

Relaxin’ With Max, The Invincible Roach
by Walter Bishop, Jr.

There was a Roach named Maxwell. He was unusual in that he could fly, having been born with wings.
He also played the drums, of all things. From his home in South Carolina, he came to the Big City, via
Brooklyn. There he got hooked up with some other insects.

Let me see… there was a Yardbug that flew in from K.C. And man, he could play the blues on alto, like
you never heard. A Birks-bug from South Carolina, could play notes on the trumpet that would make
you Dizzy. There was The-Lonious-Bug from North Carolina, who played piano. To my mind, he was the
strangest bug of all! And they say he was born ‘Round Midnight. I don’t doubt that at all.

These, plus some other bugs got together and they created some of the damnedest music you ever
heard. Soon, the other insects spread the word. They proclaimed, “A New Music is Born.”

Be-Bop it was called. It spread like wildfire. Grasshoppers did the lindy to it. Even the jitterbugs
waltzed to it. All the insects wanted to learn it. But you couldn’t be jiving. You had to earn it.

Well, these creatures used to congregate at a spot in Harlem called the Bug House. Insects came from
far and wide. They came crawling, running and flying. Society got the word that the bugs and Roaches
were infesting Harlem with this new music, and decided to exterminate the creatures. They came with
insecticides, pesticides, DDT, Black Flag and others. They sprayed and sprayed and kept on spraying.

The creatures prayed and prayed and kept on playing. Do you dig what Ahm saying? Instead of dying,
they kept multiplying. Then, they brought in the big Rock to crush them.

Well, that did slow them down a bit. Because they all couldn’t survive it. It even left Max un poco loco.
They couldn’t kill Birks, they just made him stronger. The-Lonious, I’m told, is hidden away to last a little
longer. The Yardbug flew to the higher ground. But what he left will always be around. Remembrances,
too, to Buggs Dwyer. One of the lesser known creatures – not a flier.

Now Max is alive and well. Playing the song they couldn’t quell – Freedom Now.

Thank you, Max, for showing me the way.

Your friend, Walter Bishop, Jr.

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