Choo Choo Anoo, a local jazz collective led by musician Alison Weiner, invites spoken word poets to share their work on Jan. 8 at 7 p.m. at The Station.
The band will be playing their interpretation of classic standards and offers writers the opportunity to join them on stage to read their spoken word offerings along with improvised jazz accompaniment.
“For people who love music and writing, it’s fun to just listen, but we also make a safe space for people who want to come up and give it a try and be heard, if they’ve got something they want to share,” Weiner said.
She says even the more experienced spoken word artists at the event rarely get an opportunity to perform with musical accompaniment.
“It adds so much when you put those two forms of expression together, music and word — it’s really pretty thrilling,” Weiner said.
Weiner is the creator of mahaloArts, a creative community based out of Saxapahaw, N.C. that emphasizes improvised performance and artistic exploration. The name is inspired by time she spent living in Hawaii, “mahalo” serving as an expression of deep gratitude that she says reminds her of how thankful she is to be a musician.
Weiner has played music since she was young, but did it mostly on the side while working as an architect until she went back to school to earn degrees in jazz and music composition. She now works out of her studio by the Haw River in Saxapahaw, mostly teaching music but also hosting performances with her band, mahaloJazz, which performs every Tuesday at the Eddy Pub in Saxapahaw.
The jazz collective performing as Choo Choo Anoo consists of Weiner on piano, Jeff Brown on saxophone and Jim Roberts on percussion.
Emceeing the show is Gary Phillips, former poet laureate of Carrboro. “Choo Choo Anoo + you,” as the spoken word residency is called, is a collaborative work between him and Weiner, which creates an open atmosphere that he values as a writer.
Phillips facilitates the flow of the show by encouraging writers to come onstage and share their work. He believes performing in a bar gives writers a kind of freedom they don’t have in traditional sit-down readings, allowing them to watch the audience response to their work in real time and feel supported by a community.
Phillips makes sure that any writer who wants to come onstage and speak feels welcome to — even those who may not have originally planned to.
“I’m a ritualist, a ceremonialist,” Phillips said. “For this event, at least five times in the four performances we’ve done, I’ve pulled people onstage that just came to watch and had no idea that they were going to share something. That’s part of my job, to say ‘Look, this is open space. I know you have talent, and I just want you to come up and play with it.’”
The work shared is not always poetry, though it often is. Phillips says they’ve had a wide variety of local writers and performers share their work at The Station, and encourages anyone who has an interest in writing come out to the event.
He greatly values the role of the band in creating the unique atmosphere of the show, especially their use of dissonance as well as assonance to further the tone of the writing.
“If they see a piece of tension in the piece, they’ll move with the tension," Phillips said. "It’s not like they’re a backup band, it’s like they’re the center of the performance and words move in and out. That’s an exciting environment.”
Georgann Eubanks, a local writer who runs the Table Rock Writers Workshop, spoke highly of the show. She has worked with both Weiner and Phillips at her writing and songwriting workshop in the North Carolina mountains and admires their performance and community organizing.
“I have not read at the event, but I was absolutely moved by the spirit and quality of the words shared,” Eubanks said. “It is Carrboro at its best.”
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