By Annika Tomlin
ASU senior Austin Davis released a three-song jazz poetry EP with the guitar accompaniment of musician Joe Allie to all streaming services on July 30.
“Originally I started writing these poems because I was experiencing a lot of difficult stuff,” says Davis, who called the collection “Street Sorrows.”
“I was seeing a lot of violence. I was seeing a lot of pain and suffering,” Davis says. “I’ve been with people during heat strokes and overdoses and it’s hard. I started writing poetry as a coping mechanism I think.”
Davis started his outreach program AZ Hugs for the Houseless through the Arizona Jews for Justice last March. Through his initiative, he and a group of volunteers regularly distribute water, food and other items to people in the homeless community.
Proceeds from the sale of the album “Street Sorrows” will go directly to the initiative to help continue the work that it does.
“Our big focus of our project is trying to show people that they are not alone on the streets,” Davis says. “We go out and we have three to five community events every week and we service people in Phoenix, Tempe, Mesa and Apache Junction and all over the Valley.
“We started out by bringing people these care packs and water bottles and masks, but it has grown from there.”
Davis notes that he has given rides for people to see family members and to enter rehab as well as simply providing a shoulder to cry on.
“We bring people special requests like musical instruments and art supplies, people’s favorite meals and their favorite food and stuff like that,” Davis says. “It’s just a huge community effort.”
Davis and Allie previously collaborated at another show where Davis spoke his poetry and Allie companied with jazz music.
“I think (jazz and poetry) complement each other and I think jazz brings out the parts of poetry that you maybe wouldn’t have seen, and poetry brings out parts of jazz,” Davis says. “That’s how I was introduced to Joe and we just kind of had an awesome connection and really cool artistic chemistry during that show.”
“Street Sorrows” will feature Allie playing guitar, although the 15-year musician can also play drums, bass, piano and trumpet.
“Jazz is just the most recent style I have studied,” Allie says. “I was a metalhead first and then picked up other styles along the way like funk, blues, country even bossa nova.
“I will definitely be working with Austin again. This project happened very smoothly, and Austin is just a down-to-earth human being.”
When Davis is not in the works planning an album debut performance with Allie, he is regularly volunteering his time for his initiative AZ Hugs for the Houseless.
Davis hopes that his future album show will include donations from the community such as cases of water or hygiene products as well as invite other local bands and performers to create a larger event.
“Through doing this work I have seen a lot of beautiful stuff but also a lot of pretty heartbreaking things as well,” Davis says. “I’ve been with people during overdoses, violent situations. People have broken down in my arms and cried.
“People have told me that they want to kill themselves. I’ve been with people during a lot of mental health crises. It’s just been a lot of emotions. With these poems, these songs my whole goal is just to show people that the unsheltered are human just as well and they deserve just as much respect and care as anyone else. I hope to kind of break down some of these stigmas around homelessness, you know, that everyone is violent or an addict…. Homelessness can happen to anyone. Most people are on the streets because of unforeseen circumstances like a huge medical bill or losing your job.”
Each of the three songs on the album revolve around “a specific person or people and specific events and experiences” that Davis has had with people.
“Some advice I would give to people around the unsheltered is that there are ways to be their friend through their day-to-day life,” Davis says. “I think it is really critical right now that we keep some frozen water bottles with us as part of our daily routine and give them to people out on the streets because the heat is killing a lot of people.
“I am with people almost every day that are experiencing heat exhaustion and heat stroke and it’s terrifying. I think that if we all carried a couple bottles of water with us and gave them out on our way to work, or going to the bar or a friend’s house, that could save lives.”
For more information about AZ Hugs for the Houseless, follow on Instagram @azhugs. CT