Poet of Jazz

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Jazzy Bluesman

“There’s two kinds of blues: happy blues and then sad blues… blues is sort of a mixed-up thing. You just have to feel it. Everything I do sing is part of my life.” – Billie Holiday (1957)

Anybody who knows me or who has followed me as a singer knows that I love to sing ballads: love songs and sad songs. I am drawn to these songs because I love to sing what I feel. For me the most important part of a song is the lyric. I cannot sing well a song with lyrics that have no resonance for me. The blues have a resonance for me and when I perform blues, I hope people who have felt down or depressed, downtrodden or angry, betrayed or hurt, remember those times that have passed or which still linger and feel a bit better. After all, there’s no fun being blue alone and, as my friend entertainer Ross Vegas once reminded me, “When you have the blues, there’s nothing better than the blues!”

It took nearly two years, but my dream of performing at the Perth Blues Club became a reality on Tuesday October 7th 2014. The desire to perform there came to me late one night as I sat admiring the club’s glowing neon blue logo through their website. Most of my career as a singer I had never delved into blues music per se but I had sung many emotionally heavy bluesy songs. Diving into the blues genre is thrilling.

Two singers who really speak to me through their work in blues are Billie Holiday, Ray Charles, and Nina Simone. Since hearing the haunting, fragile, life-worn and fry-heavy vocals of Lady Day on Lady In Satin (1958) as a teenager, I have been mesmerised by her work. As a racially-aware political adult, the hard-edged, spunky, anger-fuelled blues of Nina Simone began to appeal to me. Through hearing Norah Jones perform “Drown In My Own Tears” and “You Don’t Know Me,” I became a fan of Ray Charles. However, putting together a blues band for a show turned out harder than I expected.

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In the end, my cabaret Like Blown Smoke turned out to be the catalyst for adding blues songs to Mint Jazz Band’s repertoire. In it, I finally had the opportunity to sing a lot of blues. Artists, musicians, creative of the world, if you want to succeed in your craft and in your work, create work that you can be proud of, work that excites you. Our lives end in a second so use your life to create and be a part of moments that make you happy. If you are a struggling expressionist try turning face-painting jobs into works of expressionist art. If you are a fantasy fiction writer working in data entry, find a way to only enter data part-time. If you are a rock god guitarist stuck playing military marches, find a way to leave! You will be happier performing and creating work you truly feel.

Don’t get me wrong, I still perform and feel jazz and pop music. But for a few great nights DownStairs at the Maj, and one night I’ll never forget at what is recognised by many national and international acts as “the best Blues Club in Australia,” I was my own brand of the jazzy blues man. I am proud to write that on my inaugural night at the Perth Blues Club, my band and I received three encores!

Dreams Come True

As the Disney song promises you, “When you wish upon a star your dreams come true.” What the song omits is that, even if you are lucky enough to have your dreams come true, you often face years of struggle and heartache. “If you hold on to your hopes and dreams,” my mum has always reminded me, “you will one day succeed.” Love, support, faith, and a determination to never give up can make all of your dreams realities.

Since childhood I’ve wanted to perform to appreciative audiences at a top concert venue like my idols (Judy Garland, Michael Jackson, Whitney Houston, etc.). This year it finally happened when I performed two SOLD OUT nights of my self-devised cabaret show Like Blown Smoke as part of the 2014 Cabaret Soiree season DownStairs at His Majesty’s Theatre! Dedicated to my girlfriend Maneera de Mel and directed by the super talented Rhoda Lopez and Ross Vegas, the show featured Mint Jazz Band with a supporting cast of contributors on and off-stage. To the Cabaret Soiree team, publicity and media supporters, technical and audio crew, helpers on & off-stage, my band, directors, and cast, and to each and every audience member, I thank you. The show strengthened me as an artist and, has been the highlight of my singing career so far.

Thank you to Ridzwan Mahdi for these incredible photos.

Thank you also to local artist Karen Murphy for this beautifully designed theatre show programme – my first ever!

Like Blown Smoke Programmme

The show received some terrific publicity, including interviews on Fremantle Radio, RTR FM, and Twin Cities Radio. You will be able to hear these later through my SoundCloud account. Until then, check out this interview uploaded by Twin Cities radio programmer Malti Elliott as well as this awesome interview from Out in Perth. Thanks to Australian Stage, I also received my very first show review which wonderfully said I have “a fine voice and an impressive vocal range… charm to spare… the voice and the moves!” I was proud of the glowing review of my band Mint Jazz Band. Perth Concert Hall publicist Claire Condry wrote that they performed “excellent solos,” displayed “marvellous” musicianship, and described us as “a young, vibrant ensemble [who] recreate the classic night club vibe of the 50’s/60’s, where a singer introduces a song and each member goes on to cleverly embroider the theme instrumentally.” Such a blessing to receive such a review.

If you would like to know more about future shows, stay in touch, or provide any feedback, please feel free to contact Jake Dennis through Facebook or the Contact Jake page.

Come to the Cabaret!

 Only your dates

Like Blown Smoke invites you on a journey with one suave Casanova who has been unlucky in love but never gives up. Expect soulful blues, swinging jazz, and funky pop tunes, complemented by storytelling and gutsy erotic poetry from this mysterious and romantic gentleman who is ready to tell-all in love, relationships, and loss. Narrated by WA Equity Guild Best Actress winner Rhoda Lopez and starring Jake Dennis and the Mint Jazz Band who have headlined shows at The Ellington, Jazz Fremantle, and the Subiaco Arts Centre, Like Blown Smoke is an emotional rollercoaster of romance, comedy, and swagger.

Start the clocks, wipe the sky of words.

Fill the bed and wake in verse

your opened eyes. After my first kiss,

felt you heart begin. Remember this!

– from “Like Blown Smoke”

Written by internationally published poet and entertainer Jake Dennis (www.facebook.com/poetofjazz), Like Blown Smoke is a moody cabaret with songs made famous by Ray Charles, John Legend, Billie Holiday, and Bruno Mars, that encourages audiences to reflect on their own romantic histories as the story rises like smoke blown into passionate fire. Warning: Sexual themes and coarse language.

“Though the embers of your heart may be reduced to a slow pulsing glow, love’s breath can bring you back to life!”

Book your tickets through Ticketek today! Tickets for Like Blown Smoke on sale now.

Tip: Sign up to His Majesty’s VIP for free here and you can get a VIP card in the mail with a discount code so you can buy tickets for only $33!

Like Blown Smoke

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Seven lucky months since my last blog post and I am determined to make 2014 a year of poetic and singing success. On New Year’s Eve 2013 I printed the first draft copy of my 50 poem manuscript “The Fledgeling Poems or Like Thought Before Movement.” This places me just one step closer towards getting my first poetry collection published; a project I have been working towards for eight years now. In seven days, one of Perth’s most prestigious entertainment venues will announce I will be part of their 2014 season. Join me on Twitter and Facebook to stay up to date with my upcoming announcements.

Highlights of the last seven months:

ENTERTAINMENT

Like Blown Smoke,” my first original song (I wrote the melody and lyrics) was launched on Twin Cities Radio FM. Produced by James Abbot and inspired by the chord progressions of AfroKingz rapper Derrick Chella, “Like Blown Smoke” is available through iTunes, Amazon, Spotify, and my Triple J Unearthed profile. It is the first song I have proudly registered with the Australian Performing Rights Association. I am currently working with Abbot on a new original song, inspired by Mary J. Blige and Lauryn Hill, called “Burn Bright Tygers.”

Mint Jazz Band has been very successful over the last half year. Our double bassist Malcolm Mah married in spring and our drummer Chris Marquand married this autumn! I was honoured to be chosen by Mah to perform “In Your Eyes,” an original song he penned for his bride, at his wedding reception, and to sing the first dance song – a swing version of Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit” – for Marquand’s! In addition, we have been over-the-moon  every time we are chosen to entertain at clients’ weddings (thank you brides and grooms and Perth Professional Entertainment Services), charity events (SolarisCare’s Red Sky Ride Appreciation Night, Mondo Community Warriors’ Lifeline Fundraising Brunch, Playlovers Theatre Hills Bushfire Fundraiser), council events (Town of Cambridge, City of Perth, Town of Victoria Park), and stylish restaurants (the Naked and Wild Fig Cafes).

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You are looking at my first self-produced Photoshop gig poster. I hope you can make it to our third Ellington gig! It will be the second cabaret style show I perform this year. The first was “Spring Valentine” – a romance themed mini-cabaret I performed for the City of Perth’s Holly Wood Tuesday Morning Show at the Perth Town Hall. These will not be my last! ;)

RUDE Agency has taken us on as one of its clients and Events & Beyond made my personal dream of performing on the Forest Place stage at the Twilight Hawkers Markets a reality. E&B also booked us to perform at the City of Perth’s Home Growers Market. I am also happy to declare that we will perform at Jazz Fremantle this Mother’s Day! This will be Mint Jazz Band’s first Fremantle show. Thanks to the celebrated X-Wray Café, who have booked pianist Mark Cunniffe and I to play there every Monday in June, Fremantle may soon become our second musical home.

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After many years of searching, I have finally found a supportive and knowledgeable singing teacher who helps develop my vocal technique, extend my range, and (most importantly) makes me feel comfortable and confident. Her name is Antonietta D’Elia. She is a classically trained Italian soprano and I am proud to work with her. In addition, I am still working closely with actress and singer Rhoda Lopez whose directorial and stage movement advice are brilliant. Stay tuned!

POETRY

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Check out these journals that contain my poetry! These represent the culmination of hard work and persistence. As explained in my previous post, Poetry New Zealand (NZ) and Lost Coast Review (USA) are international journals. I set myself a goal of sending poetry to international journals and my aspiration of being published more internationally has been successfully met. I cracked the UK market with publication in Strutco and entered the South-East Asian market with publication in Eastlit. Locally, Little Raven Press accepted one of my few erotic poems for publication, UWA’s Poet’s Corner featured one of my works, and Little Mozzie published one of my few love poems in the same issue as two of my favourite Australian poets: Bruce Dawe and Thomas Shapcott! I was also selected as Poet of the Month by Jackson for her journal Uneven Floor and was thrilled to read poems on Twin Cities Radio as well as for WA Poets Inc at the Beaufort St Festival late last year.

Melbourne continues to treat me with love: in Brief and GORE Magazine accepted poems for publication and to my immense delight, I was awarded first prize in the Right Now: Human Rights Poetry Competition for my poem “No Asians. Your Desire!” Finally, my poems about race have been getting published. Social Alternatives is set to publish “On Pauline Hanson’s Doorstep” and foam:e recently published “Guiding the Sheep.” I have also just signed off on proofs for two anthologies that will include a poem of mine: the 2014 Short and Twisted Anthology and The Stars Like Sand. Furthermore, the Peter Cowan Writers Centre Advanced Poetry Workshops have been exhilarating. I was also blessed to have my poetry mentor Dr Mary Ellen MacDonald and my poet friend Bron Bateman read my manuscript with their astute critical eyes to help me prune it further before I send it to publishers. A lot to be thankful for and a lot of hard work ahead so wish me luck!

PROFESSIONAL DEVELOPMENT

Acting for the stage and screen has always appealed to me. Besides attending an FTI Screen Actors Boot Camp a few years ago, I also completed two Performing Arts units at Curtin University. This year, I attended a one day Acting Classes in Perth workshop and also had my first official on-screen acting role. Produced by the Health and Disability Services Complaints Office, I play an unhappy client of WA’s mental health service. My part starts at 05:10. ;)

Working at UWA has continued to provide opportunities for professional development. Creating e-modules, running LMS Moodle training classes, and co-ordinating the transformation of the School’s medical specimen museum into a Pathology Education and Learning Centre keep me busy Mon-Fri 9-5pm.

On the freelance journalism front, I made my UWA News author debut and penned another article for MeDeFacts. In addition, I was again selected as a Fringe Festival reviewer. What I most look forward to, however, is being featured in the local newspapers again. Two recent examples below. Fingers crossed that there will be more to come!

Balancing Act

Pursuing your passions can be difficult. When you have so much to do and so little time to do everything you would like to, you often feel overwhelmed, frustrated, and stressed. Working full time affords me only nights and weekends to do everything necessary to get my poetry, singing, and freelance journalism careers in order and on track. It is a challenging balancing act. What makes everything more difficult is that I am a perfectionist so I strive to produce work that is only the best. This drive for excellence is the reason I do not produce as much creative, literary, and musical work as I would like to. However, my drive for excellence ensures that most of whatever I do create is a success.

One solution to relieving the stress created by a self-imposed drive to achieve success is to select fewer goals. In the six months since my previous post I have chosen to focus entirely on my singing and poetry careers while actively seeking out professional development opportunities at work. As a result, I have not written any articles for journals and even had to turn down a Content Editor position with Theatre People. However, my decision has enabled me to satisfy my desire for poetic and singing success while still managing to up-skill at work. Nevertheless, pursuing three passions is still a lot of work and, admittedly, reducing the number of goals I pursue has not freed me from stress. I still often feel overwhelmed by the seemingly insurmountable list of tasks ahead. Despite that, and to quote Australia’s first female Prime Minister, Julia Gillard, “it has not been an easy time but in this time which wasn’t easy I have prevailed.”

If you are interested in staying motivated and talking about the struggles you face as you try to achieve your goals, you are more than welcome to join me on Facebook or Twitter. I believe that giving positive energy, support, and encouragement to others is one of the foundations of a happy and successful world.

Here are some of the fruits of my hard work these last few months:

POETRY

Poetry NZ (Auckland) and Lost Coast Review (California) accepted two of my poems, one inspired by my favourite Australian poet Gwen Harwood and the other by Adrienne Rich. These acceptances represent my first international poetry publications. Down Under, journals that have accepted my poems in recent months for publication include Cordite Poetry Review (VIC), Windmills (VIC), Tamba (VIC), Studio (NSW), and SpeedPoets (QLD). Again, at least in terms of journal publication, I seem to be more popular over East than in WA although I did receive notification that a poem of mine was long-listed for publication in Westerly. In terms of publication, I have yet to crack the ACT, NT, and TAS.

“After Midnight,” a poem I have been workshopping since studying at Curtin University was Highly Commended in the Eastwood/Hills Fellowship of Australian Writers literary competition and another poem I developed in my final year at Curtin is due to be published in an anthology called The Stars Like Sand: Australian Speculative Poetry. In terms of poetry competitions, my goal is to keep honing my craft and to keep entering more competitions so I can be as successful as one of my new poet-friends Fran Graham. To achieve this goal I enrolled in three poetry courses/workshops: “The Poem Tells a Story – Workshop with Established Writer-in-Residence Judy Johnson” (along with poetry workshops by Zan Ross and Sue Clennell, Judy’s was one of the best I have ever attended) offered by the Katharine Susannah Prichard Writers Centre, Brook Emery’s “Online Poetry Workshop” (like Ron Pretty’s brilliant online course, this provided excellent constructive feedback and introduced me to another new poet-friend, the delightful Kelly Blaney-Murphy) offered by Australian Poetry, and the “2013-2014 Advanced Poets Workshop” (which had fantastic sessions by Jackson and Andrew Landsdown), offered by the Peter Cowan Writers Centre. Facilitating a poetry workshop is a rewarding experience that I will again have the pleasure to do next month as part of KSP’s Write-a-Rama!

EMPLOYMENT

At UWA’s School of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine (PaLM) as part of the New Approaches To Teaching (NATT) team, I have had the tremendous pleasure of helping reinvigorate teaching at the School through our team’s creation of educational e-learning content grounded in constructivist pedagogy. The content we create is founded upon collaborative learning environments and a student-centred approach to teaching. As our Administrative Officer, I have had the pleasure of enhancing my events management skills by helping coordinate the Grand Opening of our newly completed multi-million dollar e-learning suites as well as our School’s involvement in UWA’s biggest Open Day. Besides contributing to the training of staff in using the e-suites and providing in-class assistance, I have had the opportunity to develop my marketing and design skills by creating promotional posters for PaLM. What I am most proud of is the thirty educational laboratory technique videos which I filmed, edited, and narrated, that are now used in UWA classes. In addition, my computer and website development skills have greatly increased through my work updating the PaLM website using MySource Matrix and the creation of a staff community Learning Management Site using Moodle. This work has enabled me to amplify my presentation skills as I was invited to give presentations at UWA’s Teaching and Learning Week eLearning Expo run by the Centre for the Advancement of Teaching and Learning as well as for The Faculty of Architecture, Landscape, and Visual Arts, the university’s Safety Committee, and at a Human Resources Management Committee meeting after which I was proud to accept a Certificate of Appreciation.

ENTERTAINMENT

Mint Jazz Band and I put on our second show at The Ellington Jazz Club and our first at the Subiaco Arts Centre for the City of Subiaco’s Sunday@Subi concert series. The excitement for the Ellington show began with my first appearance in The West Australian as a jazz artist. Budding Italian filmmaker Enrico del Gamba recorded the show and local Asian-Australian photographer Michael Walker captured some great publicity shots. The Ellington appearance led to our band being invited to perform at two really special events, a wedding and a 50th birthday party. Both experiences are precious to me because they meant that the clients loved our show so much that they selected us to be a part of a significant milestone in their lives. It is something I treasure as a singer.

The West Australian 1

The Subiaco Arts Centre show was another amazing experience for me as an entertainer. The venue is one I have been to countless times to see incredible theatre shows so it, like the Ellington venue, allowed me to do what I love best: putting on a show. Super talented Perth actress Rhoda Lopez helped me with ideas for both shows. Once again, the excitement began with an article in a local paper, this time The Post. Rhys Smith joined us on piano as Mark was in China and the show was well received (a beautiful birdie told me that the Mayor of Subiaco said it was one of the best shows they had had as part of Sunday@Subi).

In a wondrous turn of events, I finally got to make my dream come true of being a part of a hip-hop track as a guest artist. The rappers, known as AfroKingz are currently working on a project and I was happy to contribute the chorus for their song “Party Like That.” The collaboration lead me to start on another goal I have been asked to do for years: write an original song. As with “Party Like That,” the song which is tentatively titled “It’s You” is a continuing work-in-progress.

I am still working on Chocolate Blues Band, a project I began in January. The challenge of learning blues and soul classics by Nina Simone, Ray Charles, Aretha Franklin and Sam Cooke has been exhilarating. When I finally get to show you my blues show I think you will like it as much as I have enjoyed working on it. Until then, you can still catch me live with Mint Jazz Band at our first run of gigs at the Naked Fig. Like us on Facebook to stay in touch!

Moving Ahead

All the aspects of my life (poetry, singing, relationships, journalism and work) are progressing wonderfully.

POETRY

Landscapes: the Journal of the International Centre for Landscape and Language published my poem “Landscape,” We Matter Media published a human rights poem of mine, New South Wales journal Studio accepted my poem Nightfall, and Voiceworks – a journal I have been trying since I was 16 to be published in – finally accepted a poem of mine. It’s called “Matisse’s Blue Nude II.” In December I finished organising guest bookings for Perth Poetry Club but I have not left Perth’s poetry reading scene. The Katharine Susannah Prichard Writers Centre has booked me as an MC for their New Australian Voices open mic festival event on Friday 12 April which will be live streamed from Darlington Hall to launch the festival.

LITERATURE

Jake’s Perth Book Club has been revived. Marcus, one of the founding members of the group who moved to Melbourne last year, suggested that I use Meet Up to recruit members and now the book club family includes some new friendly, thoughtful, and worldly members. The novels we’ve read together this year: Kurt Vonnegut Jr.’s “Slaughterhouse Five,” William Faulkner’s “As I Lay Dying,” and now Albert Camus’s “The Fall.” Faulkner’s novel is the one I love the most; it is now among my top favourite books of all time.

JOURNALISM

Express Media selected me to be one of the Buzzcuts reviewers for the 2013 Perth Fringe Festival. Of the four shows I reviewed, those by Movin’ Melvin Brown and the Darling Buds of May were the highlights for me. Buzzcuts gave me the fantastic opportunity to have my reviews published by The West Online. Drum Perth has continued to publish my live gig and CD reviews. I am currently working on another article for MeDeFacts and another Research Info Sheet for The School of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine.

EMPLOYMENT

Working as part of the New Approaches To Teaching (NATT) team has been an absolute pleasure. It has taught me so much about e-learning possibilities in tertiary education. Among the work I have produced for the team this year, I am most proud of the instructional laboratory techniques videos I filmed, edited, and narrated as well as a marketing poster I produced to promote the improvements we are hoping to make to the F.A. Hadley Museum.

ENTERTAINMENT

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Entertaining has been the most exciting and active part of my life for the last few months. The Ellington Jazz Club invited me back for a performance which I will be doing with Mint Jazz Band. The show will feature jazz classics with a dash of contemporary tunes. Mint Jazz Band recorded two new demos in January, a jazz/swing/blues demo and a contemporary music demo. I have placed these on our revamped website. Our recent gig highlights include the New Year’s Eve gig at The Byrneleigh, high octane Saturday night gigs at Wolf Lane, and an outdoor show for the Town of Cambridge’s Music in the Park. I am now taking vocal lessons from another lady whose surname is King but the most inspiring lesson I have had recently came from extraordinary Perth actress and singer Rhoda Lopez who helped me sprinkle some theatre in four of the songs I will perform at The Ellington. To help promote my upcoming gig at the City of Subiaco’s Sunset@Subi local photographer and poet Karen Murphy took some photos of me which are my first ever professional promotional photos. On top of all of this, I also joined the South Perth Lion’s Big Band and performed with them at the Jazz Club of WA, the Scarborough Sportsmen’s Club, and the City of South Perth’s Angelo St. Markets.

Music_in_the_Park_9_2_13 Music in the Park

As you can gather from all of this, I have been a busy and industrious man. Hopefully, in another four months I will have more exciting news to share with you. I am a man who strives for the stars.

Photography by Karen Murphy:

Busy as a Bartender

 

November has been a big month for me so here’s a quick summary:

 

My gig at The Ellington with Mint Jazz Band was a success. Around 75 people came to the gig despite stormy weather and many congratulated us on our performance. Our double bassist Malcolm Mah’s creative intros and endings really gave our renditions of familiar classics that little something extra. For instance, our version of “Autumn Leaves” now begins and ends with what sounds like a horror soundtrack. I told a few humorous tales during the show and overall the concert was everything I wanted it to be.

UWA’s School of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine where I work full-time has invited me to publish articles on their website each month. Sentinel chickens is the topic of my first article for that series. I will also be working on the School’s monthly bulletin. In addition, an article I wrote about the New Approaches to Teaching (NATT) team of which I am a part will be published in MeDeFacts later this year.

The Disappearing offered to publish another poem of mine (a sonnet). You can download their app for free on your iPad, iPhone, or other android device. They published a poem of mine about an endangered native snail earlier this year. I also organised for another local poet, Robert Wood, to take over the guest bookings for Perth Poetry Club next year.

Drum Perth continues to publish my CD and live gig reviews (just check out the Freelance Journalist section of this website). The Matchbox Twenty concert with special guests INXS at the new Perth Arena was definitely a concert to remember. This month I was also lucky to experience an excellent theatre production (GRADS production of David Henry Hwang’s “M. Butterfly”) and a formidable show by The Glen Miller Orchestra. Little y Theatre’s misguided production of David Mamet’s “Glen Glengarry Ross” which showed a lack of understanding of the play’s focus on masculinity, age, and class, was the only theatrical misstep of the month.

Believe it or not, I participated in a fashion show competition where I was given a theme (“spring racing”), $300, and an hour to shop! Thank you to everyone who voted for me. I did not win but I had a great time and got to keep the clothes.

Favourite Book this Month: William Maxwell’s novel “So Long, See You Tomorrow.” The memoir-style story of a man reflecting on his boyhood in Illinois after the death of his mother is both moving and memorable. The story focuses on the dissolution of two friendships and the murder of a local farmer.

Tomorrow night I will join Mint Jazz Band in performing at The Wild Fig in Scarborough. We have been booked to play there every Friday until the end of the year. We will be adding some new songs to our shows, particularly the requests we have received so far.

Who knows what I will have to share with you in the next update?!

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