NEUROLOGICALLY DIVERGENT – A Dramatic Recitiation

Earlier this month, the Pulitzer prizes were announced. As stated by the Pulizter organization, the music prize is awarded

For distinguished musical composition by an American that has had its first performance or recording in the United States during the year, Fifteen thousand dollars ($15,000).

The music prize was first awarded in 1943 to William Schuman for Secular Cantata No. 2 A Free Song, which had been premiered by the Boston Symphony Orchestra the previous year. The later recipients were, for the most part, well-known composers of contemporary concert music, or what some people term contemporary classical music. The winners were all men until 1983, when Ellen Taffe Zwilich won for Symphony No. I (Three Movements for Orchestra). In 1999, Melinda Wagner won for Concerto for Flute, Strings and Percussion. Since 2000, women have won more frequently, including Jennifer Hidgon (2010), Caroline Shaw (2013), Julia Wolfe (2016), and Du Yun (2017). In terms of genre, the prize had always gone to contemporary concert music, with the exceptions of 1997 when Wynton Marsalis won, and 2007, when Ornette Coleman won.

On April 16, 2018, it was announced that Kendrick Lamar had won the prize for DAMN.,

a virtuosic song collection unified by its vernacular authenticity and rhythmic dynamism that offers affecting vignettes capturing the complexity of modern African-American life.

This was the first time the prize had been awarded to a piece in the genre of Hip-Hop. Depending on whether your definition of popular music includes jazz or not, this was the first award to a piece of pop music. Several people, including straight up Internet trolls and probably some who should better, were upset enough by this award to take to social media to voice their displeasure. The Twitter account @NewMusicDrama collected the worst of these, conducted a poll, and announced the winner:

Seeing the invitation to conduct a dramatic reading, while enjoying a leisurely Saturday afternoon, I leapt at the opportunity. I now present the finished piece, NEUROLIGICALLY DIVERGENT

Theatre Review: Jazzabel

London, Ontario came to New York this week in the guise of Jazzabel, the one-woman (and three-guy) show produced by a trio known collectively as “Femme Fatale.” The show is the product of chanteuse Denise Pelley, author Jacquie Gauthier, music director & composer Jeff Christmas, and producer (and ex-high-school-colleague-of-mine) Louise Fagan. Londoners of note, all.

The show has been the buzz of the London theatre scene for a while, and the excitement leading up to the New York run was high. I missed the Gala opening and the opportunity to hang with the Canadian Consulate muckity mucks. Instead, I caught the show on a wickedly cold Saturday night, surrounded by an audience of imported Canadians, some of whom seemed to have just put down their martinis moments before entering the house.

The idea for the show is promising, if not Earth-shattering: in between sets of hot jazz from the ’30s and ’40s, two jazz singers, played by one woman, tell their story. The two singers couldn’t be more different. Grace is green, excited, a little afraid, and clean cut, if not a complete square. Jane, who becomes Jazzabel, is hard-living, substance abusing, rather tragic. Parallels in jazz history are many. Ella and Billie are the quickest to come to mind, but if they were men, they could just as easily have been Bird and Diz.

As much as I enjoyed the show, and it is enjoyable, it did not completely hit the mark. I’ll talk about the music first. Jazz is, we all know, an improvised art form. When all the parts are written out, solos and all, you get something out that isn’t quite jazz. It’s jazz-substitute, processed jazz food, an edible jazz product. But it’s not jazz. Christmas actually did an admirable job on the arrangements. But the band could have really cooked if they had run though his charts once or twice and then tossed them out. Denise Pelley’s voice is great. No problem there at all. The artifice of the show had her a bit too removed from the boys in the band. I think that the intent was to show that the sidemen weren’t really on the stage with, that they were in the pit or something. Again, jazz is all about communication, people listening and interacting with each other. In such an intimate setting, her lack of contact with the band was a little unsettling.

The script has some issues, too. While I buy the story line, Gauthier’s dialogue, or monologue, I guess, doesn’t sell it. Big, long sentences that don’t always ring true. Here’s another radical idea: letting Pelley internalize the script and then throw it out would help. More improvised music, more improvised story-telling, less constraint, and in short, more jazz.

Gates of heck

New York is the best city in the world, and I don’t mean just to visit. If you don’t already know this, then I’m not going to try to explain it to you. The importance of Central Park to this wonderful equation can hardly be overstated. We sometimes refer to the park as the “lungs” of the city, but it’s really more than that. It’s the whole thorax of the city, its heart and soul and maybe even its brain too. To mess with the park on such a grand scale as that perpertated by Chrisco takes some, uhm, chutzpah. But fear not, because it takes more than $20 million worth of polyester to wreck this place. In fact, that’s one of the first things you realize when you see this art work, that the scale is somehow all wrong. Chrisco can wrap the Pont Neuf in fabric and change it in its entirety. But here, he’s not wrapping up the park, he’s just dabbing it here and there with some splotches of color. It’s like an over-ambitious painter buying a giant canvas and then realizing he doesn’t have nearly enough paint to fill it. I’ve heard the orange described a few ways, but to my cynical mind, it recalls the color of Gitmo jumpsiuts…

For some reason, many hundreds of people thought that capturing the act of unfurling a gate would make for a great picture. But it really didn’t:

Before seeing the gates, you try picture in your mind’s eye the massive scale of the thing. But it’s very difficult to find a good vantage point. Here, we’re looking down from Belvedere castle, the highest point in the Park. It still dissapoints me. I’ve seen a satellite photograph, and it also left me unmoved.

So, am I being too critical, or did this thing really just suck?