Tom Minter's Off The Stoop Blog

a playwright's journey, creating, connecting, and conversing.

Posts Tagged ‘Ella Fitzgerald

Blues For A Royal Flush/at the National Portrait Gallery/at 7PM, September 22, 2014

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No road is perfectly straight; neither is the progression of a new work.

But Blues For A Royal Flush has certainly been fixed to a fortunate star. From the beginning, this work has had benefit of support and community.

That embrace continues, and lifts an opportunity for this work to be part of a larger engagement.


At 7PM Monday evening, September 22nd, Blues For A Royal Flush will be presented without cover charge, and performed as part of the National Portrait Gallery’s ‘Audience Programming’, in the museum’s Nan Tucker McEvoy Auditorium.

This will be a co-production between the NPG and SIW (Stanford In Washington), who are the commissioning agent of Blues.


The cast will be the same troupe of incredible talents who premiered their roles, this past January, at the first performance, held at the Duke Ellington School For Arts.


Blues For A Royal Flush, weaves the music of an earlier era of jazz, through resonant experiences of Ethel Waters, Ella Fitzgerald, Billy Strayhorn and Lena Horne, all in the orbit of DC native son Duke Ellington, not only presenting their artistry, but exploring their different routes to platform, during a unique epoch of racial and cultural change.

This journey also speaks to family, and a crucible of class and social challenges met by these artists; the chords of which still vibrate.


The NPG is located at 8th & G Streets, NW; The Nan Tucker McEvoy Auditorium is located through entering at this G Street entrance.

The event will be posted by September on the NPG/McEvoy Auditorium calendar.


But let this entry suffice to mark the date!


Weaving the Bridge notes

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Actors need lines to read, or scenes to enact; musicians need notes to play, or parameters within which to riff.

Blues For A Royal Flush requires a group of artists, diverse in their expertise, to come together to put notes, words, and details ahead of the actions of actors, musicians, and technicians, so that this theatre piece can step onto its unique platform, and be experienced.

In exploring further, resonant interactions, I have found my way to envelope a stream of Billy Strayhorn into this narrative. The suggestive “Royal Flush” seems now to have further flesh; Duke, Ethel, Ella and Billy.

The work of Strayhorn is seminal to understanding Duke’s genius; a knack for finding talent, and construing it into a mantle of his own. The artists who worked, played, or wrote for Duke, came to know his way of ‘momentum’; making himself the light of the thunderclap.

..this paradigm of collaboration cost everyone involved utter commitment and a meshing of ego beyond a known map of partnership.

But the bargain was never really about obliterating the diversity of the individual voices, but of melding the sound into the distinct texture and tones of Ellington’s mystique.

It is easy to mark this journey through Witness of the exhaust trail. And this is well done in too many other places.

Blues For A Royal Flush is not going to attempt to speak as biography, but as instances of encounter; as ‘moments’, when the sparks struck surface, igniting an outline of personality, perseverance, preservation, performance.. and patience..

In its stride, Blues will include a cohort of its own artists, weaving their individual expertise into a bridge of grace notes to achieve a tapestry of storytelling beyond the page of a script.

The vision of this project has gained the imagination of three, very individual and unique talents: documentarian, Samantha Cheng; cultural illustrator, Nekisha Durrett; and filmmaker, Penny Hollis.

Their distinct styles will be utilized as ‘thresholds’; sequences of narrative image to resonate/’usher in’, scenes of live action.

This is not about playing with media as a ‘toy’, but about finding the right moments to work with its ability to deliver a deeper layer of the ..unspoken context, that pervade our experiences, and enhances 21st century communication – because Blues, though it speaks of the past, is a work of the present, and is a multidisciplinary endeavor.

As a commission by Stanford in Washington, Blues must also speak to a wide dynamic of audience; not only students, faculty, and alumnae, but to the larger community in which Stanford stands established.

In alignment with the ethos of its commission, this project continues to broaden into an educational opportunity; it has engaged the participation of students from the Duke Ellington School of the Arts, in DC.

Interns, from DESA’s Museum Studies, and Theatre track, have joined to research archive material and images, which will be offered to the project’s visual artists as possible material to work with, or ‘re-imagine’ with. For these interns, working with established artists creates opportunity for an exchange of knowledge and ‘real life application’ that might not otherwise be available.

Additionally the students will create their own image gallery and content exhibition, elaborating on their personal discoveries while investigating lesser known details, and challenges, in the lives of the artists they’ve researched.

This component of exhibition will be part of the overall event, of Blues’ presentation, allowing the interns platform and recognition for their work.

As artist, and Teaching artist, I am very grateful for this project; as the deeper institutional partnerships that are threading, because of it, are crucial to ensuring that Arts Education is not tilted entirely off the future landscape ..

The gift of a sandbox

leave a comment » very precious.

As children I don’t believe we comprehend just how informing the opportunity is, being able to freely muck about in a specific space of imagination, sharing toys and tools with any other like minds who bumble over the sides of the box to play.

At present, the analogy of a ‘sandbox’ is particularly apt for me, and has broad parameter around music.

In bringing together a classical orchestra, the sandbox for ‘creating’ is identified as the rehearsal room; here, the music score is rendered through a certain experimentation of ‘phrasing’ and finesse, accent and ‘attack’.

Though each division of the orchestra may have some flexibility, it is the conductor who lays down the parameters – the conductor who establishes the shading of the moments of individualism, in order to keep the orchestra etching the same diagram.

Within the dimensions of this particular sandbox comes agreement that the composer has laid down the ‘word’, so to speak, and however the orchestra paints that specific, ultimately, it renders a charted course and presentation of the maestro’s intention. another kind of music -the written phrase is there to mutate, and noted merely to establish a point of entry off of which a group might riff. Here individual instruments speak their expertise, note to note across a terrain of exquisite expressions of sound, sliding through chat to, perhaps, identify some relative corner of the initial note to dialogue in.

This sandbox is jazz, where a coalition of musicians discerns a musical conversation through ‘open questions’, and ‘riffing’ is not about an answer; it is about etching a texture for further conversation.

..Let me suggest that, with my writing, I endeavor to create in a riff of ‘open questions’ – having found that an audience is tackled by this, and in consequence, will readily ransack the baggage each has carried in from their own paradigm, provoked to patch the perceived gap. Unaware that the quivering, left of the experience, is the resonance of the question, which still itches through the dark into a riff off other articles of secreted debris..

Resonance; like molecules, collide and shape trajectory to other experiences and sensations ..perhaps, in the final analysis, unanswerable; but in the journey, informing.

…I have always had a passion for large canvasses of texture and tapestry, and have always sought opportunities to riff.

In the last few years I have found myself engaged in an amazing journey with Stanford in Washington, lecturing an audience of students and guests ahead of opera performances attended at The Kennedy Center.

These lectures began as straightforward information on the opera’s they were going to see, but, over time, I enlarged the scope of presentation to weave in conversation of context, of how music defined, or was impeded in a particular political period; how composers were connected to the mapping of current, or cross-current, cultural challenges; how enlightenment or repression affected the advancement of ‘entertainment’, and the purposes of composition. Context, ultimately, that allowed me to present a more organic sense of integration of environment, political landscape, society, and endeavor, beyond the notes placed on a stave.

This past May my passion for storytelling elicited a special commission from Stanford in Washington, which is the riff I’m currently endeavoring.

The main instrument through this piece is Duke Ellington, but chords of the story of Ethel Waters and Ella Fitzgerald breech a counterpoint to genius, creating a dissonant look at privilege, race, and opportunity between the 1920’s and 1950’s.

The title of the work is Blues For A Royal Flush. hope is that it will allow me to continue an artistic reach of personal ethic, while engaging the tools of 21st century theatre. In this I mean: finding the route and balance to manipulate stage action, musical performance, and sequences of film (as visual transition; ‘resonant stepping stones’ of specific images and associations) – moving each of these components fluidly as collaborative narrative, without congestion or gimmick, while creating storytelling opportunities resonant of aural textures and ‘fuzzy logic’.

..yes, well; speaking all that out loud I know how it sounds: “..ambitious”!

But fortuitously, as I speak with colleagues, it is the very ambitious nature of the stretch that engages them, and piques their desire to collaborate in the endeavor.

And so this sandbox is a unique place of play, with a commissioned piece offering me opportunity to ask a diverse coalition of artists, talents and expertise, to bumble over boundaries and riff!

Written by tomminteroffthestoop

August 13, 2013 at 3:23 PM

A chance with oportunity

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Politics aside, I found myself watching Tavis Smiley the other day, because of Jessey Norman, glowing in hot pink, looking fresh and very lively, in conversation with him regarding her upcoming concert with an emerging new orchestra, MUSE/IQUE, in Pasadena, and attesting that, despite the classical music industry’s continuing bad news with regards to the fiscal health of so many of the more established music makers, there is also a current in this country, trying to ignite new opportunities for a different generation, and a more diverse application of musical engagement.

..she then hit the subject square on, with some deprecation, succinctly putting the point that classical music has no future as an ‘elitist’ program, and that music, as a category, belongs in the embrace and social fabric of everyone.

Tavis asked her what was on her iPod. Ms Norman gleefully stated that she enjoyed carrying a CD player and shoulder bag full of selections of her favorite music. She also delighted in the disbelief of the younger members of her family, who would just look at her and shake their heads at such insistence on ‘old style’ entertainment. But breaking into full enjoyment, she asserted that an iPod did not have the bandwidth to do her voice justice; “..there isn’t enough bandwidth on an iPod to give me what I need.”

The creativity of Coltrane, Ella Fitzgerald, and Odette travel along with Ms Norman, always; her heart proudly embraces a full spectrum of music, and she relates to a quote of Duke Ellington: “’..there are only two kinds of music, good music and that other kind.’”

MUSE/IQUE’s initial program, with Ms Norman, covers the music of Duke Ellington, Leonard Bernstein, and George Gershwin.

Their ambition is to reach a new generation, and new audience pool, through music programs of exceptional breadth, aimed directly at ‘populism’, and community entertainment and engagement.

Looking at their opening concert, the eclecticism in the reach is relevant, and gives me hope that I am taking the right chance with opportunity..

Programs weaving the linkage between jazz and classical music, hip hop, rap, call and response, groove and folks song, are now the aim of music enterprises that want to make sure that they appeal to the newest, future patrons of the arts.

There is definitely no place for a ‘silo mentality’ to music; it is an embrace that has many folds in its caress. The world of music is warm, and wide, and varied, and full of enough nuance to satisfy a collection of cultures, even with everyone listening to sounds all at once.

It is time we engage in the truth that music is a healthy fabric of our existence, and adorns all the rooms of our taste.

In working with this model of wide band engagement, I am involved in creating a music series, to be presented at community resource centers.

The initial presentation at Deanwood Library, a few weeks ago, was a program called “Ragtime refined: Scott Joplin, Eubie Blake and George Gershwin”, in which I took the music of Joplin, and followed ragtime into the sweep of ‘tin pan alley’ and the saucy sway of Eubie Blake’s creativity which then moved into ‘jazz’, and through the suave technical technique of George Gershwin, flowed into American opera.

The next session, this Friday, will speak to the relationship between Opera and Broadway, moving from Puccini’s La Rondine, to Kurt Weil’s Lady In The Dark, and Street Scene, to Leonard Bernstein’s Wonderful Town, Candide and West Side Story.

The aim of these sessions, which I hope to continue and expand through diverse avenues of community resource centers, libraries and museums, is to engage conversation on the variety of sound-scapes that wallpaper our lives, and evidence our fluid tastes in music, as individuals scroll their iPods and attach, to every different moment in the day, ever changing musical landscapes.

To reach a population, and not just fill a niche, music must remain relevant, even to the point of embracing its use as accompaniment, if not accessory to every person’s life; and classical music specifically, must make peace with its integration and placement in this array of used sounds.

That does not mean that there will no longer be a need to understand where the roots of opera lay, or the trajectory of symphonic evolution; it does mean that there is a new consciousness, which connects to classical music, in general, with an internal cinemascope of diverse application.

So I move forward, in the trust that I am aligned with a growing current and change in how culture absorbs its musical dimension; classical music needs to be identified, as directly connected to people and their individual worlds.

The library music series I am working to sustain, is an initial engagement in connecting people to speaking about the thin lines which separate ‘genres’ of sounds; its larger ambition is to bring seniors and youths into the same room, and remind them of community and commonality, and get them to share conversation on their tastes, likes and dislikes, facilitating the exchange with examples of music, and acknowledging its use as emblem, and moniker in our lives.

Rolling out such an ambitious vision, as a series into community, is difficult at the best of times; arts programming initiatives are especially challenged now. But in the community outreach network that I had the opportunity to teach in, with the Washington National Opera, I have found an ongoing partnership of synergy and commonality.

The ambition of the music series has resonated with Deanwood Library, who are keen to offer such programmatic services to their community.

It is a unique moment in the arts landscape of DC, and as I find other groups, in the district and across the country, aiming for a new direction of engagement in music programming, I am encouraged to believe that this moment of challenge also affords a chance with opportunity.

…reflections of artistry

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Some moments in the legacy of Dame Joan Sutherland..





-and humorous..


Written by tomminteroffthestoop

October 12, 2010 at 11:04 AM