Friday, December 29, 2006

Year End Jazz

McCoy Tyner
If you don’t have your tickets already you are probably out of luck; however, the concert featuring McCoy Tyner on piano, Joe Lovano on sax, Christian McBride on bass, and Jeff “Tain” Watts on drums, will be broadcast from Yoshi’s in a national broadcast on National Public Radio, Saturday-Sunday, December 31-January 1, for the New Year’s Eve. Count Down, on 88.5 FM. If you want to try your luck call (510) 238-9200 or visit

Thursday evening, Dec. 28, the 10 p.m. show was packed as in knees touching and toe kissing with strangers, but all this was forgotten when Tyner walked onto the stage. A little thinner, he leaned on the bannister as he mounted the steps, but once the maestro sat down it was immediately evident to all that he was still in charge!

The last set began with two originals: Fly with the Wind and Passion Dance. Jeff Chambers was sitting in for the absent Christian McBride who flew to New York for the James Brown viewing and memorial, yet after an initial surprise double-take on my part, Chambers was certainly the man, but then everyone was playing as if their lives depended on it....the power and the intensity palatable from all present: Joe Lovano on tenor sax and Jeff "Tain" Watts, not withstanding. It was great seeing the men sustain such an elevated performance from start fo finish, Tyner at times sitting back checking the guys out, he and Watts sharing a special smile often as Watts time and time again matched Tyners' fingers stroke for stroke on his drums -- then again on many occasions so did Chambers who midway through the set walked back in after a stunning Lovano solo to an impromptu gospel blusey number created on the spot.

I love it when Tyner does this.

Coltrane's Mr. PC for "Paul Lawrence Dunbar Chambers Jr.," (bassist), was another evening highlight, as was the lovely "Angelina," which more than any other song that set illustrated the composers' incorporation of the classical idiom in the jazz format...if there is a difference. Mellow Tone, a Duke Ellignton piece, closed the set.

Some audience members said they hadn't heard Tyner so funky before which I thought was funny considering the pianist's Philly roots, roots he shares with bassist Christian McBride.

Seated at a table with two drummers and another reporter, we were all humming the tunes in our heads, yet between us could only name a couple. Tyner's like that, we know him, and then again...we don't. Visit

Sunday, December 10, 2006

Suzan Lori-Parks' 365 Days…Ethiopian artist @ MoAD

I’ll tell you, I’m having so much fun going to the theatre every week to see what local theatre collaborations are going to do with Suzan Lori-Parks' body of work: 365 Days/365 Plays. I think I have joined a cult…perhaps lucky for me, yet I haven’t met anyone so far who has seen the first 21 plays, let alone read them. That would be nice. Each time I’ve gone those in line are neophytes…first time in the water, although Sunday at The Playwright’s Foundation with directors: Amy Muller and Robert Henry Johnson everyone had heard of Suzan Lori Parks, could name at least one play, and surprisingly knew a cast member or two – for me that was Judy Juanita, Imani Harrington, and RHJ who co-directed and performed.

This has to have been my favorite week so far…yes I know, I said that last week too. Okay, so I’ll probably say it again next week, so be prepared. I absolutely love theatre and art museums. I go to the theatre to unwind, the same with museums. After an hour mediating in front of a canvas…yes literally, I have no worries and I feel renewed and refreshed.

From the first scene: a man digging a hole and a woman emerging from that hole, to the dragon who lost her treasure and the town in a bag, not to mention the former president Abraham Lincoln’s 89th birthday…if he’d lived that long, the cast was simply fabulous.

Amy Muller read the directions as some of the actors had script in hand. We knew this was a staged reading so I was surprised that so many of the cast knew their lines by heart. The costumes were fun, especially the fortune teller and the reader. There was a red carpet that was rolled out…this same carpet was used in the next few plays. Nothing was wasted, chairs serving as ground cover for the holed the digger filled once the protagonist’s treasures were inside. The chairs were then the bed they shared and the space the two needed for conversation. Some plays had soundtracks, RHJ even danced during Lincoln’s party.

If was all over much too soon, what fun we had in the time spent together. These actors weren’t as sociable as Women’s Will were, or as socialable as 10 Red Hen actors and director was the following week: 12/7-12/10, who had scripted social inteaction and audience participation into the evening's performance.

A friend of mine said that at the performance in the Mission Friday night, the seven plays were performed throughout the evening with mini-parties in between. The director, Maya said the idea of having performances in homes throughout the Bay Area was to show the connection between art and everyday life...a very African concept, a very human concept.

At the Fruitvale artist loft where I attended the performance Thursday, Dec. 7, the plays began when the time seemed right, the directions for the evening in a tiny program with multiple folds. There were multiple ativities we were asked to participate in, one called for a servant willing to beat a character when asked; another asked us to choose to be either on Napoleon's side or Wellington's. Given such limited choices, you know which side I chose. It was Pearl Harbour Day. The day the United States joined the war...nothing to cheer over. The play written called: The Carpet Cleaner on Pearl Harbour Day, was only performed Thursday.

We were invited to dance at one point, the DJ spinning some catchy tunes when all of a sudden above in the loft area, two actors who'd been dancing began speaking:

Black Bird: A Sea Gull Variation
Rough: Ima ax you.
Tosha: Go head.
Rough: You dont want me to ax but Ima ax.
Tosha: I said go head, you deaf?
Rough: Cool.
Tosha: A.
Rough: So howcome you always wearing black?
Tosha: Black is beautiful, thats how come.

Rough: Girl you got to marry me.
Tosha: I dont got to marry you nothing.
Rough: We got that special something between us.
Tosha: A special something nothing.
Rough: Girl--
Tosha: I told you that this Tosha is a woman of the Movement. And you, Roughy, you are apart of the stagnation. Tosha aint legally binding her womanhood into stagnation.
Rough: Im gonna be kneeling yr whole life.
Tosha: Yr gonna be kneeling yr whole life.
Rough: I got a good job. Ima buy you a house in the Rolling Hills.
Tosha: Ima woman of the Movement. The Rolling Hills aint part of the Movement far as I can tell.
Rough: Power to the people!
Tosha: You dont mean it.
Rough: Power to the people!
Tosha: You just wanna get with me.
She exits
Rough: Power to the people!
Still on his knees he exits following her.

Perhaps house party performances lend themselves more to such extentions, but this is not necessarily a prerequisite.

I think producers have to build in the community aspect of theater, otherwise it’s still a spectator sport, which is counterproductive to the whole idea of sharing one artist’s body of work for 52 weeks. Imagine what kind of country this would be if one went to just half of Suzan Lori-Parks plays for November 2006 to November 2007? I think this is the higher goal. With each encounter lasting less than one hour, there is certainly time to add in the community portion. For many people, this is their first time at a play, at a conservatory, at a museum, community center, neighborhood, artist loft, etc. It’s an opportunity that can’t be taken for granted in a time when isolation is fast becoming the social norm rather than the exception and not just around holidays.

World AIDS Day just passed, Hurricane Katrina was only a year ago and people are still dying, new HIV cases are still being reported in Oakland... Katrina survivors are still displaced and without resources, homelessness is still an issue and with the cold weather hypothermia is a risk many who live on the street are succeptable to-- last night my brother and I talked about the wasted resources on Christmas lights across from the Fairmount, resources which could be used to address the problems listed above.

To come together over a work of art just for a moment, to listen, to enjoy, to be challenged intellectually and emotionally, then to have the opportunity to exchange ideas is fun, and important today.

Suzan Lori Parks is an African American writer whose work draws from this aesthetic, yet I don’t see many young African Americans in the audiences or on stage. The first production produced by Z-Space was a majority African American production, which has not been repeated. I hope companies do not attempt to homogenize the work, that artistic directors remember its birth mother and her roots.

I had been reading the work beforehand. I got behind and wasn’t prepared for The Playwright's Foundation, but the book 365 Plays is out and you can purchase it to experience the work more leisurely because even if the play has no audible words, or is just a page, or two long, Parks is masterful in the brevity.

Sunday, Dec.17, 7 p.m., Cutting Ball Theatre at the Exit Cafe, 156 Eddy Sreet, San Francisco, performs 365 Days/365 Plays week: 12/11-12/17. Visit For an up-to-date schedule vsit

Ethiopian Artist and Beaded Prayers @ MoAD
After the performance at the Museum of the African Diaspora I went upstairs to see the wonderful exhibit featuring the work of the premiere Ethipian artist Qes Adamu Tesfaw, whose work takes its themes from the Ethiopian Orthodox Church like King Solomon, Queen of Sheba and their child King Menelik, historic themes such as Ethiopia's Battle of Adowa, March 1, 1896 against Italy, and more recently the impact of HIV/AIDS on East Africa, with images reflective of his community and culture. This exhibition which includes a wonderful video interview with the artist is on view through March 7, 2007. For a slide show see:

The Beaded Prayers Project: Beaded Blessings is up through January 15, 2007.