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‘Solos’ synthesizes theater and jazz

Local playwright Joseph Reed Hayes continues his ambitious arc with this play

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On the issue of class, jazz music has a sordid past. It’s a lingering problem, if you look at how our institutions present and compensate one of the few uniquely American art forms – especially as compared to European concert music, e.g., symphonic orchestras playing music written by dead white men. Early on, jazz was a
pneumatic, metronomic device, literally driving the tempo of business in New Orleans’ Storyville district whorehouses. The Ellie Grace character in Solos is from a family with no dealings in that sort of business, leaving her to sublimate her considerable songwriting talents through her trumpet-playing partner.

Yet another reason Ellie can’t make it without Blue: The history of gender in jazz hasn’t been its proudest moment, either. Ladies singing out front has been acceptable throughout, but the mythos of women as creators has dragged doggedly behind for well over 50 years, short-sheeting the likes of composers and players Mary Lou Williams and Melba Liston. Solos addresses and drives a traditional theater piece with this premise. (Want some confirmation of the playwright’s assertions? Wynton Marsalis, though an unimpeachably fine musician, has become our Will Rogers of jazz history: Look up the internet chatter on his 25-year-old Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra having never given a female instrumentalist a seat in the band.)

New York composer Brian Groder has been a common denominator in Hayes’ Jazz on Edge series, and the trumpeter’s music is the interstitial force of mood and foreshadowing in Solos. The play runs at the Shakespeare Center with Groder’s prerecorded music Dec. 6-8; the final performance, Dec. 9, features the fine Tampa Bay-area band La Lucha performing live.

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