|L to R - Eddie Goines, Damon Rutledge, Michael D. Ricks, Marcus Clark Oliver, Rogelio Douglas III, Jermaine Alexander - Photos Ian Foxx|
By Joe Straw
“ Will you ever get married again?” – Harry Reasoner
“To who?” – Miles Davis
“To anybody.” – Harry
“ I know there’s a couple of guys I’ve been looking at but, never a woman again.” – Miles
There is a surprise upon entering the intimate theatre space. It is a club, with small round tables and a dark atmosphere with an invasion of shades of light. Take a seat, high or low, and listen to the beautiful sounds of the trio in the balcony, a percussionist (Ricardo Mowatt), a saxophonist (Randy Ross also the writer of the play), a stand up bassist (Marion Newton), soul jazz, and suddenly one is lost in the music.
They came, this date night, shoulder-to-shoulder, and dressed to the hilt, happy and spoke to greet, handclasps, and shoulder bumps, introductions, and self-salutations as the patrons rhythmically dripped into their seats and settled.
The Robey Theatre Company in association with the Los Angeles Theatre Center present Birdland Blue by Randy Ross PhD and directed by Ben Guillory through May 12, 2019.
Miles Dewey Davis (Marcus Clark Oliver) sat on the piano bench, the weight of the world on his shoulders, circles under his eyes, weathered, bent with sadness, holding his trumpet between his legs, in his dressing room now, and away from the prying eyes. The interruptions that will come from behind the wall is something he doesn’t need now.
Right now, Paul Chambers (Rogellio Douglas III), sleeps on a couch, although not an official slumber, sleeping off drugs. And, his standup bass? Man, that’s nowhere in sight. What good is a sextet without the bass? That will have to be addressed in the later state of his consciousness.
For now, they wait for the night, to get on, and listen, yearning for the wrong note that will lead to the next right one. Not going on is not an option – always scratch – a necessity to fill the void and feed the family.
Silently with background music, the others make their way, dark suits, down from the balcony, through the seats in the club and on to their instruments, smooth in the way to that dark spot, and eventually into the light.
|Jermaine Alexander, Rogelio Douglas III, Michael D. Ricks, Damon Rutledge, Eddie Goines, Marcus Clark Oliver|
Birdland Blue, in its world premier, is an exquisite play that carries with it the poetic swirling sounds of one-to-one. In short, Ross’s play is superb. In execution, the dialogue elevates in improvisation, it eliminates time, and the interchange between parties is spoken pointillism creating patterns of electrifying discourse. Framed by an outline, the improvisation carries the set, which finally gives structure to their arrangement and produces light from the darkness.
In its simplest form, Birdland Blue, through one’s imaginative spirit, is the story of Miles Davis recruiting band members for the makeup of The Miles Davis jazz sextet.
But a more complex look would be Miles Davis screaming for identity, fighting for a specific sounds, telling those who would listen, friend or foe, and fighting without question for money to feed those that have come along for the journey.
That said, there are observations that will come later.
Mo Goldman (Charles Isen), the manager of the current club establishment, takes it upon himself, to try to swindle money from Miles Davis. Moe, himself being fleeced by Detective O’Brian (Darrell Phillip), wants Davis to play five sets but paid for only four sets. Davis wants five payments for five shows. If Moe wants the fifth, he has to pay for it.
“Don’t f**k with my money, Moe.” – Miles Davis.
Davis then finds out that Paul Chambers, upon gaining consciousness, has hocked his double bass for drug money. Davis gives him money to bring the bass back.
Lucinda Holmes (Tiffany Coty) from Upbeat Magazine maneuvers to get an interview with Miles Davis, his journey that got him there to that night. But, Miles wants to play, not really believing that a reporter can remember everything without taking notes or carrying a recorder.
And so she gets her story.
Telling more would give too many moments away.
Marcus Clark-Oliver is superb as Miles Davis. Torn and tattered, Clark-Oliver gives weight and incredible emotional depth to the character and strength to an emotionally drained Davis. Beyond the background of his life, he finds the wherewithal to use his métier to negotiate and get his way. Clark-Oliver uses his instrument with sincere intelligence as Miles to convert 1959 America to move in his direction. This is a wonderful must see performance by Clark-Oliver and surely one not to miss.
Damon Rutledge is also incredible as Julian “Cannonball” Adderly a man who has lived many lives to get to the point of his current position. The dialogue between Adderly and Miles is pure poetry and is a highlight in the show. Rutledge is smooth in all of his interactions on stage and his enthusiasm in the last scene is emotionally uplifting.
Jermaine Alexander plays Tenor Saxophonist John Coltrane aka “Trane” the man who would not stop practicing his horn despite the problems with his teeth. Coltrane has a nice interaction with Miles who offers money for medical treatment. There is more to add to this character in the manner that is Trane.
Tiffany Coty plays Upbeat Magazine reporter Lucinda Holmes, possibly a fictional character in this world of live characters, and seems to withstand the barrage of men coming on to her throughout. Her naiveté plays well in these circumstances because she is there for the story and she gets her story along with a solo to boot. Coty is an intelligent actor, very instinctual, and fun to watch.
Rogelio Douglas III has a very nice presence as Paul Chambers the bass player. There is a moment in the play where he has a solo after he has retrieved his bass from the pawnshop. The character has a serious drug problem and the scene needed want to explore the reality of his predicament. What does he love the most? And, what does he want out of this moment? The inherent conflict is embedded from what he wants the most, what he loves the most, his bass or, his drugs? Or, is he caught in this dilemma forever?
Eddie Goines is amazing as Wynton Kelly, a Jamaican American complete with accent. Goines, as the piano player, brings a lot of style and class with his portrayal. It is a smooth performance as smooth as though he were playing the piano.
Charles Isen is successful as Mo Goldman, the manager of the jazz club. More needs to be made of his relationship with Miles Davis. Now it appears that Mo is a little uneasy, very tentative, as though he were walking on eggshells. Possibly there a little more strength to be found in the character.
Darrell Phillip is Detective O’Brian a cop who steals and plays havoc with the manager of the jazz club. The scene near the end needs work and must have a purpose whether it be poetic or purposeful. The scene cries for a strong resolution.
Micheal David Ricks plays Jimmy Cobb and like all drummers seems to be the quiet one in the background. A little more writing of this character should help the actor mesh with other characters on stage. One is not sure if this character is fully developed.
Kudos goes to Ben Guillory, the director and producer, for pushing this original work of art through workshop to production. Guillory manages to showcase the actors playing musicians without playing a note. The work is excellent, filled with life, vitreous glitter, unfathomable shadows, and in a manner that gives life to these musicians that rings a truthful chord. The opening is brilliant and the ending needs works and everything in between is remarkable jazz.
Shaw Jones and Jason Mimms are alternates that did not perform the night I attended.
Naila Aladdin Sanders, Costume Designer, gives life to the period. The costumes were magnificent!
There is live music and that is an extra-added bonus! Randy Ross the Musical Director makes this night soar.
Other members of this remarkable crew are as follows:
Di Smith – Associate Producer
Ernest Gardner – Set Designer
Micheal D. Ricks – Lighting Designer
Sorlie Reeves – Production Stage Manager
Eric Taylor – Assistant Stage Manager
Jason Mimms – Graphic Artist
Curt Romany – Prop Master
Shawn Michael Warren – Set Painter
Run! Run! Run! And take a jazz aficionado, someone who has an unquenchable thirst for jazz.
The Robey Theater
514 S. Spring St.
Los Angeles, CA 90013