I have started work on a new documentary about the Supreme Court justice Clarence Thomas. It is called Clarence Thomas: In His Own Words. Filmmaker Michael Pack got an unprecedented chance to interview the laconic justice for 30 hours, and at this point I can say that I have heard Thomas speak more than almost anyone else in America. The film is still in its early stages, but I have ready written themes for much of it. Without giving anything away, I can say that Thomas’s origin story from Pinpoint, Georgia, is an amazing picture of racism and poverty in mid-century America.
As 19: The Musical, my musical-in-progress about the 19th (women’s suffrage) Amendment, takes shape, the collaborative part of the process becomes more and more important. Choreographers Danielle Marquis and Angela Norris, along with dance captain Kristen Briscoe, have been adding movement to each song. With the show still under development and the cast still “on book,” the dancing has been a key part of our workshop performances. It gives the audience something visual to follow. Their choreography is a combination of impressionistic emotive statements and precise representations of the story’s action. As the dancers set the dances, the music I have written has necessarily become more codified. I can no longer take the liberties I once took in accompanying the songs on piano. And conversely, the more the music finds its true shape, the more precise the dancers’ movement becomes. It has been a lesson for me in the shape of collaboration. We have a few semi-staged readings coming up, as we prepare this show for completion by next year—the centennial of the Amendment. If you’re in the Washington, DC, area, I hope you can make one of the shows, which are listed below. I’m on piano at every performance, so if you do make it, please come say hello.
I am a list-maker by nature, so the idea of making a list of New Year’s resolutions is eminently appealing to me. I make one every year, and it is the mother of all my other lists. Of course it includes some of the standard items like “lose weight” and “learn French” (that one has been appearing on my list since 1988). But it also includes some very actionable goals. #6 is “Study modern choral music from England.” I may not put a check mark next to that and call it “done,” but I am looking forward to the pursuit. And I see that #22 this year is “make better lists.” So meta. I hope your list this year includes many achievable goals, and a few that really stretch you artistically.
My jazz band, Chaise Lounge, played an amazing gig recently. The word “gig” does not quite describe the experience of playing a concert at Washington DC’s National Cathedral. The enormous, reverberant space itself is noteworthy. But add to that: playing a concert with the The President’s Own Marine Chamber Orchestra and the National Cathedral choir accompanying us! We performed a medley of wartime favorites: “Over There” for World War I; “Don’t Sit Under the Apple Tree” for World War II, etc. The event was sold out and an utterly fantastic experience, especially since I was given the opportunity to arrange our medley for these crackerjack ensembles. PBS filmed the whole concert for a special that you can watch here. I’d like to give a shout-out to the filmmaker, Joel Westbrook, as well as Col. Jason Fettig, the Marine orchestra’s conductor, and Mike McCarthy, the director of music at the National Cathedral. All of them are fabulous to work with.