I just finished scoring a presentation film for the Everglades Foundation that taught me a lesson in the value of leverage. This foundation is working to solve an environmental catastrophe: Florida’s Everglades are being destroyed by algae, fed by the run-off from fertilizers flowing into the watershed. It is a far larger problem than this tiny foundation could ever hope to fix using known methods—the cost would run into the billions of dollars. So instead, they offered a $10 million prize called The Water Prize to anyone who could find an innovative and affordable alternate solution. Groups of scientists from all over the world began approaching the problem from many angles. And the amazing thing is, I really think that it is going to work! This little film only covers the beginning of this process, but there is more. I was proud to contribute a few hopeful musical themes to this effort. I can’t wait to see how it ends.
On Saturday April 6, my doughty jazz band,Chaise Lounge, will head out to Washington, Virginia, a tiny town with a population of 127 at last count. Despite its size, this village in Virginia’s horse country has a wonderful music venue: The Little Washington Theatre. Somehow the theater’s owner, Nancy Raines, always manages to attract a discerning, sophisticated audience to fill this gem of a performance space. (Even the children, who get cut-rate tickets, are sophisticated!) For the band, there is a Brigadoon-like quality to playing there, since the crowd tends to outnumber the townsfolk. Where do they come from? Where do they go? If you’re in the region this weekend and up for helping me solve this mystery, come out and see us—and make sure to say hello.
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.