"Cool Blues" in the Pink at the New Federal
Play review of a play fashioned after Charlie Parker's life
Bill Harris has joined forces with award winning director Ed Smith to present
on the New Federal Theatre stage, “Cool Blues,” a tale of an ingenious and
inventive musician named B. “B” could
stand for “brilliant,” “blue” and even “burnt out,” all adjectives that would
serve to describe B in the various stages of his life. Fashioned after the
legendary Charlie “Yardbird” Parker, B is cool but definitely undergoing the
blues. Considered a genius, B can blow an
alto sax like no other but must do this under the confines of pre-civil rights
racism. He can work in the most elegant
of places but cannot dine in them. His
color prevents him from getting the gigs he deserves or getting the greater
opportunities his talent warrants. For
all his genius, B cannot figure out how to extricate himself from his plight so
he drowns it by abusing his body with drugs.
What form of drugs matters not to B as long as it gives him those
moments of brilliance that allow him to create.
And, provide those vacant temporary moments that allow him to forget his
extracts a price however and before long, B moves from the bottle to the
needle. As the dope flows through his veins he surrenders to the music --
playing just as much for his inner satisfaction as for those who come to hear
him in the clubs where he performs.
Eventually ingenuity turns to nightmare leaving B the shadow of the man people
expect him to be. He disappoints. Disappoints others of course but not even
their disillusionment can match his own disenchantment with himself. After all, what man does not want to be
remembered for those occasions he’s risen to “greatness.” This is the legacy B sought – something to
show that despite his fall from grace, he had risen to prominence and at times
supped among the wealthy.
influence of his heroin nightmare, B’s memories arise like shadows to haunt
him. He seeks to explain, deny, justify,
blame and repent. His beloved common law
wife Chim (Maria Silverman) darts like an unrelenting shadow through the
recesses of his mind, reminding him of the promises he never kept.
(Stephanie Berry) drifts in and out of his dreams and thoughts, a reminder of
the countless times he had disillusioned her.
Both women skirting over the negative, preferring to recall the good
moments -- seeking the return of the man they believe he is. There are moments of creativity, abstinence
and joy when B is on top of the world and then the dream ends. B knows the cocoon of drugs he has encased
himself within will only temper the pain briefly. He sees his body disintegrating and knows he
is beyond doctor’s care. He rails
against the injustice and reality of the world created by white society. He knows he can fly high, if only they would
let him. Only if they would allow him to
play what he hears in his head. Chords
which he finally builds via extended intervals such as ninths, elevenths and
thirteenths, something untried in jazz before.
realized that the twelve tones of the chromatic scale could lead melodically to
any key, thus breaking the confines of simpler jazz soloing.
society responsible for his decline, his self-imposed flagellation and drug
induced mutilation? Or does B bear the
responsibility for his own weakness? Haunted by the specter of his musical buddy
and friend Kid Welpool (Jay Ward), who is a mirrored reflection of Bs own
addiction, B admires Kid’s musical chops but is disgusted by his drug use. A drug use that no longer allows Kid to
perform as he once could. Of course, B
does not see that he too is heavily influenced by the drugs that are sapping
his own strength, ravaging his body and stealing his genius until it’s too
late. It is only at the 11th
hour that B seeks to take the cure.
For all his fame and the famous people
he co-mingles with, B feels alone. His
body is revolting against him and his musical genius fading in and out in
flashes of memories and moments of clarity.
It is during those moments that B seeks to do something that will
signify his success and be a memorable gift to his mother; a moment of grandeur
to reward those who have supported him and his career. Enters jazz enthusiast Baroness Alexandra
Isabella von Templeton, - one of the wealthiest women in the world with ties to
the Rothchilds. Baroness
Zan (as she is fondly called) is based on Baroness Nica de Koenigswarter of the
Rothchild family (born Kathleen Anne Pannonica Rothschild). Her stamp
of approval matters to B.
by Terria Joseph, initially the Baroness comes across as just another useless
member of the idle rich; so nasal she can only be described as a one of the
hoity-toity snobs whose noses are so far up in the air, they lose sight of the
real world existing around them. To the
Baroness’s credit however, she recognizes the brittleness of her upper class
existence and seeks to save her soul. In
the end, she does so admirably.
rounds out the cast in this melodrama of greatness, madness and lost chances.
“Cool Blues” continues its run at the
New Federal Theatre, Henry Street Settlement’s Abrons Arts Center Recital Hall
Theatre, located at 466 Grand Street in Manhattan until April 3. Performances of COOL BLUES will be
Wednesday Through Friday evening at 7:30 pm, Saturday at 3pm & 8pm and
Sunday matinees at 3pm.
If you are
a Charlie Parker fan you will want to see this production.