Archive for February, 2010

*originally posted here 2.19.2010*

University of Maryland “Between the Columns”

Whether professional or amateur, or of the stage, canvas or concert hall, artists seek ways to communicate their thoughts, feelings and interpretations of the world. That creative imperative unfolds behind the scenes and onstage in the Department of Theatre’s latest productions.

“Hotel Cassiopeia,” at the Clarice Smith Performing Arts Center through Feb. 20, illuminates the life of artist Joseph Cornell, who used assorted junk to construct striking collages portraying the inner world he inhabited while living in his mother’s basement in Queens, N.Y. and caring for his invalid brother. The production, a collaborative project with Round House Theatre in Bethesda, is directed by Blake Robison, Round House producing artistic director.

“You don’t get to see plays like this very often,” Robison says. “The student actors, designers and technicians working on this production are some of the most adventurous and committed I’ve encountered, and [they] are making it happen with their talent, skill and passion for the material.”

Daniel Wagner, department chair, says there is nothing more gratifying than watching students establish relationships with professional artists like Robison.

“This fits into our philosophy of why we bring in professionals to work with our students, both as full-time faculty and as guests. It allows the students to have a deeper experience while they’re at UM as artists in training,” says Wagner.

Students will perform in Lydia Diamond’s adaptation of novelist Toni Morrison’s “The Bluest Eye” March 5-12 at the center under the direction of Walter Dallas, senior artist in residence and faculty member. Dallas is a National Endowment for the Arts fellow and has been a major figure in African American theater for several decades. The emotionally charged novel explores issues of self-acceptance and beauty through the stories of two young girls and their families.

Wagner notes that in an industry where professionals sometimes treat working with students “like a gig,” Dallas has been committed to working with the young actors and building relationships since he first came to Maryland in 2006 to direct “The Amen Corner.” He joined the faculty in Fall 2008.

“Walter was such as tremendous asset to the program in terms of professionalism and his style of working with students. He established contacts with the students and they continue to say in touch,” says Wagner. “He knows our students and brings an even deeper connection into the rehearsal hall while working with them, one that is reinforced in the classroom.”

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*image by Joseph Cornell | Object (Roses des Vents), 1942-53*


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Terry Waldo & the Gutbucket Syncopators:

The Ohio Theatre Concert

*another punkyjunk popmatters.com review*

By the time pianist and bandleader Terry Waldo and the Gutbucket Syncopators took the stage at the Ohio Theatre in Columbus, Ohio on April 13, 1974, ragtime had been in existence for the better part of a century, but had long since been replaced by those sub-sects of jazz that sprouted up from its roots.  Many of those offshoots—swing, bebop, cool—had also fallen out of favor, having been replaced in the minds and ears of many Americans by rock ‘n’ roll. Why, in the midst of a world dominated by Led Zeppelin, Neil Young, the Rolling Stones, Eric Clapton, and a handful of other classic-rock pillars, would anyone organize a concert to blast out music that had long since seen its prime, or even still maintained a thread of relevance?

Because these tunes—in the style of ragtime, stride, traditional jazz, Dixieland, whatever you wish to call it—is simply some of the most uplifting music ever recorded: timeless and plain old fun.  It’s almost impossible to listen to this and not smile, tap your foot, or just feel a little bit better than you might have before you turned it on.

The second Delmark release by Terry Waldo and the Gutbucket Syncopators, The Ohio Theatre Concert, features 19 tracks of pure, unhinged good-time music and includes seven spectacular cuts featuring special guest vocalist Edith Wilson.  From start to finish, this disc maintains an infectious energy that recalls the earliest of days when this music served as the soundtrack to barroom brawls and girls prancing on pianos, before it spawned dozens of dance styles.

After a pleasant opener, “Some of these Days”, drummer Wayne Jones takes the lead vocal on “I Would Do Anything for You”.  Coming in behind the band with a cheery vocal past the two-and-a-half-minute mark, Jones closes out its final minute and a half with two charming verses followed by a detonation of joyful, rollicking clarinet, trumpet, and trombone.

“The Letter”, an upbeat number driven by Bill Morhead’s scraping banjo and Mike Walbridge’s bottomless booming tuba, features a melody and bridge that many music fans will pick out as a pop favorite—here it’s filtered through Roy “Swing Chops” Tate’s brazen and brash muted trumpet, offset by the sweet buzzing vibrato of Frank Powers’ clarinet.

“Maple Leaf Rag”, originally published in 1899 by Scott Joplin, receives a well-executed reading by Waldo where his fingers playfully bounce up and down the piano.  He plays with the true mark of a bandleader who would have been playing this music in its prime,  equally adept at trumpet, tuba, banjo, cello, and bass, understanding the tone, expressiveness, and role of each within a band.  Waldo even takes the lead vocal on “How Could Red Riding Hood?”, a delightful take on the classic children’s story.

But it’s on tracks nine through 15 where the spirits are raised to another level, marked by the appearance of guest vocalist Edith Wilson.  Wilson was the second African-American woman to record, making her first record with Johnny Dunn’s Jazz Hounds in 1921 (following Mamie Smith’s 1920 recordings and predating Bessie Smith’s cuts in 1923).  She takes the stage at this concert 53 years after her debut, tearing through “My Man Ain’t Good for Nothin’ But Love”, “Am I Blue?”, “St. Louis Blues”, “I’m a Great Big Baby”, “Black and Blue”, and two others with unrelenting vocal dynamics.

No recording of this kind would be complete without including Joplin’s “The Entertainer”—the theme to The Sting to some, the “ice cream truck” song to others—but to all, one of the most recognizable and beloved pieces of music in any genre, among any generation.  Waldo nails it with precision and poise.  And that’s how these musicians played—with precision and poise—but also with reckless abandon and unbridled enthusiasm.  Listen to The Ohio Theatre Concert to clear up any doubts.

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