March 22, 2010

School of ‘hard bops’
Jenne Vermes
Senior Staff Writer

Written and produced by acclaimed jazz artist Gregory Charles Royal, It’s a Hard Bop Life
is a multipurpose theatrical production for multitalented jazz artists.

The show debuted in 2004 at the New York JVC Jazz Festival, and since then, it has been
used as a workshop piece for young collegiate jazz musicians across the country.
This week, the show came to Tallahassee, giving a few Florida State University jazz
majors the chance of a lifetime.

It’s a Hard Bop Life was performed at B-Sharp’s Jazz café, which is just off campus on
Brevard Street. B-Sharp’s is owned by two celebrated former jazz musicians, Clarence
and Geri Seay, and they endeavor to bring live jazz into the heart of the community by
hosting jazz events and shows. Having worked with Gregory on his debut album in 1979,
the Seays happily offered their venue for Hard Bop.

“Whenever Clarence calls me with an opportunity to play here, I’m happy,” said Adam
Kornecki, FSU jazz piano major. “This was truly something new for all of us.”

The six-member cast was made up of Gregory himself, playing the lead role and
performing on the trombone, as well as three FSU undergrads: Ricardo Pascal on tenor
saxophone, Kornecki on piano and Gerald Law on the drum set.

“Playing and acting introduces a whole different dynamic to what you have to do,” said
Pascal. “I’ve never done anything this structured, so it was great to get the acting
experience.”

The show is casual, yet deep in its philosophies. The entire café became the stage, from
the spotlight to the back of the house, as the musicians and actors created a
comfortable, interactive atmosphere for each scene. Throughout the play, full-length jazz
tunes were played by each of the musicians in the original hardbop style.
“The mission of the (program) is to encourage the young hip-hop generation that
instrumental music is integral and important today and not an ancient tradition of past
decades,” said Royal. “And this show gives these music students the chance to perform
on a whole new level.”

The dialogue was humorous and lighthearted for the most part, giving the audience a
chance to put themselves into the story easily as it unfolded, yet the message underlying
the casual banter was profound. Essentially, the main character, a modern day rapper
who had just taken his album platinum-selling status in two short weeks, received a
message from his father from beyond the grave.

The scene then takes the rapper, and the audience along with him, back to 1964, where
a new jazz sound was born, being debuted by a jazz trombonist named Quincy.
Throughout the play, the characters discuss what “true music” is, stating that music is a
way to transcend language, speaking paragraphs and sentences without ever taking the
saxophone reed from of one’s mouth. The play makes a potent point of the difference
between “real” and “manufactured” music, especially in today’s culture as opposed to the
music world of the ’60s.
The main character confesses that in a dream, he saw a world where singers and
musicians write music just so they can make money, and lyrics are all about murder and
sex, a world where many kids don’t know what it is to even hear music played on a real
instrument.

“This play has the potential to bring a lot to Tallahassee,” said Marci Stringer, professor
of theatre at Florida A&M University and one of the stars of the play. “This is a story that
truly doesn’t get told enough.”

The play ran from March 17 to 20 at B-Sharp’s café, and while the curtain has closed for
this year, there is much potential for the play and workshop to be recreated next season
as well.

It’s a Hard Bop Life teaches a new way of performing to musicians and inspires audiences
to bring the essence of music back into pop culture by displaying an infusion of jazz music
and modern, popular ideas.

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