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SOLOS

Solos is nothing less than the history of jazz in America, as told through the relationship of two people, in three movements and a coda. It is about love, deception and the hardships and joys of the jazz existence. At its heart is the fabulous, always-changing life of the music itself, a dance of timing, in which the rhythms of dialog mimic the rhythms of jazz and the music becomes the third character, reinterpreting the actors' emotional involvements.

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"A touching story about love, truth, God and jazz as religion … a must-see performance." — Orlando CityBeat

Ellie Grace is the well-educated daughter of a privileged family; Ben "Blue" Miller a working musician blowing his best and getting nowhere. New Years Eve of 1939, Blue meets society girl Ellie in a hotel ballroom. He plays in the band; her daddy owns the place. She's a gifted composer with no outlet for her music, and he's an itinerant musician, a "gypsy" without a way to the top. They begin a passionate relationship that lasts a life-time — she composes but is uninterested in performing; he plays her dazzling new music and accepts the acclaim from the audience.Her family and her insecurity keep her out of the performing spotlight, and he is more than willing to get famous by playing her groundbreaking work and taking the credit.

"A play by Joseph Reed Hayes is a welcome oasis of cultured smarts." — Orlando Weekly

The music scene changes, from swing and bebop through "free" jazz to melodic post-modern, with Ellie's compositions leading the way. Ellie is delighted to give her music to the man she loves, but becomes frustrated by her invisibility as the decades go by, with Ben unwilling to risk falling from the heights he has attained ... until things finally explode.

2014 BroadwayWorld Orlando Awards Winner
Best Lead Actress in a Play - Desiree Perez
Nominee, Best Director - Paul Castaneda

REVIEWS

  • "In Joseph Reed Hates’ original theatrical drama “Solos,” now being performed at the Lowndes Shakespeare Theater in Orlando, the relationship that Blue and Ellie develop as two passionate artists quickly, and predictably, turns romantic. They become emotionally linked as lovers, as their career in Jazz proves durable for years to come.
    What’s so appealing about Hayes’ drama is the way in which the focus remains on the couple, who light up when they talk about their creative aspirations for their music, but who struggle to maintain a loving home; but at the same time, Jazz remains the shadow that covers them in the background. And it turns out to have a much stronger grip on their lives, and passion for one another, than either one might have predicted when they began to stumbled over so many painful low points at home. This intimate drama, with stellar performances by Michael Sapp as Blue and Desiree Perez as Ellie, is as much about the power of music and creativity as it is about how the couples’ lives changes over the years. It truly holds you in an almost hypnotic way.
    This is great theater for adults – a show that touches on our emotions as we connect with a couple soaring on the wings of their shared love for music, only to seemingly fall when their differences become too challenging to mount. And that is not even the end of the drama."



  • ‘Solos’ synthesizes theater and jazz

    "If you follow the arc of the output of writer-producer Joseph Reed Hayes, you start to see a pattern of self-imposed challenges built into his work. When the Orlando playwright won a professional development grant from United Arts, the end product wasn’t just a chance to present some hitherto-too-expensive work. The award seeded his first House Theater Project – a play performed in and streamed live from his own domicile – where he “sat and watched people’s faces more than the actors.” The wall between performer and audience had largely melted – with the space between them often just a couple of feet. 

    The game is to look for a hook in Hayes’ ongoing works – some are transparent, some less obvious and seen only through inference. This year the transparent game was his ambitious 13in13 series, in which Hayes posed himself the challenge of presenting 13 events in various disciplines. Though Hayes is known for his interest in jazz – witness his Jazz on Edge series – in his two-actor play Solos, tackling the issue of class and the role of women as creatives throughout jazz history is the less-obvious engine. 

    “I’ve always seen this sort of corollary between theater and jazz, as possibly the only two art forms where improvisation is so crucial to what happens that every show you see is going to be different, merely by the nature of those human interactions,” the playwright says, explaining that signature hook in action. 

    When asked how much gender and class matters were on his mind while writing Solos, Hayes succinctly confirms, “100 percent.” Those twin issues of representation (or lack thereof) drive the play forward in single-decade leaps, act to act to act, creating a history of jazz’s many forms out of the story of two people. 

    “When you look at the character of Blue Miller, there is a common thread between the styles of music and what he goes through. So he starts out rather light and swingy, and he’s much deeper during the bebop period, and has those same sort of aggressions and doubts and chaotic nature when we turn free,” Hayes says. “[And] if you’re not versed in the music … it doesn’t matter, because it’s a play.” 

    In Solos, Michael Sapp plays jazz trumpeter Blue Miller, whose love life is overtly stoked by Ellie Grace (Desiree Perez) after meeting her on New Year’s Eve of 1939; he’s playing in the hotel her father owns. As Miller finds fame, Ellie’s covert skill as his ghosting songwriter drives the three-act drama via the direction of Paul Castaneda. As a romantic meet-cute, Solos might ring familiar with a contemporary audience, but looking at the history of jazz music, you can start to follow the real rhythm. Despite Hayes’ statement above, knowing your jazz history could also help you follow the overarching narrative between Ellie and Blue. 

    On the issue of class, jazz music has a sordid past. It’s a lingering problem, if you look at how our institutions present and compensate one of the few uniquely American art forms – especially as compared to European concert music, e.g., symphonic orchestras playing music written by dead white men. Early on, jazz was a pneumatic, metronomic device, literally driving the tempo of business in New Orleans’ Storyville district whorehouses. The Ellie Grace character in Solos is from a family with no dealings in that sort of business, leaving her to sublimate her considerable songwriting talents through her trumpet-playing partner. 

    Yet another reason Ellie can’t make it without Blue: The history of gender in jazz hasn’t been its proudest moment, either. Ladies singing out front has been acceptable throughout, but the mythos of women as creators has dragged doggedly behind for well over 50 years, short-sheeting the likes of composers and players Mary Lou Williams and Melba Liston. Solos addresses and drives a traditional theater piece with this premise. (Want some confirmation of the playwright’s assertions? Wynton Marsalis, though an unimpeachably fine musician, has become our Will Rogers of jazz history: Look up the internet chatter on his 25-year-old Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra having never given a female instrumentalist a seat in the band.) 

    New York composer Brian Groder has been a common denominator in Hayes’ Jazz on Edge series, and the trumpeter’s music is the interstitial force of mood and foreshadowing in Solos. The play runs at the Shakespeare Center with Groder’s prerecorded music Dec. 6-8; the final performance, Dec. 9, features the fine Tampa Bay-area band La Lucha performing live."


  • Good Fringe Hunting

    "A play by Joseph Reed Hayes is a welcome oasis of cultured smarts at the Fringe, which tends toward the bawdier side of the spectrum. His Solos takes as its topic the development of jazz, as revealed by the decades-spanning story of a trumpeter and his wife, who secretly pens his 'original' compositions. Music fans will have a leg up in discerning how their working relationship reflects the flow of an entire American century; no such foreknowledge, though, is required to appreciate Hayes' smooth hand with dialogue."

freelance writer

  • As a writer on assignment, I've traveled to Italy, Scotland, England, New Orleans, California and New York City, with a specialty on all things Orlando. Whether it's a story about Arts & Crafts houses in Florida or new styles in computers, a Mounted Police squad or alien abduction insurance, I've written it. Environmental issues, music, movie and theater reviews and in-depth conversations with legends in jazz. Interviews and personality profiles are my specialty.

A full-time freelance writer since 1996, I've written for national and international publications about food, travel and the arts, and am currently the Dining Critic for Orlando Magazine. With 32 productions and readings of my plays from coast to coast and in three countries since 2001, and producer of the Jazz On Edge series since 2008, I advocate the cause of local, sustainable art.

food writer

  • Florida Magazine Association Award winning food writer and Orlando restaurant critic, currently for Orlando Magazine. James Beard Foundation judge, knowledgable champion of world cuisine and avid advocate of undiscovered chefs. I can write about the front of the house of a restaurant as well as the kitchen with equal expertise. Founding member, goFLA/SunshinePlate Central Florida.

playwright

  • My plays take place on buses and in bars, in hotel rooms and government offices, farmhouse kitchens and jazz stages. 32 productions and readings of my plays from coast to coast and in three countries since 2001; creator of House Theater Project and the year-long 13in13 series of shows. "Best local playwright - Joseph Hayes" - Orlando Sentinel

jazz producer

  • Producer of the Jazz On Edge series, spotlighting new and original jazz from Central Florida since 2008, showcasing the best that Central Florida has to offer in jazz to appreciative audiences, giving creative hometown and nationally-known musicians a place to perform their own music, without boundaries, in person and online. Board member, Timucua Arts Foundation.