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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.

"Which is when the guy says to me — why the trumpet? "All the really good musicians," says he, "they play the sax-ah-phone." Might as well ask, why New York? Why water? Why blood? "Tell me, Mr. Miller, when exactly did you decide on air, when there are so many other fine respiratory choices available?" Why the trumpet ... A trumpet, you see, is human breath made solid, cold metal that howls and groans, yells and cries. It proclaims, it announces, it rings out like joy and it cuts the heart like sorrow. Men march into battle and a horn leads the way ... and they go to their final rest with the echoes of a lone player on an unseen distant hill sounding Taps. Joshua didn’t play no saxophone at the battle of Jericho! Ain't no walls a-tumblin down from a slide trombone, no no no!"

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."


  • The history of Jazz, courtesy of two College Park artists

    "After living for nearly 20 years in College Park, Joseph Reed Hayes said if there’s one thing he loves about the neighborhood, it’s how many artists and talented musicians it seems to attract. “It’s always surprising,” he said. “I’m a full-time freelance writer, and I do a lot of work for a lot of people, and I am surprised a lot when I talk to creative people, to actors and musicians, and they say ‘I live in College Park.’ It’s a great hot spring of creativity.” That was true on Oct. 26, when the neighborhood hosted one of its premiere community events, College Park Jazzfest, with musicians performing on 10 stages along Edgewater Drive. Hayes said it was a great event because it demonstrated how uniquely improvisational Jazz is, especially when performed live. “We’ve lost some of that to other forms of music, but it’s still the only form that allows that expression of emotion on a daily basis,” he said. “You don’t have room for improvisation in classical music. Rock is a very set form of music. Jazz allows you to take a song and play it in 20 different ways and still be Jazz.” Next month, Hayes will test that theory when he looks at the history of Jazz as the playwright and producer of “Solos,” a play that will be performed at the Goldman Theater at the Lowndes Shakespeare Center. The play, which runs Dec. 6-9, will feature the music of Brian Groder, and the final evening will include a live performance by Jazz ensemble La Lucha. “It’s what I call a Jazz play,” Hayes said. “It is a very personal play about the interaction between two people. What it conveys is the history of Jazz in America, from 1939 on.” “It follows two characters over the course of 40 to 50 years, and explores their life and how it interacts with Jazz,” said the play’s director, Paul Castaneda, an artist who also lives in College Park. “It’s a story set to Jazz,” Castaneda said. “It’s definitely unlike anything I have directed before. “The music, which is a big part of the show, really interacts with the characters.” “Solos” is the culmination of The 13 in13 Project, which has been a year-long project by Hayes to provide audiences with 13 artistic events, ranging from theater and Jazz to literary readings, workshops and movie screenings. “Solos” stars Michael Sapp and Desiree Perez as trumpeter Ben “Blue” Miller and Eleanor Grace, a composer. “I am a longtime Jazz fan,” Hayes said. “I’ve been writing plays for 12 years now, and this is one that I originally produced in a shorter form at the Orlando Fringe (Festival) in 2004. I’ve grown as a writer since then, and it’s a play that I’ve always loved, so I want to give it new life and a better production. I figured this was the best way to close this 13 in 13 season, by doing something that encompasses everything I do with this project, to encompass original music and Jazz history in a story that puts it all together in one play.” He also hopes the production demonstrates just exciting the improvisational nature of Jazz is – “very much like live theater,” he said. “Each performance is different. It depends on the audience and the mood of the plays and actors. What you’ve gone through from one day to the next changes.” Castaneda noted that the show on Dec. 9 features La Lucha, named “Best of the Bay” Jazz Ensemble by Creative Loafing Tampa. “Jazz has always evolved and been a popular form,” Hayes said. “You can trace certain key points in time where music changed, and fortunately you can pretty much put a marker down over a 10 year period. It came out of Big Band music and went into smaller groups. There was a change in 1949 from that music to Be Bop. There was a change in 1959 from Be Bop to so-called Free Jazz, where all the rules were thrown away.” 


  • Solos

    "On November 15th I went to 2 rehearsal of "Solos", a play written by Joseph Reed Hayes. The production was part of Joseph's 13 in 13 challenge, to produce 13 productions in 2013. Though the bar was set high, it seems that Joseph has completed every production he planned at the beginning of the year. This is how Joseph describes this original play about Ben "Blues" Miller and Ellie ... "My play, 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. Ellie’s story is a symphony: a fast, spritely first movement; a dance-like statement of self; a slow and mournful fugue; a finale that brings her back to herself; and then resolution and peace, reaffirming her talent and strength in the coda. Ben, the hip ‘Blue’ Miller, is portrayed by the music; everything you need to know about him is told by the progression of Ellie's music, from forceful swing to cool bebop, dissonant and chaotic free jazz, resolving back to romantic and lyrical post-modern. Ben in a very real way does not truly exist until Ellie creates him. If you know nothing about jazz, Solos is theater, pure and simple, a love story of two people trying to live through their art and insecurities. If you are familiar with jazz, the musical hints will provide a little extra gift." Paul Castaneda directed the actors Desiree Perez and Michael Sapp. While Ben Miller's career as a jazz trumpeter grew, it became clear that Ellie was the creative force behind his rise. She wrote all the music that helped spark his rise. When he came home to brag about the crowds raw energy, Ellie's mood soured as she sat home alone. The characters arcs were always on opposing paths. She yearned to have the music she wrote recognized but Ben got all the accolades. Though often at odds, the couple were undeniably stronger together. The play followed their relationship through the years. They grew old and matured together despite their differences. At this rehearsal, the actors were already "off book" but Paul called them out to be fully present in the moment. While one actor was speaking, the other actor's thoughts might wander to what they would have to do next. When they are fully, emotionally involved in the scene, that is when the magic happens. Both actors seemed to be living in their character's skin. The affection and history between them felt very real. The play will resonate for anyone who has ever felt that their talents were not fully recognized. It is only after the struggles, that the couple realizes how strong they are together."

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.

playwright

My plays take place on buses and in bars, in hotel rooms and government offices, farmhouse kitchens and jazz stages. 36 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

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.

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. Chair of Alternative Programming, Timucua Arts Foundation.