By Darlene Donloe
HOLLYWOOD — Actor Keith David is known for his booming voice and his resolute presence.
Both will be on display when the classically trained, Emmy-winning actor takes the stage as part of “Jazz Re-evolution,” a fusion of stories, songs, memoirs and music, that pays tribute to jazz luminaries who are brought to life by a world-class ensemble of actors, singers and musicians to convey the rich history and power of America’s greatest original art form.
Produced in partnership with WORDTheatre, the show takes place July 22, at the Ford Theatre in the Hollywood Hills.
The one-night-only event, created, directed, and produced by Cedering Fox, and narrated by Iona Morris, spotlights jazz legends — from Buddy Bolden, Ma Rainey, Bessie Smith, Jelly Roll Morton, and Louis Armstrong to Nina Simone, Billie Holiday, Miles Davis, Duke Ellington, Arturo Sandoval, and Wayne Shorter — through biographical and memoir excerpts, letters and selections from the writings of literary personalities such as W.E.B. Du Bois, Zora Neale Hurston, Langston Hughes and Stanley Crouch.
Fox said there are several key goals for this event.
“WORDTheatre takes on different themes, always with the mission to connect people and bring people together, to inspire empathy and compassion,” she said.
The goal is also for multigenerational audiences to be transported from the birthplace of jazz in New Orleans to Harlem, and to the Los Angeles clubs that thrived along Central Avenue by bringing the voices of the past alive through the written word and the sounds of the jazz age.
“Jazz Re-evolution” weaves together true and complex stories by and about triumphant personalities who persevered in the face of racism, and personal and economic hardships to become icons.
Joining David are actors and musicians including Gary Dourdan, Jason George, Joseph Marcell, Reign Morton, Leslie Grace, Maria Bello, Miguel Sandoval, Antonique Smith, Tracie Thoms, Glynn Turman, Reign Morton and Michole Briana White.
Musicians include Wayne Bergeron (trumpet), Starr Parodi (musical director, piano), Suuvi (cello), Nedra Wheeler (bass), Terrace Martin (saxophone), Kevin Ricard (percussion), Clayton Cameron (drums), Logan Richardson (saxophone), Remee Ashley (trombone), and Jonathan Sacks (orchestrations and arrangements).
“Researching and sharing the rich history of jazz, America’s greatest original art form, with a wide audience in a beautiful outdoor summer setting at The Ford is an honor and a privilege,” Fox said. “Jazz music informs and influences so much of what we consume — from poetry and fiction, to pop music, to rap and hip hop music, to fashion, to the social justice movement and more. This is a unique survey and celebration of some of the greatest jazz legends and those who wrote about them.”
For Fox, Keith David’s participation in the project is a no-brainer.
“Keith David has been working with us bringing stories to life for over 15 years,” Fox said. “He has been on tour singing his own jazz standards for many years, as well as having narrated the seminal Ken Burns jazz documentary. He is a scholar and jazz artist in his own right, with an extraordinary voice that is world-renowned.”
I recently caught up with Keith David to talk about “Jazz Re-evolution.”
DD: This show pays homage to those personalities who overcame. Talk about what you’ve had to overcome as a Black artist.
KD: My whole life growing up, I was called white boy Keith. Ebonics wasn’t allowed in my house. A certain kind of communication was always demanded and expected. The wonderful thing about the voices being represented here, these people, poets and statesmen and scholars, had something to say, and they said it well. Too many don’t know these voices — and they should. White people should know them, too. They are afraid of critical race theory because it turns around their whole notion of what truth looks like. The voices of these people and their level of use of language is — Oh, my goodness.
DD: Talk about your role in the event. Which icon are you portraying?
KD: I’m just thrilled to read the works of so many wonderful people. I’m playing W.C. Handy (American composer). Some call him the Father of Jazz or Father of the Blues.
DD: Why did you want to participate in this event?
KD: I’ve been working with Cedering Fox for a long time. I’m an actor and I love poetry and excellent writing. When she asked, I was thrilled. I’ll be sharing poetry with people.
DD: Do you feel Black creatives have gotten their due?
KD: It’s an ever-evolving process. Some have, of course. You can’t mention August Wilson without someone wanting to genuflect. If you want to say the name, Lloyd Richards, I want to genuflect. It’s a lifelong process. Some go their whole lives without their due. They get it posthumously. Those of us who say their name — that’s when they live on.
DD: What does this kind of event tell us?
KD: That we have a lot of work to do and that we are not alone and that it can be done.
DD: Why is it important for us to know what these icons went through?
KD: There are three kinds of theater. Good theater, bad theater and important theater. This is unifying. It demonstrates that when we come together as a human race and share our voices and thoughts and writings and experiences, we find we are more alike than we are different. We should celebrate the differences.
DD: This show pays homage to some jazz artists. What is your relationship to jazz?
KD: I love jazz. I love the idea and the improvisation and the impromptu jazz. My dad was a big jazz enthusiast. I grew up listening to it. I love vocal jazz. Jazz has influenced every culture around the world.
DD: You are known for your classical music background. Some people don’t like classical. What are they missing?
KD: A moment in deep universality. When you listen to whatever form of classical, you open your mind and heart enough to have an experience and let it wash over your spirit. There is something that is captivating. There are many wonderful Black classical composers. It’s not about any one culture. It’s neither French, German or Russian, it’s all of it. Somewhere, soul is a universal experience. You don’t have to be Black to have soul. Soul music comes in many forms.
DD: You’ve been in this business for 42 years. What do you know for sure about show business?
KD: It’s going to change — that’s for sure. There will be shifts. If you don’t have a firm foundation in who you are, you will become a leaf to every wind that blows. It takes a long time for a human being to become a whole person.
DD: Why should people come to “Jazz Re-evolution?”
KD: It’s going to be a wonderful event.
DD: What are your thoughts on the SAG-AFTRA and WGA strikes?
KD: My prayer is that it ain’t for nothing and that the powers that be, the people in the position of why we are striking, they get struck in the heart and understand that all we’re trying to do is make a living and that they should share the wealth. There is a lot of money to be had. All we want to do is participate. Don’t cut us out. Don’t marginalize. I think there is a way for all of us to walk away and be satisfied. I wish it was over yesterday.
“The Q&A” is a feature of Wave Newspapers asking provocative or engaging questions of some of L.A.’s most engaging newsmakers or celebrities.
Darlene Donloe is a freelance reporter for Wave Newspapers who covers South Los Angeles. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.