Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra trombonist and composer Vincent Gardner premieres the Jesse B. Semple Suite, a new commission for jazz orchestra based on the stories of Langston Hughes. Hughes wrote more than 70 short stories for The Chicago Defender, then a leading African-American newspaper, and also penned a column inventing stories that commented on social issues. "He gives himself another name," says Gardner, "sitting at a bar in Harlem with this guy named 'Semple' and having these funny stories." Gardner has taken some of Hughes's short stories, which will be acted out in skits on stage, and written music to complement their messages.
Gardner has been a contributing member of the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra for almost a decade. Born in Chicago in 1972 and raised in Hampton, Virginia, he came from a musical family. Singing in church at an early age, he tried various different instruments before settling on the trombone at age 12. His career has since included various stints not only with other jazz soloists, but also with hip-hop artist Lauryn Hill, the Duke Ellington Orchestra, and an Ethiopian pop band.
Gardner sees parallels in arranging and composing that mimic human behavior and movement, so he has tried to reflect in his music. Moreover, Gardner sees Hughes's writing as intrinsically musical. "These stories jumped out at me," says Gardner. "I couldn't hear the music, but I could hear that there was music. The stories were just something I had on the road to read on the bus!"
Gardner promises an evocative evening for Jazz, Tap and Theater. "You're going to hear some woody dialogue from the story," he says, "a little shocking, because it talks about the pre-desegregation times and Jim Crow and those kinds of things." Gardner says that underneath the roughness of the language, the tone of the story remains light-hearted, a style he says was used by African Americans in an attempt to make light of their situation before desegregation.
"You hear the music that goes along with the message," says Gardner. "It's not at all like Broadway, where the music is under the story. We're going to play our music after each skit is done." Gardner's music is decidedly not incidental. Don't miss your chance to see this exciting performance that blurs the boundaries of dance, music and theater.
For tickets and further information visit Jazz at Lincoln Center.
Scott H. Thompson is Assistant Director of Public Relations for Jazz at Lincoln Center.