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Though the Miami New Drama-commissioned “Queen of Basel” will have its official world premiere at Studio Theatre in Washington D.C. next season, you don’t have to wait or travel to discover how playwright Hilary Bettis has reimagined August Strindberg’s controversial 1888 classic “Miss Julie.” With three powerful actors and a small audience sharing the stage space at Miami Beach’s Co..

Branden Jacobs-Jenkins, now 33, was named a MacArthur “genius” grant winner in 2016, the same year his play “Gloria” was chosen as a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize for drama. Earlier, his provocative, stylistically diverse, subversive plays “Appropriate” and “An Octoroon” (the latter was produced by Coral Gables’ Area Stage last fall) each won best new American play Obie Awards. ..

"The Other Mozart" is a suitcase play – one of those shows where a single actress can pack the entire contents that creates the setting – costume, wig, and props, and go anywhere in the world. It is the way Samantha Hoefer will arrive in Miami to present Sylvia Milo's one-woman play about Maria Anna Mozart, the not nearly as famous older sibling of that 18th century rock star Wolfgang Ama..

Early on in the Argentinean film “El Último Traje” (The Last Suit), which makes its U.S. theatrical debut this week, a deceptively quaint and humorous scene takes place between the film’s protagonist, 88-year-old Abraham Bursztein and his young granddaughter. The little girl refuses to join in a family photo with Abraham surrounded by his many grandchildren. When he cajoles and insists, ..

Gone are the days when filmmakers needed huge budgets, and major movie studios backing them with big bucks to get their films seen, according to two producers who spent decades in Los Angeles, and have now moved their base to Miami Beach. "From a creative standpoint, there are amazing opportunities for filmmakers today," says producer Kevin Chinoy, who, along with producing partner Frances..

Mark St. Germain has achieved ongoing success with small-cast plays involving historical figures in fictional scenarios, and South Florida has been as welcoming to his work as the rest of the country. St. Germain’s “Camping With Henry and Tom,” about a 1920s camping trip involving Henry Ford, Thomas Edison and President Warren G. Harding, was produced in 1996 by New Theatre in Coral Gables..

Mexico City-based theater collective Teatro Ojo's works are constantly evolving. Nothing is ever really finished. That's because they take from every performance. Whatever the audience experiences, observes, feels, and offers feedback, which they highly encourage, all is used, considered, and included in the evolution of the same piece, or introduced into another new work. Two of the ..

“America’s Greatest and Least Known Playwright.”This is how the Cuban-American playwright Maria Irene Fornes is referred to several times throughout Michelle Memran’s documentary “The Rest I Make Up,” which makes its Florida debut this Saturday as part of Miami-Dade College’s Miami Film Festival. Fornes has been called the “Mother of Avant-Garde Theater.” Theater giants like Edward A..

“Once” has always been touched with magic. And as anyone who has seen the sublime new production of the show by Actors’ Playhouse in Coral Gables would tell you, the musical’s spellbinding pull is as powerful as ever. When Irish director-screenwriter John Carney first told the tale of a heartbroken Irish street musician and the spunky Czech pianist who reignites his passion, a 200..

Consider the idea of land in Palestine, and conflict may be the first thing to come to mind. But for Jumana Emil Abboud, the Palestinian landscape evokes other, older, associations – with mythological creatures like water spirits and ghouls. “These stories were told way before 1948,” says the Galilee-born artist, speaking by phone from her home in Jerusalem. She suggests looking back ..

Dimensions Dance Theatre of Miami has been on a trajectory best described as meteoric. In its first 18 months DDTM has been a 2017 Knight Challenge Grant recipient and now will debut at New Y..

Amirah Sackett came up as a dancer in Chicago’s hip hop scene at a time when women were rare in the mostly male community. But she also visibly stood out as a Muslim. She keeps her hair cover..

Inside the Little Haiti Cultural Complex, where Dance Now! Miami is in residence, there is a hub of activity as the company prepares for its performance on Saturday night of Contemporanea 201..

One of the signatures of the National Water Dance project since its inception seven years ago was that dance troupes, large or small, professional or school groups, were free to perform whate..

Miami City Ballet is in league with Russians – in a good way -- and this promises to make a selection of dances look great again. The company’s final program this season brings back Apollo an..

Hidden behind a busy street in North Miami Beach is the Ancient Spanish Monastery, where Dance Now! Miami will bring the past into the present – and back into the past. Ekphrasis describes th..

Sometimes dance seems as easy as walking down the street. John Heginbotham, founder and artistic director of Dance Heginbotham, describes his dancers as moving in an unaffected, natural manne..

On the heels of a year-plus parade of #MeToo confessions, celebrity shamings and women’s marches, comes Marisa Alma Nick’s female-power-packed “A Rebel in Venus.” “It wasn’t planned that ..

Choreographers are usually curious people. Augusto Soledade’s curiosity leads him in many directions, including ideas on Madonna, voguing, and selfies. It all began with “thoughts on identity..

In the Blood: James Blood Ulmer’s Jazz and Blues Odyssey

Photo: Julia Wesely
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There’s a song James Blood Ulmer sings called “Jazz Is the Teacher, Funk is the Preacher.” If you bring in Mother Blues, along with the family hothead, Rock and Roll, you’ll have a better picture of the musical pedigree of this iconic guitar player and singer. With over 70 years performing behind him, Ulmer, who closes Tigertail Productions’ month-long “FIRE” festival this weekend, still has new revelations to make through his music.

 

There were detours down many side roads before Ulmer discovered jazz and, ultimately, the blues. During his childhood in tiny, segregated St. Matthews, South Carolina, the only music Ulmer's father would allow in the house was gospel. “When I was coming up,” Ulmer said, “we didn’t have tape recorders and all that stuff to listen to music, we had the radio station. Only music I heard coming up [on the radio] was hillbilly music….My father didn’t let no record players in his house. They were church people. Church people didn’t go for blues, no rock and roll, none of that shit.”

 

There was, of course, live music in the way of gospel, and plenty of it. “Our entertainment was going to see our family…. On Saturday nights we would have these performances where everybody in the family would sing, dance, play and everyone would sit and listen.”

 

Rehearsal, whether of speeches or Sunday school songs, were a fact of life early on. “When I was six my father started a gospel group called the Southern Sons,” said Ulmer. They sang at area churches, and even traveled to open for major gospel groups like the Five Blind Boys of Alabama and the National Clouds of Joy. Ulmer has been in the music business ever since.

 

At 18, he left home and quickly began filling in the gaps in his musical education. His travels read like a road map of black American music in the 20th century: “South Carolina, it was gospel, Pittsburgh, it was doo wop and R&B, then I moved to Ohio and it was progressive jazz… I moved from there to Detroit. I went to actually study music…learning how to write music down on a piece of paper.”

 

It was when Ulmer finally found his way to New York City, where he still lives, that he played with jazz greats such as drummer Art Blakey and saxophonists like Joe Henderson and Ornette Coleman. It was Coleman who would have a profound influence on Ulmer’s evolving technique.

 

Coleman had pioneered a new system of playing that he called "harmolodics," a cerebral form of new jazz that sought to free the style from traditional Western scales and harmonies. The story goes that Ulmer, having practiced chords incessantly and frustratingly at Coleman's insistence, went to sleep and dreamt of how to change his guitar’s tuning in order to unlock the key to Coleman’s harmolodic system. When he awoke, he tuned his guitar with four strings on one note and the remaining two on another. Everything suddenly worked. The way Ulmer tunes, he explained, the guitar “becomes a four-stringed instrument with a two-stringed drone. You have to leave the Western sound of the guitar to get to that.”

 

Ulmer plucks his Gibson guitar with just the thumb of his right hand. He recounted long ago seeing Spanish classical guitarist Andrés Segovia in concert and being astonished at how Segovia plucked the strings with all five fingers. He made a vow to himself: “Now I had to make more sound with one finger than he did with five. I want to play with one finger and get more sound than Segovia. That tuning and my one finger, it’s almost there,” he laughed.

 

Indeed, as a jazz instrumentalist, Ulmer is considered an innovator and an iconoclast, taking the guitar to places it had never before been within the jazz idiom. It was only late in his career, however, at the suggestion of fellow guitarist Vernon Reid, that he eventually found his way around to the mother of all American roots music, the blues.

 

Ulmer sings and plays, and his voice is soulful, rich and ragged, with shades of Muddy Waters or Howling Wolf. His “Little Red Rooster” could give Willie Dixon a run for his money, and when Ulmer lets loose his demonic cackle on his own composition, “The Devil’s Got to Burn,” you can almost imagine the legendary Robert Johnson of “Crossroad Blues” fame rising from his grave and peering up at Ulmer from over his headstone.

 

As in the beginning, when Ulmer and his brother and friends would pile into the car and his father would take them on the road to gigs, or performing on a street corner in Pittsburgh to make his $6 weekly rent, so the practical aspects of the music business shape Ulmer’s career today. Just a man and his guitar is much more flexible than a whole jazz or funk ensemble. It is also enriching artistically: “Solo is putting everything you do in one basket. I am a solo blues man,” said Ulmer with satisfaction.

 

Even at 77, Ulmer doesn’t seem to spend a lot of time looking back. “We sing to survive,” he said, “we sing to keep a certain spirit going. You keep going, and then that spirit moves on and moves on.” Reflecting back on his gospel beginnings in St. Matthews, he said, “I would like to think that I have been moving forward since then.”

 

James Blood Ulmer, FIRE festival, 8:30 p.m., Saturday, April 29, Miami-Dade County Auditorium On Stage Black Box, 2901 W. Flagler St., Miami; tickets $35 general admission; tigertail.org or 305-324-4337.

 


 



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