LITERATURE AND JAZZ
The Olympia Theater has witnessed for 90 years Miami evolve. Built in 1826 as an exotic and romantic Mediterranean plaza under a starry night, this cultural powerhouse delighted generations with film, ballet, theater, classical and popular music, with the likes of Elvis Presley, Frank Sinatra and Luciano Pavarotti.
The Olympia Theater has recently opened its Lobby Lounge every Wednesday evening to bring programs ranging from vaudeville to jazz. “These free shows are now a staple of downtown’s lifestyle,” said a gentleman nursing a scotch. “I particularly enjoy WORDS, a series on the gamut of possibilities the written word affords.”
On February 3rd, in partnership with the Downtown Arts and Science Salon (DASS), the Olympia Theater presents a literary salon with jazz. Salons flourished during the European Enlightenment, a space for the exchange of ideas on art, science and society without negating life’s pleasures: wine and flirting, as Voltaire would have it. If salons fueled the art of conversation, the idea of a literary salon with jazz in a theater meant pushing the conversation to uncharted waters.
A conversation among differing art forms, the written word and its distant cousin, the dramatic reading, and jazz. Said Terrell Fritz, the Olympia’s coordinator for WORDS: “I have always loved Selected Shorts, the weekly public radio show produced by Symphony Space in New York and distributed by Public Radio International—great stories told by great storytellers through what actor B. D. Wong calls the unique medium for reading work that was not created to be read aloud.”
Writing, Actors and Jazz
A promising salon. In the words of one participating writer, Vanessa García: “I love events like this because you’ve got layers of personal filters at play, layers of artistic process. You have the words, but then you have an actor interpreting those words, and then you have how they play out against, or in chorus with, other writers’ words, and then you have the music responding to the words and the actors interpretation, and then you have the audience responding to it all. It’s a literal call and response.”
Four writers, two actors, an experimental jazz quintet. Chantel Acevedo and J.J. Colagrande read their own work. Acevedo from her recent novel Distant Marvels and Colagrande from a work in progress: Reduce Heat and Continue to Boil, a Miami coming of age story. Actors read Stacy Conde’s excerpt from the novella The Red Speckand Vanessa Garcia’s novel White Light. Jazz interpretations by the Gary Thomas Quintet follow each ten-minute reading.
A coincidence. The pieces the four writers selected focused on the nature of father-daughter relationships. Nothing new in literature, of course, Greek mythology already marks the Western literary canon. Yet, following Milan Kundera’s take on the novel as a long definition of a word, through the exploration of this disquieting relationship we discover redefined the words awe, fear, freedom, repression, compassion, love, betrayal and death.
About the Writers
Chantel Acevedo’s novels include Love and Ghost Letters, which won the Latino International Book Award, A Falling Star, winner of the Doris Bakwin Award, and The Distant Marvels. She is an Associate Professor of English in the MFA Program of the University of Miami. AboutThe Distant Marvels commented The New York Times: “It’s 1963, and only the specter of Hurricane Flora’s disaster rouses María Sirena from her stupor — and just barely. Despite her protests, a mandatory government evacuation forces her to trade her home on the coast of Cuba for the company of other “solitary women” her age in the crumbling governor’s mansion, Casa Velázquez. As the storm rages on, the women — friends and enemies alike — grow restless and seek succor in María Sirena’s stories. She should be up to the task, they figure, since she was once a lector in a cigar factory, where she regaled the laborers with classics like “Hamlet” as well as her own stories — passed off under the name of a “famous” author, whose fictitious novel she calledThe Distant Marvels.”
J.J Colagrande is a contributor to The Huffington Post, a commentator on Miami’s emerging cultural renaissance. He is the author of the novels Headz and Deco. He teaches at Miami-Dade College. His excerpt starts: “The bottom line: Eduardo locked himself in Jimena’s closet at seven-in-the-morning with a .22 caliber pistol and a promise to shoot himself. This was the shit you dealt with in the Quintero family. You didn’t call the police, or the psycho ward at Jackson, you dealt with it.”
Stacy Conde wrote the novella The Red Speck because, she said, “I had to. The first chapter became somewhat of an obsession. I wrote versions of the same tale annually for no less than twenty years.” Besides writing on art and the business of art, she runs Conde Contemporary: Cuban Art Gallery Miami. I emailed her asking for a line she felt intimately connected. She emailed back: “She was protected from the rain by the massive canopy of the tree. She was safe at last. The young girl closed her eyes and imagined herself as part of the ancient banyan. Roots sprouted from the soles of her feet; they reached deep into the earth. The soil warmed her. She was comforted by the vibrations of the natural world…”
Vanessa Garcia is a multidisciplinary artist and writer. Her plays have been produced in Edinburgh, New York, Miami and Los Angeles, including The Cuban Spring and The Crocodile’s Bite. She exhibited her art around the United States and the Caribbean. She reads from the novel White Light. I asked García her thoughts on writing: “Good writing is about recording and illuminating the world in which we live. I strive for that. Sometimes I fail, of course, but the test is always the audience – do they connect? Did it make them feel and then think or vice versa? I think that all art must make us do those things.”
The Jazz Player
Composer and leader of an experimental jazz Quintet, Gary Thomas has performed alongside artists such as Shelly Berg, Kevin Mahogany, Ira Sullivan, Mary Wilson and the Woody Herman Orchestra. He is currently bass professor at Miami Dade College – Wolfson Campus.
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Raul Guerrero, writer and director of the Downtown Arts + Science Salon (DASS)
The Olympia’s turning 90 offers one unusual opportunity. Often we misinterpret philanthropy for a divertimento of the very rich, when, in effect, is a privilege every citizen can enjoy: contributing to the public good and quality of life. The etymology of philanthropy is love of humanity. Helping preserve an iconic cultural institution like the Olympia Theater can only contribute
Writers Chantel Acevedo, Stacy Conde (top), J.J. Colagrande and Vanessa Garcia. Gary Thomas (center.)
Raul Guerrero Intruducing actor Terrel Fritz.