If you ask Daniel Alexander Jones how he came up with the character of Jomama Jones, he will tell you she is not his creation - she just chose him as her vehicle.
Starting Wednesday, Jomama Jones takes to the stage at Pillsbury House Theatre for her musical show "Radiate Live!" The tour is earned warm reviews from the New York Times and Time Out New York. I asked Daniel Alexander Jones a few questions about Jomama, her past, and what "Radiate" is all about.
1. Who is Jomama Jones? What's her story?
Jomama Jones was part of a wave of dynamic performers who hit the scene in the early 1980s. Like other children of the Civil Rights Era, she sought to live the dream freely in the space that had been made for her by the previous generations. Her records were staples on R&B and pop radio and her appearances on Soul Train, Solid Gold and American Bandstand are the stuff of legend. When she left America, for reasons she discusses in the show, she did not look back. She traveled the world and continued to perform; she became, as had others before her, an expatriate presence. She returned to the studio in 2009 and has now released three new recordings, Lone Star, Radiate and Six Ways Home. She's performed in several venues nationally and enjoyed a sold-out run of RADIATE at Soho Rep in NYC. She is currently at work on two new projects and has a lot to sing about and share.
2. How did her creation come about?
I didn't create Jomama. She chose me to come through. In truth, I channel her, versus perform her. I am an actor and writer and believe me I would be the first to take credit for her if I could (smile) but I cannot. It's a kind of collaboration. She first appeared to me when I was 25, then living in Minneapolis on a Jerome Fellowship at the Playwrights' Center. I wove her through one of my early performance pieces and she stole the show. Then she went away. In 2009, I went through a series of huge personal upheavals, which included a complete reassessment of my work and role as an artist. In the midst of my plans and schemes, like a comet returning from a long arc, Jomama reappeared to me, with incredible force and clarity. The first things she demanded were the reins, and that I contact Bobby Halvorson. Straight up. What is unfolding artistically is the most exciting process of which I've ever been a part.
3. What's Jomama's mission? Put otherwise, why is she taking Radiate on tour?
Stories shape realities. The stories we tell, the stories we are told, the stories within which we are asked to live, the stories we need to keep ourselves here, the stories we encounter that function like cages, the stories that open portals to new ways of seeing... Songs are sites and delivery systems for stories of incalculable power. What are the songs that sing our truths individually; and what are our collective songs? Jomama Jones is on a mission to sing to you; to invite you to play inside the stories-as-songs that speak to some aspects of our collective resilience and radiance which may - in some cases not all - have been dampened, or which may have lost their strength of signal in the static of our age. She is also deeply curious, looking for evidence of us, here, now - what is the melody we are making?
4. What do you get out of performing her?
These are two true things about my work: one, it is only when the people have gathered and we are all in the live experience together that the work happens; two, there are phases of the creative process which give me great pleasure privately, but the point is always the sharing/the dialogue with others; I chose theatre because it is ultimately a public, participatory form. I have the great blessing of collaborating with artists on this project who engage their full potential and do so with grace, presence and humor. They do not hide behind irony or cynicism. They go all in; they bring it. I get to work with Bobby Halvorson, whom I consider to be a musical genius (the wonderful work he does on this project is but one aspect of his wide ranging practice); the singers, musicians, designers, crew... all of them golden. And I get to return to Pillsbury House Theatre - an organization that embodies what I believe a 21st Century theatre needs to be - a place for gathering inside of and around artistically rigorous adventures; a place where truly everyone who wishes to be there is welcome to be a part; a place that debunks the practice of maintaining theatre as an elite art form. Faye Price and Noel Raymond are two of my art-heroes. It is an absolute honor to work with them on this project.
5. Why is now the time for Jomama Jones to make a comeback on American stages?
A dear friend, the playwright Erik Ehn, often says "what you water will grow". There is an overgrowth of cynicism, irony and anger which I experience in my country. No one ever told me love was easy. No one ever told me life wasn't work. If, as an artist, in collaboration with other artists (and forces of nature like Jomama) I can contribute to the remembering of our collective capacity to engage the hard work of love and presence, then I am fulfilling my purpose. I believe that now is Jomama's time to be back because she has the technology to do this; every time we perform, I learn from her. I am not kidding when I say she comes through - I think, in fact, that she may be able to see the future.
Radiate Live! runs through June 24 at Pillsbury House Theatre in Minneapolis.
The reviews from this year's cultural all-nighter are decidedly mixed. Here's what people are saying:
The projection of the fish on an old Pillsbury building was pretty cool. Puppet show on the bridge jamming traffic, not cool.
I loved the projections on the walls of the Mill Ruins and on the Pillsbury A Mill. The various shanties were pretty sweet and I enjoyed a late-night shadow puppet show there. Aniccha Arts' dancing was inspiring. I was deeply disappointed by the firefly bike ride. (I was one of the riders.) We bikers were cut off frequently by several drunk pedestrians and instead of a giant swarm of blinking lights, we rode in small packs thus diminishing the intended effect.
The Black Pirate screening with music by the Poor Nobodys on the Greenway was great, and because it was the only thing going on at that sight made it a unique happening. Indeed the building projections on the river were very cool, especially the one on the A Mill.
Highlights: Under Ice (projections of fish onto Pillsbury A Mill) accompanied by cello and didgeridoo); Mom's Cookies, Ten Second Film Festival, Body Pong, Shin'm Pinata, Foshay Observation Deck and best of all Jim Campbells's Material World. The latter should have gotten a lot more publicity. And even better was the double moonbow arching over the the sky at dusk, created by just the right conditions. Unfortunately there were many lowlights, primarily because the preceding buzz far outweighed the actual event or installation. Last year, in St. Paul, there were just a few events (Jim Campbell's Scattered Light; sewer organ, and crazy car parade) which were really amazing. This year's seemed amorphous and amateur.
Unfortunate lowlight: the regular construction on the East Bank campus, plus special and untimely temporary closures on River Road and all over campus/Dinkytown, making it next to impossible to get to the Weisman except by bike or foot. Heard from a handful of others who similarly tried to get anywhere close but ended up throwing in the towel.
I think performances on the Stone Arch Bridge should be better monitored. A bridge is definitely not an artery you want clogged.
More of a State Fair vibe this year, (and not in a good way). Hung out around the Stone Arch Bridge, but in hindsight, I wish I had gone to the Walker instead. Still, a net positive.
I'm a night-owl all year 'round, and as I did last year, I loved the feeling of the arts community getting to sort of "own" the city all night long. There's nothing like running into a group of my friends in face makeup and glow in the dark accessories and having loud, laughter-filled conversations on the sidewalk at 3 and 4 am.
Of what we saw, Under Ice was the most beautiful, 10 Second Films most surprising, and Sit and Spin Shanty most fun. So glad that we could all celebrate and enjoy creativity without mini-donuts in sight.
Jessica Lee DuRose Shimek
I was at MCBA all night doing photo documentation of the letterpress pieces being made - it was so amazing to get to talk to the participants who were so excited and proud of the artwork they had just created! I wish I could have seen more events, but seeing that awesome reaction from so many people made my night!!
Under Ice was mesmerizing! I could've stared at four-story fish all night.
Did you attend Northern Spark? If so, what did you think?(7 Comments)
Posted at 3:21 PM on June 11, 2012
by David Cazares
Filed under: Music
Running a jazz venue has never been easy, even on just one day a week.
Across the nation, jazz clubs have come and gone over the last few decades, making it difficult for musicians to find places to play improvisational music.
So it's heartening to see the Icehouse Minneapolis restaurant launch its Monday night jazz series space - especially with drummer JT Bates running the show.
Icehouse owner Brian Liebeck said he wanted to have jazz on Mondays to bring back the kind of music Twin Cities jazz enthusiasts enjoyed when Bates held a similar event at the Clown Lounge.
"JT and I have been friends for years," Liebeck said. "He has heard me talk about doing something like this countless times and I couldn't imagine opening a venue without his involvement. It is looking to be everything from drums, bass, sax trios to guitar, bass drum trios, quintets with piano and so on -- never less than a trio."
Bates said he plans to present as many different kinds of jazz as possible at the Nicolette Avenue venue while maintaining a high standard for improvisational music.
"I'm absolutely programming Monday nights with the intention of drawing as wide an audience as possible," Bates said. "People seem to feel a need to categorize and prefer different 'styles' of jazz and I guess because I really enjoy all of it, I'd like to see that go away. Honesty and spirit are what I listen for, so I will always try to present those things above and beyond style."
The new venue has sparked optimism among musicians, who view the Monday series as a helpful push to keep jazz going.
"It's extremely important to have a new venue like the Icehouse and everyone I know is excited about it," Wozniak said. "It's great for everyone, not just jazz musicians as they'll be featuring different kinds of music each night of the week. There are never enough places for us to play but there's always someone crazy enough to keep trying and we definitely appreciate it."
Jazz at the Icehouse continues June 18 with Red Planet, featuring Dean Magraw on guitar, Chris Bates on bass and Jay Epstein, drums.
On June 25, the space will feature Fat Kid Wednesdays, which is returning to the stage after a more than a year off. Joining JT Bates on drums will be Adam Linz on bass and Michael Lewis on saxophone.
The Monday series offers sets at 9:30 and 11:30 p.m.