Got Songs lying around? Let's put on a Musical! — Jaz Dorsey — AAPEX

Monday, January 17, 2011

Got Songs lying around? Let's put on a Musical!

by Jaz Dorsey

The Nashville Question

In 1999, I had a musical smack on Times Square - in the sadly departed Lamb's Theatre. I can't call it "Broadway" but I can't say it wasn't, either.

For me it was. For me, "Broadway" is a geographical thing. I did not know when I headed to New York that "Broadway" is determined by a contract, but it is.

In any case, that 1999 production of Bernice Lee's NELLIE, with my music and co-lyrics (can I say that?) fulfilled my "Broadway" ambition. With some divine intervention, I managed to tear myself away from Mecca and find myself in Music City USA.

Which brings us to the "Nashville Question."

The Nashville question is "What do we do with all of these songs?"

About this time last year, we started casting a new musical by Nashville songwriter Parrish Stanton called ONE KISS CAFE for a three week run at The Country Music Hall of Fame. This journey took me, personally, to an enchanted place called BOBBY'S IDLE HOUR on Music Row.

At Bobby's I met artists who have been knocking around "Music City USA" from as far back as the 60s. And I experienced an avalanche of astounding songs which never have and never would have ended up on the radio.

Now we have U-Tube, which is one place you can take your songs.

But we also have another place - we have the stage.

I was blessed to meet Parrish because Parrish was doing what I thought was the logical thing to do if you had a couple of hundred tunes sitting in a disc on a shelf or a notebook in a drawer. Parrish had decided to write a musical. But more about that later.

Parrish isn't the only songwriter in Nashville working on a musical. What about DOYLE AND DEBBIE? What about MOTHERHOOD? and there are more.

And thanks to Ted Swindley who, thanks to ALWAYS . . . PATSY CLINE has given us a prototype for a "Nashville" genre of songwriter musicals.

In fact, there may be more brilliant musicals here than our present venue crisis will allow us to handle. This is a situation which merits some kind of community discussion.

In my trip down the rabbit hole of 16th Avenue South, I also discovered that about 40% of the songwriters I met and talked to had some kind of background in theatre, either in the form of some kind of degree or significant performance experience- starting with Don Hillaker, who hosts the Thursday night songwriter rounds, where it's Altman meets Fellini. This is where you hear the songs of musicians who sessioned with Bob Dylan and toured with Three Dog Night.

These folks at Bobby's have been doing this for so long that they know, love and sing one anothers' hits - every now and then the entire bar becomes a production number. Someone just needs to go in there with a camera one night and we'd have a movie.

BOBBY'S is Johnny Cash meets Gertrude Stein. The kind of conversations you will have there about songwriting are the Nashville equivalent of the poets of Paris congregating in the cafes of the 1920s - it's the grass roots conversation of craft and struggle. By the time a song gets to us, it's a product, but at this level it's a primal thing. You can feel the dreams in a song being sung by the writer in search of someone else to sing it. But listening to the writers is something you can't replace with all the technology in the world.

Now back to musicals. I hear these songs which are full of plot, which evoke amazing characters and which saturate the audience with a journey and I'm thinking "Broadway" And right now I'm waiting for the next incarnation of ONE KISS CAFE.

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