The Jazz Bakery hosted a belated Father’s Day weekend staging E.L. James’ “original theadio Production.” Nobody Walks Like My Daddy
, explored a wide range of fathering issues and styles over four generations from all members’ perspectives. The production effectively blended spoken word, acapella singing, and improvised music. James and Roscoe Freeman portrayed the fathers and sons. Each plumbed emotional depth and exhibited flowing versatility shifting through different personalities. Offsetting their tightly scripted performances, baritone saxophonist Hamiett Blueitt sat onstage freely improvising a soundtrack that effectively heightened the drama, despair, and comedy of the narrative. Percussionist Eddie Rouse manned congas and effects across the stage from Blueitt.
Without introduction, Blueitt walked across the stage, smiling and saying hi to people. He set up his sax and improvised a medium tempo tour of what a baritone can do in the right hands, free yet forcefully conveying rhythm. He played a brief interlude, then stopped to bring up Eddie Rouse who listened by the back door. Rouse gamely joined Blueitt, setting up a rhythm that Blueitt played over on a small wooden transverse flute. For all his years traversing the bold bass clef, Hamiett sang beautifully in treble, creating a tribal sound with Rouse.
After another display of power and authority on solo baritone by Blueitt, two men walked down the opposite aisles and ascended the stage. The younger actor, Freeman, initiated the storyline with the revelation that he’d become a father again at 51. Hoping to do better by this child than he did with three he had by the time he was 24, he reflects on his own father and James went into character. As a link in the familial chain, he remembers his father and re-intones advice that still echoed in his son’s head.
Along the way Freeman becomes a scared six-year-old having his tonsils out, and James as his dad remembered a brief freewheeling career as a bootlegger before the Depression. Freeman joins the army desperate to support his young family, but Nam looms, and his wife leaves with kids anyway. As he related details of his four failed marriages, Freeman debated the disparaging remarks made by his dad’s ghost.
However many times he’s sat through it, Blueitt made a great audience, still cracking up at the funny stuff, crying on his horn or blurting outraged tones when appropriate. While Rouse worked off cues, Blueitt rewrote his part each performance.
With no amplification, Blueitt’s impassioned cries occasionally blew Freeman’s declarations out of audibility. James’ script while personal managed to engage universal themes and situations. Turning an improviser of Blueitt’s caliber loose in this emotionally charged context added a deeper dimension to the performance that could not have been reached otherwise.