The Jazz Drama Program was founded in 2003, in New York City, by pianist and composer Eli Yamin
, and educator Clifford Carlson, to stimulate youth by offering diverse and imaginative jazz, theater, and dance programs with active participation of those enrolled. Message From Saturn
takes its title from a famous Sun Ra
comment: "I just got a message from Saturn. We're not playing enough blues." With this statement as a launching point, the cosmological theme also draws inspiration from "The Zodiac Suite," by pianist Mary Lou Williams
This is a jazz musical, performed by Yamin's quintet, which provide the melody and harmony, but the principle protagonists are the Zah! Jazz Youth, which are highlighted vocalists on the tracks. The story's heroes, Mary, Lou, and Williams, witness an asteroid crash, with the message from Saturn about not playing enough blues. This leads them to learn about the four elements in nature and the blues, earth being the core of the blues. Water teaches them how to swing, air exposes them to romance and the blues ballad, and the melody of the blues comes to life with fire. This is an innovative approach to teaching children the nature of blues and jazz, utilizing clever analogies.
The opening number, and principle theme, "A Healing Song," features saxophonist Camille Thurman as vocalist, and presents the idea of music and song as a healing force in the universe, as well as on earth. The extensive and varied repertoire covers the entire gamut of the blues from hard bop and avant-garde in "Departure Overture," to syncopated vocalizing in the title track. The ragtime era is revisited on "Bebe's Theme," and "Ocean Swing," has that unmistakable Kansas City swing popularized by Count Basie
. "Big Nancy Blues," is the shows finale track, and takes it all back to where it came from, the Mississippi Delta, the primordial source of the blues. Big Nancy Swarbrick which recently passed, offered a genuine taste of harmonica blues, as the kids join in with a rousing chorus.
The Jazz Youth exhibit great exuberance and enthusiasm throughout the production, and their interpretations are full of optimism and courage. Eli Yamin and the Astro Intergenerational Arkestra, could have made a straight ahead jazz record that would have been genuine and well received, but the inclusion of the young people in the program is what makes this a special production. In the liner notes, Michael D. Anderson/Dr. Bop, Executive Director of The Sun Ra Music Archive states: "Children hold the keys. If we provide them with the tools to work without prejudice and indifference, they will save the planet and the universe." Amen.
A Healing Song; Departure Overture; Mary Lou Williams; How Do I Play
Harmonica; Skimming the Atmosphere; Message From Saturn; Milky
way to The Big Bang; Bebe’s Theme; Music Holds the Key; Traveling The
Milky Way; Earth Stomp; traveling The Milky Way To Water; Ocean
Swing; Traveling The Milky Way To Air; You can Call Me Louise; Into The
Fire; Blues Theme; Mournful Travel; Key To The Night Sky; Mournful
Travel Variation; Big Nancy Blues.
Eli Yamin: piano; Todd Williams: tenor sax, soprano sax; Tom Dempsey:
guitar; Ari Roland: bass; Alvin Atkinson: drums; Big Nancy: harmonica;
Curtis Stewart: violin I; Jannina Norpoth: violin II; Nick Revel: viola;
Amanda Gookin: cello; Camille Thurman: vocal, tenor saxophone (1);
Gerald Cannon: bass (1); LaFrae Sci: drums (1); Zah Jazz Youth: Elijah
Abiodon; Maximux Britton; Lydia Cresci; Andrew Farella; Jonathan
Hernandez; Lauren Hospedales; Thalia St. Hubert; Nare Kande;
Charlotte Knutsen; Justin Lamport; Andre Levins; Angelica Pastor;
Adedayo Perkovich; Chloe Combs Phaneuf; Isabella Pinto.