Friday, February 24, 2012

The joy of working with superlative musicians

I had a moment of joyful clarity last Tuesday evening. Sitting behind my keyboard in the music room at Rearden Hall (the home of Lucas Hall and Stacie Rearden Hall, my friends and landlords), I looked at the singers with whom I was working and said, "It's just amazing to work with superlative musicians."

Most of my band-leading experience has been with enthusiastic amateurs. I say this with nothing but affection; my work has called me into a lot of church praise bands, youth bands, and actor/musician groups, and I love the role of coaching up less-experienced musicians to create something bigger than what they thought themselves capable. The rare occasions when I have been gifted to collaborate with highly skilled, dedicated musicians have always filled me with wonder. It's just so much easier.

The rehearsals for the March 11 Joe Jackson's Night and Day Preview Concert are working like a concentrated microcosm of the eventual JJND rehearsal process. Good artists are busy artists, so it's a juggling act to make a rehearsal schedule work, but I'm willing to make my personal schedule somewhat chaotic in order to ensure the best musicians for a project. This week alone, I worked with singers Stacie and Liz Blake White on Tuesday evening and percussionist Jake Allard on Thursday. Tonight, Joe Hamm is driving up from Norfolk after work while bassist Philip Hamm meets us in Richmond, coming down from the DC area.

(I should digress here for a moment to talk about all these Hamms. I come from a very large, very artistic family. I have five brothers and two sisters, and all of us play at least one instrument. Most play several, like me. Phil is my older brother, and he's the one responsible for introducing me to Joe's music in the first place; in 1995 he gave me his old turntable and dozens of LPs, a collection that included Look Sharp!, Body and Soul, Big World, I'm the Man, Blaze of Glory, and most importantly Night and Day. Joe is my nephew; he and I took up the drums around the same time in the late '90s, and he outstripped me almost immediately. He plays for a fabulous rock band called Chasing Arrows. Phil and Joe are family, which makes working with them easy, but they're in the band primarily because they're excellent musicians.)

Adding Phil and Joe to a band already including Liz, Stacie, and Jake, musicians with whom I've worked dozens of times in collaboration for Richmond Shakespeare, Redeemer Lutheran Church, and other projects, brings me enormous satisfaction and peace of mind in the midst of what could otherwise be a problematic process. As it stands, the full band of six won't play all together in the same room until the afternoon of the March 11 show. It doesn't worry me a bit. Every time we start a new rehearsal session, the musicians just slide back into the easy communication we've shared so many times in the past.

I love working with musicians and theatre artists with less experience. The teaching element of direction and musical direction is a vital thread in my mission as an artist. But when the musicians don't need to be taught and barely even need to be told what to do, things blur from work to craft to art to sheer alchemy. It's simply amazing to work with artists who intuit naturally, and with musicians who listen with their hearts as much as their ears. You folks who can make the March 11th concert are in for a huge treat.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

"Joe Jackson's Night and Day" preview concert and fundraiser March 11

Sadly, Mr. Jackson himself will not be
appearing at the event.
Step out for a one-time-only concert: a live music event featuring the music of Grammy winning, Oscar-nominated songwriter JOE JACKSON!

Featuring songs spanning Jackson's entire acclaimed career, including hits like "Is She Really Going Out With Him," "It's Different for Girls," "Happy Ending," and "Fools in Love" and the main event: exclusive preview performances of music from RTP's August world-premiere production of JOE JACKSON'S NIGHT AND DAY.

Pianist Andrew Hamm leads an all-star band including Joe Hamm of Chasing Arrows on drums, Philip Hamm on bass, Jake Allard on percussion, and featuring special guest singers Liz Blake White and Stacie Rearden Hall. This is a unique fundraising event for the August show, so bring friends and support local theatre and new works!

Tickets are $15, $10 for RAPT members, students, and seniors. Additional donations will be enthusiastically accepted. A link to the Facebook invitation can be found here.

The Richmond Triangle Players Theatre is at 1300 Altamont Avenue, Richmond, VA 23230.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

New York City comes to Richmond, Virginia in a world-premiere concert musical

Night and Day
This summer, Richmond Virginia will see the world premiere production of the concert musical Joe Jackson's Night and Day, with music and lyrics drawn from Jackson's two New York City-themed albums, the classic Night and Day (1982) and its acclaimed follow-up, Night and Day II (2000).

Richmond Triangle Players' beautiful new theater will serve as host for the show, a mix of theatrical and concert elements developed by director/musician Andrew Hamm (your humble author for this blog). A live onstage band will back five of Richmond's best singers for some of the greatest songs of Joe Jackson's storied career, including "Another World," "Real Men," "Stranger than You," "Glamour and Pain," the hit single "Breaking Us in Two," and the classic "Steppin' Out." The show is scheduled for eight performance from August 8-18, 2012.

The seed for JJND  came when I saw Joe live on the Night and Day II tour in 2000. I had the opportunity to see the band twice, early on in Boston and then for the final performance of the tour in, appropriately, New York City. Aside from the fact that these were the best-performed concerts I had ever seen, something about the way they were staged catalyzed a lot of my ideas about the role of theatricality in live music. Joe has always used a few theatrical elements in his shows, and the 2000 tour was the most dramatic of his career: musicians made dramatic entrances and exits to emphasize musical elements, empty road cases served as scenic elements, one musician made a costume change during the intermission to play a drag king, and the show was even structured into a rough two-act format.

I spent the entire drive home brainstorming about the various characters and situations in the music from the two albums. More than the first album, Night and Day II is loaded with very specific characters and situations. Could multiple songs be sung by the same "character," creating a story arc? Could some of the songs be structured into duets, trios, and ensemble pieces? What would the younger sister from "Dear Mom" be like singing part of "Real Men," and what's the connection between the latter song and the transvestite prostitute from "Glamour and Pain"? How is the paranoia of "Target" like that of "Just Because," and could "Cancer" and "Chinatown" come from the same mouth?

There was another, more personal element to the story. While Joe was living downtown in 1998-99 writing songs about his turn-of-the-millenium Manhattan experience, I was living way uptown at 204th Street writing the music that would later become Strange Education, my own New York experience album. As a result, when I looked at Joe's music, I saw a reflection of my own triumphs and troubles in trying to create an iconic musical representation of the city. Joe, of course, actually hit gold with his; "Steppin' Out" is about as perfect a Manhattan song as you will ever hear, and over his career he has performed it as a ballad, a piano solo, lounge music, and in its original uptempo form. Like New York City itself, the iconic song has a multitude of faces, every one equally true and equally incomplete.

So Joe Jackson's Night and Day was structured as a songwriter's struggle to create the perfect New York City song, and of the people, places, stories, and questions that inspire him on his search. From the abrasiveness of "Hell of a Town" to the touristy excitement of "Another World," from the lost love of "Breaking Us in To" to the abandonment of "Love Got Lost," from the despair of "A Slow Song" to the bittersweet triumph of "Happyland," JJND is about both music and music's very creation, as seen through the lens of an artist striving to express his world with an honest voice. It's about the impossibly broad spectrum of peoples who call themselves New Yorkers, residents of a town "where there's always someone stranger than you." But mostly it's about the best damn bunch of songs I've ever heard played by the best band I've ever shared a stage with.

I'm incredibly grateful to Richmond Triangle Players, especially artistic director John Knapp and managing director Phil Crosby, for having faith in the vision of the show and making their space available. Stacie Rearden Hall, a dear friend and longtime collaborator, will be serving as associate director, providing a much-needed outside eye and fresh ideas. I produced a well-received workshop of the show in 2004, and drummer Adam Young and bassist Philip Hamm are returning to the show this year, joined by percussionist Jake Allard. Auditions are being held on Monday and Tuesday, February 27 and 28. See below for details if you're interested.

I want to acknowledge the enormous boost the show has received from Mr. Jackson's camp, as well. Mike Maska, Joe's manager at Big Hassle Management, has been an enthusiastic supporter of the project since 2003, and has helped move permissions and rights along with, well, very little hassle. Sean Melia and Tresa Hardin at Sony/ATV Publishing have also made things very easy. I'm enormously grateful.

One final note: This production is being funded from private donations and living room concerts. Please contact me if you're interested in helping to make Joe Jackson's Night and Day possible through a donation or by bringing live music into your home. All donations are tax-deductible.

This blog will be updated periodically with news updates, bios, links, live rehearsal footage, and other goodies. If you have any questions or comments, please email us at and we'll answer them for you.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Auditions announced!


Richmond Triangle Players and director Andrew Hamm are looking for five singer/actors and three musicians for the world-premiere production of “Joe Jackson’s Night and Day.” Performance dates are August 8-18, 2012 at Richmond Triangle Players Theatre.

“Joe Jackson’s Night and Day” is a concert musical incorporating songs from Jackson’s Grammy-nominated classic 1983 album “Night and Day” and its acclaimed 2000 follow-up, “Night and Day II.”

The songs are framed by a New York City pianist struggling to create an iconic song about the experience of living in the city, exploring the people and stories he has seen in a series of solos and vignettes.

Too theatrical to be a concert, too musical to be a play, “Joe Jackson’s Night and Day” is a new and unique performance piece, exploding with Latin rhythms and timeless songs like “Another World,” “Breaking Us in Two,” “Stranger than You,” “Love Got Lost,” and the smash hit “Steppin’ Out.”

WHEN: Singer/Actor auditions will be held on Monday February 27 and Tuesday February 28 beginning at 6:30 PM at Richmond Triangle Players Theatre, 1300 Altamont Avenue, Richmond.

CONTACT: For more information and to schedule an audition, call associate director Stacie Rearden Hall at 804-614-8514 or email

Singers may either bring 32 bars of their own music or prepare a verse and a chorus from any of the following songs from the “Night and Day” albums: “Stranger than You,” “Real Men,” “A Slow Song,” “Breaking Us in Two,” “Cancer,” “Glamour and Pain,” or “Love Got Lost.”

Choose a song you want to sing, rather than aiming for a specific role. We are looking for a pop/rock/gospel/Latin sensibility more than musical theatre. An accompanist will be provided.

Rehearsals will begin in March, and will be spread out over the intervening months, primarily in groups on weekends and one-on-one on weeknights.

Performers will be expected to do a lot of learning and practice on their own in order to make the best possible use of minimal rehearsal time. All positions paid. No roles will be pre-cast. All ethnicities are strongly encouraged to audition.

Singers and musicians are strongly encouraged to utilize YouTube or Spotify to get a sense of the sound of the show.

• Male, 20s-60s. A homeless, paranoid street-prophet, ever-present and unchanging. Featured in “Chinatown,” “TV Age,” and “Cancer.”
• Male, 20s-30s. Several roles, primarily a gay Village-dweller and a transvestite prostitute. Featured in “Stranger than You,” “Real Men,” and “Glamour and Pain.”
• Female, 40s-60s. Two roles: a Midwesterner visiting NYC for the first time and a bitter, hard-as-nails businesswoman. Featured in “Another World” and “Love Got Lost.”
• Female, 20s-30s. Several roles including an older sister in search of her runaway younger sister and The Girlfriend Who Got Away. Featured in “Stranger than You,” “Dear Mom,” and “Breaking Us in Two.”
• Female, 20s. Several roles including a young stripper and a recent immigrant. Some soaring, operatic-ish soprano needed. Featured in “Why?,” “Real Men, and “Love Got Lost.”
• A sixth, one-song non-singing role may also be cast. Female, 20s-40s, oozing flagrant sexuality.

The band is on the stage during the show, and there is a performative element to their appearance. This is not a pit band; it is more like a band for a concert. Like the singers, musicians will be required to memorize complex music and perform it without music stands.
• Violin. Must also play light hand percussion (shakers, claves)
• Cello. Must also play light hand percussion (shakers, claves)

Musicians should contact director Andrew Hamm at 804-855-4998 or at to set up an audition.