Arts & Culture
Arizona musicians often find their groove at the Rhythm Room, and tonight promised a genre-defying roster of four local groups taking the next step into a larger performance arena.
Bad Cactus Brass Band headlined the evening with sassy, energetic New Orleans-style tunes kicking off the release of the group’s new album, #musicbombing. Bad Cactus was founded in 2009 by sousaphonist Benjie Messer, a composer, trombonist, and music educator.
Captain Squeegee, another of tonight’s ensembles, is a hard-to-categorize Comicon-loving brass-rich band led by singer Danny Torgersen, while Chris Peña Group describes its music as “a mixture of pulsing synths, punchy basslines and art-rock sections…somewhere between angst and ambition…to the tune of electro-funk sautéed with a dash of jazz-infused pop.”
The instrumentation changed dramatically when Simply Three took the stage with its partnership of three classically trained string players. Cellist Zack Clark, a friend of both Messer and Torgersen, joined double bassist Nicholas Villalobos and violinist Olivia Lemmelin; all three musicians earned their bachelor’s degrees in music performance at Arizona State University.
Simply Three formed in October 2010, when Clark and Villalobos found a kindred spirit in Lemmelin. “She was loud, and…energetic, and she was exactly what we were looking for,” says Clark. The trio recorded soundtracks for the independent films Brahmin Bulls and Within, and frequently performs school concerts around the Valley.
Although he didn’t come from a musical background, Clark began playing the cello at 10 and fell head over heels in love with the instrument. “In ninth grade…we played ‘Nimrod’ by [Edward] Elgar, one of the Enigma Variations,” he recalls. “Professor Timothy Russell was the conductor, and I remember…he explained that Elgar wrote this for his wife. He told us about his love for his wife, and…to try to feel that love while we played.”
Clark laughs lightly. “That was life-altering. I cried the next time we played it — I felt Elgar’s love.” He continues, “It was this sublime spiritual experience, and that’s when music…really touched me.”
Villalobos and Clark grew up together in the Phoenix Symphony Guild Youth Orchestra, and later decided to form their own ensemble and perform their favorite music. Clark remembers thinking, “Why should there be boundaries?”
Since the inclusion of a double bass pushed beyond the limits of a typical string quartet instrumentation, the duo added a violin and created their own arrangements, starting with “Yesterday” and other Beatles favorites and continuing with standard wedding repertoire.
Today, their signature tunes run the gamut from Gautier to One Republic, Clark’s favorite band. “Our best stuff is different, that we save for the live shows,” says the cellist. “We do ‘Rolling in the Deep’ by Adele and ‘Clocks’ and ‘Fix You’ — kind of like a mash-up of those two songs by Coldplay.”
“We [also] do…’Orange Blossom Special’ and ‘The Devil Went Down to Georgia,’” he adds, “because Olivia is really good at fiddling.” Other repertoire includes Metallica’s “Battery” and a Michael Jackson mash-up of “Earth Song” and “Human Nature,” as well as a soundtrack blend he describes as “Lord of the Wars” — The Lord of the Rings and Star Wars.
The ensemble also plays Macklemore’s “Can’t Hold Us” mixed with Justin Timberlake’s new song “Mirrors.” “One of our goals is to stay really, really current and put out one new video a week on YouTube,” explains Clark.
Improvisation is important, too. “Nick can throw down some sweet grooves on his bass,” he continues, “and we just kind of learn the progression and then…just jam… It’s a really fun point in the concert…that’s when the magic happens.”
As Simply Three builds its fan base through appealing arrangements and raises money through a Kickstarter project, the group continues its outreach with the goal of a fall school tour through Utah and Idaho along with more recordings. December brings the hope of a Christmas album and performances as featured artists on December 8 for Westwood High School’s holiday shows, as well as a free concert.
The trio has an enthusiastic mentor in ASU’s new tuba professor, Deanna Swoboda, as well as management from Dow Artists and a possible sponsorship by Eastman Strings. “We just enjoy playing the music we love for audiences and kids,” says Clark, “showing them that you can play whatever you want.”
All photos courtesy of Simply Three.
- Simply Three with Bad Cactus Brass Band, Captain Squeegee, and Chris Peña Group at the Rhythm Room on July 10
- Bad Cactus Brass Band interview with Blaise Lantana on 91.5 KJZZ (from 2011)
- Simply Three performs in two Christmas shows on December 8 at Westwood High School
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Hard Rock Cafe Phoenix gives fans an up-close look at pieces of history from music superstars and legends with the never-before-seen “Treasures of the Hard Rock” traveling memorabilia exhibit. The exhibit features iconic items from two one-of-a-kind collections pulled from Hard Rock’s vault, “Gone Too Soon” and “Music Gives Back.”
“Gone Too Soon” pays tribute to music icons whose lives and careers were tragically cut short and features items from contemporary talent, such as a dress worn by Amy Winehouse during a 2008 Nelson Mandela tribute concert and a 90’s stage outfit from Whitney Houston to artifacts from legends of the past, like the John Lennon’s hand-written lyrics to the Beatles classic song “Help” and 1967 Gibson SG Custom played by Jimi Hendrix in concert and on the Dick Cavett Show.
Hard Rock’s “Love All, Serve All” mantra was the inspiration for “Music Gives Back – Rock ‘N’ Roll Philanthropy,” focusing on artists who have worked with the brand on various charitable campaigns throughout its more than 40 years. The exhibit features items including a gown worn by Shakira during her 2006 Oral Fixation tour and the second piece of memorabilia ever acquired for Hard Rock’s vast collection, Pete Townshend’s Custom Gibson Les Paul guitar.
“We have spent nearly two years, scouring our 77,000 piece collection, to pull together a collection that will wow our guests,” said Jeff Nolan, Hard Rock Historian and tour curator. “The collection showcases a unique part of music history and gives fans an opportunity to see that history first-hand.”
“Treasures of the Hard Rock” will be on public display at Hard Rock Cafe Phoenix from Friday, July 12, 2013 through Tuesday, July 16, 2013. For more information on pieces on display, tour stop locations and public viewing dates, please visit www.hardrock.com.
If you go
What: “Treasures of the Hard Rock”
When: July 12 – 16, 2013
Where: Hard Rock Cafe Phoenix, 3 South 2nd St., 602-261-7625
Theater-goers looking for fresh repertoire sated their hunger earlier this month with a daring, historically-based production justifiably billed as “sexy-pants.” Phoenix Theatre pushed beyond its standard line-up of expertly-staged Broadway musicals to offer Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson, giving audiences a sample of the provocative works planned for the troupe’s new black box venue in the coming season.
In the fledgling years of the United States of America, the hot-tempered and fiercely patriotic Andrew Jackson rose from obscurity to become the seventh President, following John Quincy Adams and preceding Martin Van Buren. Along the way, Jackson’s controversial path included defeating the British as a general in the War of 1812, serving as first governor of Florida, fighting accusations of an adulterous relationship with his own wife, establishing the Democratic Party, defending his contentious policies leading to the forced relocation of Native Americans, and representing Tennessee in Congress.
Impressively, he was also beloved by the American public, winning the popular vote. Jackson was elected by a tremendous margin in 1828, but his victory in the Presidential race was overshadowed by the death of his beloved wife Rachel.
Jackson’s action-packed life story is fascinating, but is it the stuff of theater? Phoenix Theatre took a well-justified, successful gamble with its run of Bloody Bloody AJ performances, which ended June 23. “This isn’t an encyclopedic account of Jackson’s life,” said director Ron May. “You’re not getting a stage version of a Wikipedia page. There are a handful of blatant anachronisms cozied up right next to historical fact,” he continued. “But for the most part what happened, what he did, is dead-on.”
May has made his name in the Valley theater scene both as an actor in shows like Nearly Naked Theatre’s Fuddy Meers – including ovation-winning scenes with a sock puppet — and as Stray Cat Theatre’s founding Artistic Director, offering works like The Dianalogues, columbinus, and Learn to be Latina. May has also directed for Actors Theatre and Black Theatre Troupe.
Bloody Bloody AJ is an emo rock play with music (as opposed to a full-bore musical), peppering action, quirky narrators, and impassioned monologues with “angry young men singing about how unfair life is, and angsting and angsting and angsting” — the very definition of the genre, according to May.
He’s always drawn to the works of Alex Timbers and Michael Friedman, who also wrote Very Merry Unauthorized Children’s Scientology Pageant and Heddatron for their theater troupe Les Freres Corbusier in New York. ‘They have a wicked sense of humor, an enormous awareness of pop culture, and an off-the-wall sense of theatricality,” declared May.
“[Bloody Bloody AJ]…does for history what ‘The Daily Show,’ for me, did for daily news — made it accessible, interesting, relevant, and a hell of a lot of fun,” said May. “America at the time was a young nation — kind of prepubescent, still trying to find its footing.” He continued, “Andrew Jackson ultimately becomes its mouthpiece — the best front man you could possibly have for an ‘emo nation.’” May added, “The show is like an insane mash-up of ‘Schoolhouse Rock,’ ‘South Park,’ and a Fall Out Boy concert.”
Actor Joe Kremer described the play as “like a parallel universe. It’s in the history, but it’s all these modernizations of language…. He [Jackson] says stuff like ‘This sucks!’” (some of the most PG-rated dialogue in the show, which carried provocative “mature audience only” warnings).
At the same time, the piece revealed glimpses of Jackson’s personal and ideological vulnerabilities, bolstered by the pleasantly enjoyable shock of Caleb Reese’s clear, melodic voice in the title role, which pointed to his nine-year run with busy local cover band The Instant Classics.
Joe Kremer played multiple parts in Bloody Bloody AJ, including Jackson’s political rival Henry Clay and the Native American statesman Black Fox, who negotiated many of Jackson’s treaties.
“Henry Clay’s just kind of funny, and just like an old, grumpy politician…I would call it ‘My dad in a bad mood on a Sunday morning,’” he said, laughing. “Black Fox is a lot more stoic, and…at the end of the show, very serious.” Kremer concluded, “Black Fox is more me, where Henry Clay is more of a portrayal of a character — let’s put it that way.”
As for using Kremer in the role, May said, “The show was written so that non-Native actors could play the Indians, but…[the] biggie is making sure we represent the Indians in the show in a way that isn’t offensive, doesn’t simmer in stereotype.”
Regarding the production as a whole, Kremer said, “It’s tight jeans, big boots…. When you wear it [the costume]…it’s this eyeliner feeling.” He continued, “I think that’s the big difference — I mean, you could do a show about Andrew Jackson and the 1800s…just based on what’s there…but how fun would it be?”
Kremer said, “I have a 16-year-old daughter…there is no way I could get her to sit…and watch a documentary about Andrew Jackson. It just wouldn’t happen.” He chuckled wryly. “But I could get her to sit in the show and…actually be interested in who he is and what he did and…‘Wait a minute – what did he do? Indians? Why would you do that to people?’”
He started his acting career in Nearly Naked Theatre’s 2002 production of Equus, starring with May in Fuddy Meers and Take Me Out and working under his direction in The Laramie Project and other shows. The actor’s credits include Noises Off, Dead Man’s Cell Phone, Much Ado About Nothing, [sic], and, most recently, Phoenix Theatre’s run of Our Town.
It was a bit of a jump turning from Thornton Wilder to Andrew Jackson, admitted Kremer. “How different is it? Uh, wow… I don’t know how to describe it without some drug reference,” he said with a grin, “because…it’s kind of going from this realm of seriousness…to just this constant thing of laughter…so it’s a very different vibe.”
“Going from drama to comedy…it hits a tightrope, because you come into it still in that dramatic role. It’s difficult, but it’s doable,” continued Kremer. “One of the things we did with Our Town…we took away a little bit of the reverence,” he said. “So once the reverence is gone, going between those two is pretty easy, because they’re [both] shows, they’re just a little different, and you have to just pay attention to what’s in the text, and that’ll guide you into good places.”
Watch for May’s upcoming productions at Stray Cat Theatre and other venues around the Valley. In October, you’ll have a chance to see Joe Kremer as a conflicted Chicago police officer in the dark, gritty comedy A Steady Rain by Keith Huff, produced by Actors Theatre.
- More about the historical Andrew Jackson from the University of Virginia’s Miller Center
- Phoenix Theatre’s upcoming 2013-2014 season
- Stray Cat Theatre
- Actors Theatre
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The Global Day of Discovery is a multifaceted activation event that happens throughout the hotel featuring beverage and food from the Renaissance, a live mural on the outside of the hotel, live artists painting throughout the lobby, coffee demonstrations and education, cooking demo with our Executive Chef featuring local ingredients, all day drink specials at ICON Lounge, local celebrity DJ William Reed, and separate live musical performances from Parker Morden.
114 properties participating, 18 countries, 5 continents
The main attraction of the day will be the mural that is being painted on the hotel itself by Hugo Medina which will take place in the alley between Adams and Monroe that is nestled between 1st Street and Central. The mural itself will be an image of weathered hands cupping the planet Earth. The concept behind the image reflects the core values of the Renaissance Brand as a whole, the idea that the world is in each of our hands as well as the notion that we are bringing the world to you by provoking discovery and encouraging each of our Ambassadors and every single Discoverer to explore the different communities and cultures that each of us help to make up. What better way to encourage enlightenment, than by bringing you the world?
To highlight what it is we do every day, provoke discovery. To bring people together in order to showcase the talented gems of downtown Phoenix in one place at one time and build relationships that if not for the Global Day of Discovery, may never have existed.
Becoming a part of the, “Mural Movement” is an opportunity to show the world that the Renaissance is living up to its name and values. The Mural Movement is a world-wide, underground phenomenon that is promoting the health and wellness of the communities it is active in. Murals give rising artists opportunities just as much as established artists are given, all the while bringing color and creativity to surfaces of the city which stand as constant reminders to its residents that it is okay to follow your dreams and open yourself to discovery.
With the passion, determination and creativity of the downtown community and the individuals who give of themselves every day, to ensure the city we live is a positive and progressive one that will continue to catch the gazes of our partners, neighbors and worldly community.
Summer can be a great time for experimental arts — audiences are receptive and fewer performances compete for attention. Last weekend’s Kick-A 2 Dance Showcase at Phoenix Theatre’s Little Theatre turned the spotlight on 20 talented choreographers assembled for a second year by Lisa Starry, director and choreographer of Scorpius Dance Theatre.
“We want it to expand to workshops next year,” says Starry, “get more people from outside of Arizona…turn it into a festival. These things just take time.”
In the meantime, she raised visibility by inviting special guest artist Lauren Froderman, a Phoenix-born graduate of Greenway High School and the seventh-season winner of the television show “So You Think You Can Dance,” who joined the showcase for two performances.
Starry’s goal was to create an opportunity for choreographers to gain exposure. The roster mostly included experienced artists, but also featured an 18-year-old newcomer.
“Nope, they don’t have to be established,” Starry explains. “They (had) to submit their video or do a live audition by the deadline, and…I have a panel of judges. At this point, I’m only looking for modern, contemporary, jazz, or hip-hop. There are no tutus or ballet shoes.” She continues, “Contemporary is usually where you see your most versatile choreography…things that have to be highly entertaining and strong technically.”
Several candidates particularly appealed to Starry. “Chase Jarvis and Lindsay Green…are not dancers,” she says, “but they are kind of specialty act aerial artists.” Starry explains, “They said that they work with a pole, and I was a little hesitant because most people think ‘that’s what strippers use.’”
“So I tested them out,” she continues, “and they blew everybody away…it was awesome. It was like a male and female duet acro-pole performance…she’s like a toy ballerina, and he comes in and kind of tortures her, and she’s all over the pole, and…the first time I saw them my mouth just dropped.” Starry laughs. “It’s pretty cool. Major strength and flexibility.”
“Another choreographer is Angel Castro,” says Starry. “He works with me with Scorpius, but he’s starting to reach out…on his own right now.” She describes his all-female piece: “It’s strong, it’s very athletic…he does a lot of cool floor work. And he has…a little bit of a sexy appeal. I’m always attracted to people who bring out the sensuality in performers and make them look great — yeah.”
Starry trained at the Phoenix School of Ballet, later attending California Institute for the Arts and continuing on a six-month full scholarship to London Contemporary Dance School (now called The Place).
“Because of my education,” she says, “I started teaching and became the founder of Metro Arts, which is my full-time career. I founded the dance program…now I’m the Associate Head of School.” In that same year, 1999, Starry also created Scorpius Dance, the school’s professional residents. This August, she raises the profile of her troupe by taking Scorpius to the Edinburgh Festival Fringe, capitalizing on last year’s successful appearance in A Vampire Tale at the Bram Stoker International Film Festival.
Kick-A featured several pieces by Starry herself, including a trio titled No More Walls. “It’s a dedication that I did for some of my friends who are working very hard to become citizens of the United States, and all of the hard and long steps they’ve had to take to get there,” says the choreographer. “So it’s kind of a serious piece…but it’s good.”
Another work used music by Philip Glass recorded by the composer and the Kronos Quartet. “I’m kind of going back on my old-school days of more classical, modern work,” Starry describes, “…inspiration of Paul Taylor…all my old training that I used to have when I was a younger dancer.”
Titled Rotation, Starry’s piece featured eight members “focusing on different types of circular rotations that the body can create in different patterns,” she says.
Starry also offered a new creation incorporating Jack White’s “Love is Blindness,” from the recent film The Great Gatsby. “It’s an intense song,” she says with a smile. “I just gathered five dancers and choreographed something that matched the feeling and setting of his music.”
“I’m a fast choreographer, which is good and bad for me,” she continues. “It’s good because I can…get things done quickly, but also I’ve got to take a few steps back and try to process it more, because I can create more detail in my work.” Starry chuckles ruefully at her own impatience.
Plans for Scorpius going into next season include dancer auditions tomorrow evening, performances in Scotland, California, and Montana, and the 10-year anniversary of A Vampire Tale.
- Scorpius Dance Theatre
- Auditions for the 2013-2014 season take place on Wednesday, June 19, at 7 p.m.