La MaMa Blogs: 6 Questions: James Harrison Monaco

Thursday, November 3, 2016

6 Questions: James Harrison Monaco

James Harrison Monaco is the "James" of James and Jerome. ("Jerome" is Jerome Ellis). James too time out of rehearsals for their show Piano Tales to answer our 6 Questions. Piano Tales comes to The Club @ La MaMa for three performances only, November 18 - 20, 2016.

1.    What should we expect from Piano Tales?

Well, on a simple level, it's stories told with words and music. But I've been describing it as, ideally, like an explosive and intimate jazz concert but with stories instead of jazz standards. We have thirteen possible tales to tell, and the audience chooses which three we tell each night and in what order, and then we tell those three each in a way we've never told them before. So there's a lot of play back and forth inside of it – heavy improvising together on the piano end and on the storytelling end. Hopefully there's a strong sense that the night you attended will never happen again.

2. How do you describe the style of your performance?

I call what Jerome and I make "hyper-literary live-music storytelling spectacles." Our friend Jaclyn Backhaus just described our work as "mighty art made of simple elements", which I liked a bit better. I also think there's an athleticism to watching the two of us use our instruments and ourselves to make rather literary forms into an entertaining stage performance. Also Jerome really likes playing one chord for a long time, and I look the audience in the eyes a lot.

3. How did you and Jerome meet?

We actually grew up on opposite sides of a swamp lake from each other in southeastern Virginia, and went to school together from about age ten on. But I'm a year older than Jerome, and we didn't really start hanging out and collaborating until we both came to New York for college. At first we primarily functioned as mutual enablers, encouraging each other to spend way too much money on records and books. The work came soon after.

4. Who inspires you?

As far as what's been inspiring me lately...

Theater/performance: Mariano Pensotti, The SilverCloud Singers, Dave Malloy, JACK in Clinton Hill, Royal Osiris Karaoke Ensemble, and all my friends of course.

Writers: Isak Dinesen, Colette, Fleur Jaeggy, Simone Weil, Herodotus, Sergio Chejfec, Rilke, and an extraordinary book of tales from Sudan.

Visual art: I go to the Metropolitan Museum of Art probably every two weeks and love every section, but for this project Caravaggio and the whole Chinese painting wing have been big (they're both all stories).

In the arena of the world, I've been inspired by the work of the White Helmets in Syria, the Spanish-language events at McNally Jackson bookstore by Javier Molea, and following the fierce humanitarian work of my girlfriend Cayce.

5. What 3 albums would you want with you on a desert island?

"Caetano Veloso" by Caetano Veloso (The one from 1986 with just acoustic guitar)
I feel like these would all be good for guarding my sanity.

6. What does working at La MaMa mean to you?

Gosh, at the season launch party back in September I just freaked out at how happy I am we're part of this place right now. Literally every kind of human being was in that room and in love with the place. So many venues and institutions claim they value "diversity", and then you walk into their space and it feels like they're just paying it lip-service. But with La MaMa it feels genuine and in their blood. I couldn't believe at that launch party how many different kinds of artists, different ages, different walks of life, different nations of origin were packed into that space and reveling in each other's work. And the work was so good! This place feels like a real artistic conversation between so many different circles of folk. It felt vital and cosmopolitan and messy in the most thrilling way. I'm so moved to be doing this show as part of that. 


La MaMa presents


Written, Performed, & Composed by James Harrison Monaco and Jerome Ellis 
Directed by Andrew Scoville

November 18-20, 2016
Friday and Saturday at 10pm; Sunday at 6pm

The Club @ La MaMa
74A East 4th Street
(between Bowery and Second Avenue)
New York, NY 10003

Tickets: $20 Adults; $15 Students/Seniors

For Tickets and Info: CLICK HERE

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