La MaMa Blogs: 6 Questions: Jerome Ellis

Sunday, November 13, 2016

6 Questions: Jerome Ellis

Photo by  Bailey Carr

Jerome Ellis is the "Jerome" in James and Jerome and he took time out from getting ready for the show Piano Tales to answer our 6 Questions.  Piano Tales comes to The Club @ La MaMa this week, November 18 - 20 for 3 performances only!
1. What should we expect from Piano Tales?

(Dear reader: James answered all of these questions so eloquently, so I recommend you read his answers alongside mine!)

In Piano Tales James and I tell tales solely by speaking and playing piano. The words and music bear the tales along in equal measure. But whereas in past shows the audience receives an experience akin to classical music—meticulous and composed—Piano Tales is a more improvisatory spectacle. We have twelve possible tales to tell; the audience will choose which three we tell each night and in what order, and then we’ll tell those three in a totally new way. With this show I like to think of James and I as two cooks who end up at a party one night and whip up a meal with whatever ingredients are on hand.

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

The scope, spaciousness, and density of a George Eliot novel (e.g. The Mill on The Floss; if you ever have the opportunity, I recommend asking James to talk to you about it); the speed, surprise, and moment-to-moment sensitivity of live Charlie Parker (e.g. “Salt Peanuts” at Massey Hall); the leitmotifs, arc, and humor of a Rossini opera (e.g. L’Italiana in Algeri); the intimacy and room for contemplation of kora/zheng duo 42 Strings (e.g. “Indian Ocean”).

3. How did you and James meet?

We grew up ten minutes apart in Virginia Beach and have been going to school together since we were ten. I remember watching him act in high school productions and admiring him from afar. We always had mutual friends, but it wasn’t until we were both in New York for college that we started eating Apple Jacks together at 3 a.m. and calling each other brother.

4. Who inspires you?

As a stutterer I am inspired by Susan Howe: her works show me the beauty language can acquire when it is fractured, interrupted, looped, or erased.

My mind leans on the music and writings of Hildegard von Bingen. Her religious expression took many forms: inventing her own language (Aigonz = God, zizria = cinnamon), composing unorthodox hymns to the Virgin, or preaching across Europe. As someone else who seeks to hammer his devotion to the divine into different shapes, I turn to her often.

Simone Weil, who wrote with lightning in her pen, and who inspires me to live more ferociously.

The writer and publisher Roberto Calasso has been a compass for my spirit lately, via both the ongoing saga he’s writing (eight volumes and counting) and the publishing house he directs: Adelphi Edizioni. When James introduced me to Adelphi’s catalog last year he said, “Move on in!” Since then it’s indeed felt like my mind has moved into a palace, each book a room I’m excited to get to know.

The Psalms, especially in Miles Coverdale’s miraculous 16th century English translation. They water my heart when it grows arid, via the page or via the recordings put out by the St. Paul’s Cathedral Choir in London, which is composed of both boys and men. My mother had me read the Psalms when I was little and I've been reading them ever since; maybe the sound of this choir moves me so much because they’ve accompanied me as both boy and man?

My little brother Kelvin and my friend Althea, both consummate artists and human beings of whose glory I always fall short.

Dr. Jeffrey Barrett, M.D.: my uncle and my godfather. He gave me my first book and took me on night drives into Manhattan from Canarsie when I wasn't even big enough to see over the dashboard, playing Mozart so loud the car rattled. He fulfilled perfectly the classic duty of the godparent: the cultivation of the godchild’s spirit.

My little family of colleagues at the Columbia Law Library Circulation Desk: Grace, Abed, Heath, and Marc. Their life stories, which I've been piecing together slowly over the years, are four of the most fascinating tales I've ever heard.

My friend Charlene, toward whom I feel nothing short of awe.

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

The Javanese Gamelan (World Music Library compilation). Vast, opulent music, like a palace for the ears.

Abida Parveen: Songs of the Mystics. This is a collection of Sufi devotional songs in Urdu, Punjabi, and Sindhi. Because I don't know these languages, I can more easily focus on the music’s bristling texture, woven from alto voice, tabla, and harmonium.

Gabriel Fauré: Requiem (King’s College Choir recording). For when I’m in the mood for something light!

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

It is such an honor. At the season launch party in September I felt welcomed into a big, wise, diverse extended family. My own extended family is relatively big (I have twenty-six cousins), so there was a familiar feeling of being bound to many different people by something strong, be it blood or shared values. And especially this season, their 55th, I’m extra aware of the depth of history and tradition into which James and I have been invited. Thank you La MaMa!

Also, I want to thank Andrew Scoville (our director) and Marika Kent (our production designer) for guiding us!


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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