Backstage Pass with Lia Chang

Lia Chang Photos: On the Town with Rome Neal, Jazz Vocalist and Star of Laurence Holder’s MONK

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Rome Neal is celebrating Jazz Appreciation and Poetry Month in April with a pair of jazzy turns. On Saturday, April 5, 2014, he’ll be the featured vocalist in his Banana Puddin’ Jazz Series at the Nuyorican Poets Café, with Lafayette Harris, Jr. on Piano, Ricky Gordon on the Drums, Christopher Hall on Bass. Wild in the Wind, My Foolish Heart and Afro Blue are among the 8-10 songs that he will sing. The house opens at 9:30 p.m. His guest poet, Richard Williams, will start the evening off at 9:45 p.m, followed by Neal’s 4 year old grandson who will perform his Michael Jackson dance. Admission is $15. Advance tickets are available onine at www.nuyorican.org or by calling (212 780-9386).

Nuyorican Poets Cafe
236 East Third Street (bet B & C Aves)
New York City
For Reservations: 718-288-8048
9:30 p.m.
1660273_10152131576488768_532542182_n On Thursday, April 24, 2014, Neal will reprise his Audelco Award Winning Solo Performance as the title character in Laurence Holder’s MONK for one performance only, as part of the 15th Annual Central Brooklyn Jazz Festival at “FOR MY SWEET”, 1103 Fulton St. in Brooklyn, New York at 8 p.m. Tickets are $20. For more information call (917) 757-0170 or (718) 288-8048.

FOR MY SWEET
1103 Fulton Street
Brooklyn, NY
For reservations: 718-288-8048
8 p.m.
Rome Neal in Laurence Holder’s MONK at the NUYORICAN POETS CAFÉ in New York

An Audelco award-winning actor, director, producer and jazz vocalist, Rome Neal is also the Artistic Theatre Director of the theatre program and has curated the Banana Puddin’ Jazz Series for 11 years. Last month, in honor of Women’s Herstory Month, I made my jazz vocalist debut in Rome Neal’s Banana Puddin’ Jazz Series “LADY” at the Nuyorican Poets Cafe in New York, attended Barry Harris’ Jazz Vocals Workshop and sang at Cobi Narita’s Friday Night Open Mic at Pearl Studios in New York. Below are excerpts from our chat after Cobi’s Open Mic.

Rome Neal's Banana Puddin' Jazz Series "LADY" featuring Lia Chang, Kathleen Doran (trumpet/vocals), Carolyn Holmes, Noel Simon’ Wippler, Sista, Linda Hudson (piano), Adi Meyerson (bass), Josephine Morena Cuevas (drummer) and Rome Neal at the Nuyorican Poets Café in New York on March 1, 2014.  Photo by Tom Goodwin

Rome Neal’s Banana Puddin’ Jazz Series “LADY” featuring Lia Chang, Kathleen Doran (trumpet/vocals), Carolyn Holmes, Noel Simon’ Wippler, Sista, Linda Hudson (piano), Adi Meyerson (bass), Josephine Morena Cuevas (drummer) and Rome Neal at the Nuyorican Poets Café in New York on March 1, 2014. Photo by Tom Goodwin

Rome Neal’s Banana Puddin’ Jazz Presents “LADY” Featuring Lia Chang, Monica Garrido, Carolyn Holmes, Noel Simon’ Wippler, Linda Hudson, Adi Meyerson and Kathleen Doran

Lia: How did you start Banana Puddin’ Jazz?
Rome: It started with me doing the research for the character of Thelonious Monk in the play MONK, penned exclusively for me by my good friend Laurence Holder. I would go to jazz clubs to find out the essence of my character. It was important to me to listen to music live, being with the musicians and getting a true sense of the environments that I was talking about in the play. Then it clicked. I wanted to sing the music; I wanted to promote the music. I wanted to be a part of the music. And I have my home, the Nuyorican Poets Café, my artistic home. So I said, “Hey, let me bring this energy that I was feeling from uptown in Harlem clubs like the legendary Saint Nick’s Pub and The Lenox Lounge, downtown to the Lower East Side, and do a jazz series.”

Lia: How do you choose who you are going to shine the spotlight on each month?
Rome: I like themes – Like the Women in Jazz for Women’s Herstory Month which you were in, LGBT greats in Jazz-which I explored people in the gay and lesbian community who were jazz musicians; vocalists who created this music, like Billy Strayhorn, Billie Holiday, Carmen MacCrae; The Young and the Jazzy; Gentle Gentlemen in Jazz; Marvtastic Ladies in Jazz, the Japanese Jazz Connection. One idea surfaced for a couple of Jazzy Thespians events which was in celebration of the National Black Theatre Festival in Winston-Salem, NC and was followed by another one which paid tribute to the New York based AUDELCO Black Theatre Awards. I want to do the Russian Jazz Connection, because there are a lot of Russians in town that are doing jazz. Then there are times I just like to showcase up and coming talent.

Lia: Tell me about your TV show.
Rome: The Banana Puddin’ Jazz TV Show is in it’s 4th year  on Brooklyn Public Network Channel 3. It can also be found on these cable stations: Cablevision 69, Time Warner 56, Verizon FIOS 44, RCN 84. It plays every Tuesday at 11:30 a.m. and 7:30 pm. It is a 28 minute edited version of what I do at the Nuyorican Poets Café, the essence of my Banana Puddin’ Jazz evening. It is also streamed world wide.

The closing night curtain call of Ishmael Reed’s The Final Version at the Nuyorican Poets Café in New York on January 19, 2014. Photo by Lia Chang

The closing night curtain call of Ishmael Reed’s The Final Version at the Nuyorican Poets Café in New York on January 19, 2014. Photo by Lia Chang

Lia: This past winter, you starred in and directed Ishmael Reed’s The Final Version, which explores the complex intersections between racial identity and liberal ideology, and examines how New York City’s leftist culture has changed since the 1930’s. You portrayed Lee Ransom, an African-American writer sponsored by the American Communist Party, who struggles with tensions between Communist ideology and commercial success from the 1930s through the 1960s.
Rome: Ishmael is a genius and you can sense this in the many plays he has written over the years of which I have been blessed to direct. He has an investigative skill of having the audience discover societal and political truths that not only make you more knowledgeable about what’s going on around you, but makes you laugh out loud!!!

Rome Neal takes his turn at the mic during Barry Harris' (seated)  Jazz Vocals Workshop at the Lincoln Square Neighborhood Community Center in New York on March 11, 2014. Photo by Lia Chang

Rome Neal takes his turn at the mic during Barry Harris’ (seated) Jazz Vocals Workshop at the Lincoln Square Neighborhood Community Center in New York on March 11, 2014. Photo by Lia Chang

Lia: Who are the jazz musicians that inspire you?
Rome: At the top of the list is pianist/composer/educator, Dr. Barry Harris, another genius and man with a heart of gold. Barry is not only one of the most acclaimed jazz musicians on the scene he is an educator of the music who holds court every Tuesday at 250 w 65th Street, a community center on the Westside. Then there’s bassist/composer Bill Lee (Spike’s dad). We live in the same neighborhood and one day we met and a whole new world opened up for me. Bill is like a father/brother and good friend who scored the music not only for his son, Spike’s movies like Do The Right Thing, Mo Betta Blues and others, but he he created the score and performed on the soundtrack of MONK in which I get to hear his great music everytime I perform the play. I have been a vocalist in his band and had the opportunity to hire him to play at Banana Puddin’ Jazz with his big band and small band… I’m truly inspired by his love for the music and support of other musicians. This list can go on but to name a few more: – there’s saxophonists, James Carter and Patience Higgins, pianists, Johnnie O’Neal, Lafayette Harris Jr., Frank Owens, and of course Thelonious Sphere Monk….

Rome Neal and his daughter Olympian swimmer Lia Neal at the 2012 Olympics in London. Photo courtesy of Rome Neal

Rome Neal and his daughter Olympian swimmer Lia Neal at the 2012 Olympics in London. Photo courtesy of Rome Neal

Lia: Your daughter Lia Neal is an Olympian Swimmer. When did she start training?
Rome: She started going to lessons at 6 and then she started going to competitions around 8, and then excelling around 10 years old showing signs of someone who was really going to be great in the water. I recall seeing her around 10, she would be swimming and be one body length behind the lead person in the pool, and all of sudden, she comes out of nowhere and wins the race. Those were great moments and recently it happened at the 2014 NCAA Championships in Minnesota where she swam the anchor leg of the 400 yard relay for her Stanford team. While the team, being a body length behind swimming against some of the fastest swimmers in the country, she was able win the race for them. It was an amazing moment!

Rome Neal with his daughter Lia Neal and Siu Neal at the International African Arts Festival in Broooklyn in 2013. Photo courtesy of Rome Neal

Rome Neal with his daughter Lia Neal and Siu Neal at the International African Arts Festival in Broooklyn in 2013. Photo courtesy of Rome Neal

Lia: What does it feel like to have an Olympian in the family? Is anybody else athletic?
Rome: My sons are good basketball players. To have an Olympian in the family feels good, real good. A sense of pride, a sense of relaxation. It is a good relaxed feeling to know that this young lady is taking it to another level where she is respected, rewarded for what she does in the pool. And she just happens to be my daughter. Above all that I’m glad she is happy.

Rome Neal sings at Cobi Narita's Friday Night Open Mic at the Pearl Studios in New York on March 14, 2014. Photo by Lia Chang

Rome Neal sings at Cobi Narita’s Friday Night Open Mic at the Pearl Studios in New York on March 14, 2014. Photo by Lia Chang

Lia: After making my jazz vocalist debut at Banana Puddin’ Jazz, you suggested we hit some open mics around town, including Cobi Narita’s Friday Night Open Mic with Frank Owens on the keys. How do you choose to hone your craft?
Rome: For me, back in the days, first I was studying this Monk character, then I was going out to these clubs. While you are sitting there, you can not not get the bug. One night I was sitting there and I saw one lady go up to sing and she didn’t sound so good. This was with these top musicians. I said, “wow, if she can do that, then I can do that.” So the next week, I had a song and I came to the club. The song was In My Solitude orBody and Soul. I sang this song, and low and behold, I didn’t sound too good. It made me realize that you just don’t get up there and sing a song. You have to do your homework. These great jazz musicians that are up there playing behind you singing, these guys have studied this music, religiously and spiritually, some scientifically, it is a part of their being. I had to grasp those elements up under me. I still went out to the clubs, and I would take a song. I would hit 3 clubs, including St. Nicks Pub and Lenox Lounge, and I would sing the same song, that’s 3 times in the same evening. Then I would go back the next week and sing that same song again, until I landed that song. Once I get a song down, I would go on to the next song and continue at these different clubs.

Then I realized I had to go a little bit deeper. In my research for Monk, I had to touch base with Barry Harris. Barry Harris knew Monk very well. He lived in the same household as Monk for 10 years before Monk had passed. They lived in the Baroness Pannonica de Koenigswarter’s mansion in Weehawken. Barry still lives there now. I went to Barry Harris’ Workshop and I took classes with him and have been there ever since.

Rome Neal at the Nuyorican Poets Cafe in New York on March 1, 2014. Photo by Lia Chang

Rome Neal at the Nuyorican Poets Cafe in New York on March 1, 2014. Photo by Lia Chang

Lia: How did Dr. Barry Harris come to your attention?
Rome: I was walking by this workshop and I saw these people and they were doing music, but I was too intimidated to go in there. This is 20 years ago. I forgot all about that workshop. I remember walking by there but I do not recall who was in there. But I do remember that workshop, because I found out about it later on. Something about it drew me in. I still was intimidated, I didn’t want to go inside. These musicians, singers… I wasn’t into the music that much anyway.

Learning this Monk character, I ran into Barry Harris at a reading for another playwright. Monk has been so much in my life. There’s another guy who had written a three character play about Monk, which included the Baroness and Bud Powell. We did a reading of it. The playwright had invited Barry Harris to the reading because he wanted Barry to do the music for the play. So I was sitting up there under Barry Harris, reading the play. At that time I really didn’t have a clue as to who Monk was. People said I looked like him. So I was just ‘acting’. After the reading, I asked Barry what he thought. He said, “That was good, but Monk didn’t talk that much.” So I still had to search more for this character. But that was my first introduction to Barry Harris.

Barry Harris (seated) during his Jazz Vocals Workshop he conducts at the Lincoln Square Community Center in New York on March 11, 2014. Photo by Lia Chang

Barry Harris (seated) during his Jazz Vocals Workshop he conducts at the Lincoln Square Community Center in New York on March 11, 2014. Photo by Lia Chang

Years later, when I got to do the play with Laurence Holder, I knew I had to connect with Barry Harris, and get some insight from him, because he was one of the ones that was really close to him. That worked out very well. Once I started going to the workshop and turning him on to the play, he became interested in what I was doing with the play and he invested some money into the play, and got others to invest when it went Off-Broadway. Then he invited me over to the house on the last day of tech, before we opened. He said, “You can come over now.” I picked him and drove him over to Weehawken and went into this house that Monk lived in 10 years before he died. There was the piano there that Monk played on. There was the small bedroom that Monk stayed in most of the time. He was really reclusive, so I got all of that energy. Then he showed me some pictures of Monk in the house. Then I started taking classes with Barry, who when not travelling, conducts weekly music workshop sessions in New York City for vocalists, students of piano and other instruments. I realized, “Oh, they’re singing, oh, they’re learning the song.” I’ve been going for more than 14 years. Someone captures you that way, and it is a must that you go there. Everybody loves Barry, he is very special. We hope to have him forever.

Rome Neal. Photo by Lia Chang

Rome Neal. Photo by Lia Chang

ROME NEAL (Actor/Director/Producer/Jazz Vocalist) is the Artistic Theatre Director of the Nuyorican Poets Café theatre program. Rome received an Obie Grant with Café founder Miguel Algarin for excellence in theatre. He is the recipient of five Audelco Awards – two for directing – Pepe Carril’s SHANGO de IMA and Samuel Harp’s DON”T EXPLAIN; two for acting – Lead Actor in Gabrielle N. Lane’s SIGNS, and one for Solo Performance in his critically acclaimed MONK, by Laurence Holder. He also received the National Black Theatre Festival’s coveted Lloyd Richards Director’s Award. His fifth Audelco Award was a technical award for his lighting design of SHANGO de IMA. Mr. Neal received a Triumph Award for his acting in Alex Mc Donald’s PRISM and a Monarch Merit Award for his outstanding contributions in New York Theatre. His directorial credits includes his adaptation of William Shakespeare’s JULIUS CAESAR SET IN AFRICA, Sekou Sundiata’s THE CIRCLE UNBROKEN IS A HARD BOP Amiri Baraka’s MEETING LILLIE, SHANGO de IMA, PRISM, Ishmael Reed’s THE C ABOVE C ABOVE HIGH C and Amiri Baraka’s PRIMITIVE WORLD: AN ANTI- NUCLEAR JAZZ MUSICAL, all performed at the Nuyorican Poets Cafe and National Black Theatre Festival in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. Rome directed Wesley Brown’s LIFE DURING WARTIME at the Cafe and The National Black Arts Festival in Atlanta Georgia. His production of Alex McDonald’s PRISM was performed at the Ex-Ponto Festival in Slovenia, Eastern Europe. His acting credits include Dan Owen’s FOREVER MY DARLIN’, directed by Daune Jones at the Richard Allen Center, and later by John Amos, and Judi Ann Mason’s A STAR AIN’T NOTHIN BUT A HOLE IN HEAVEN directed by Mikel Pickney. Rome’s film acting credits include Michael Almereyda’s HAMLET, Spike Lee’s SUMMER OF SAM and Leon Ichaso’s PINERO. As a Jazz Vocalist, Rome has performed at Town Hall on Broadway, The Metropolitan Room, The Museum of the City of New York, Lenox Lounge, Joe’s Pub, Saint Nick’s Pub, Minton’s Playhouse, Showman’s, 966Jazz, Baker’s Keyboard Lounge in Detroit, The Nuyorican Poets Cafe, The Jazz Spot, and has performed around town as the lead vocalist for the Bill Lee Mo’ Better Quintet (Spike’s father). Mr. Neal has a CD entitled: “A Brighter Crooner”, and now his live concert “All in The Puddin'” recently released on DVD along with his “Rome Neal’s Banana Puddin’ Jazz Jam… A Night To Remember”.

Rome Neal’s Banana Puddin’ Jazz Series is sponsored by Cobi Narita, John D. Smith, Pure Jazz Magazine, Rustik Tavern, George Johnson, Malchijah Hats, Eric Frazier, Donald Byrd Jazz Foundation, Ron San Marchi, United Music Makers, Paris Blues, Barbara’s Flower Shop, Phil Young, Grace L. Jones and Jackie McCaffrey.

Cedric Rose, Rome Neal, Lia Chang and Eric Frazier at Rome Neal's Banana Puddin' Jazz "LADY" at the Nuyorican Poets Cafe in New York on March 1, 2014.

Cedric Rose, Rome Neal, Lia Chang and Eric Frazier at Rome Neal’s Banana Puddin’ Jazz “LADY” at the Nuyorican Poets Cafe in New York on March 1, 2014.

Lia Chang is an actor, a performance and fine art botanical photographer, and an award-winning multi-platform journalist. She recently starred in Lorey Hayes’ Power Play at the 2013 National Black Theatre Festival opposite Pauletta Pearson Washington, Roscoe Orman, Lorey Hayes, Marcus Naylor and Phynjuar.

Other Articles by Lia Chang:
Apr. 26: Garth Kravits, Suzzanne Douglas, Erin Dilly, Gavin Lee and More Set for “From Carousel to Kinky Boots”, Bickford Theatre Guild’s annual fundraiser
Photos: André Braugher, Ami Brabson, Christine Toy Johnson, Antoinette LaVecchia, Richard Topol, Victor Williams, Nikkole Salter, Elizabeth Van Dyke at Oni Faida Lampley’s Tough Titty at the Paradise Factory
Tony Award Winning Playwright David Henry Hwang Receives $275,000 Doris Duke Artist Award
Kerry Butler, Edward James Hyland, Matt Walton, Megan Sikora and More in Previews of Off-Broadway Production of Under My Skin at The Little Shubert Theatre
Miss Saigon’s Francis Jue Receives Elliot Norton Award Nomination for Outstanding Musical Performance by an Actor
Apr. 22 – May 18: Working Theater Presents The off-Broadway Premiere of James McManus’ CHERRY SMOKE at Urban Stages
André De Shields, Mary Zimmerman, Among 4 Elliot Norton Award Nominations for Huntington’s World Premiere of The Jungle Book, a co-production with The Goodman
Photos: AALDEF Honors Mari Matsuda, Aasif Mandvi, and John Chou in 2014 at 40th Anniversary Celebration
Apr. 23-27: Joel de la Fuente Stars in Jeanne Sakata’s Hold These Truths at PlayMaker’s Repertory Company
Jun. 22 – July 27: Richard Thomas and Kristen Connolly Set for Old Globe Debut in OTHELLO
Apr. 17-May 18: Tonya Pinkins and Roscoe Orman Lead the Cast of New Federal Theatre’s Off-Broadway Production of The Fabulous Miss Marie
Rome Neal’s Banana Puddin’ Jazz Presents “LADY” Featuring Lia Chang, Monica Garrido, Carolyn Holmes, Noel Simon’ Wippler, Linda Hudson, Adi Meyerson and Kathleen Doran
Mar. 21-May 4: Richard Thomas, Ron Rifkin, Hallie Foote and Khaled Nabaway Set for Arena Stage’s World Premiere of Lawrence Wright’s Camp David
Photos: Backstage and Opening Night of Signature’s World Premiere of David Henry Hwang’s Kung Fu
Photos: Harriet Harris, John Tartaglia, Christine Toy Johnson, Alan Muraoka, James Saito and More celebrate Ann Harada’s Debut at Lincoln Center in the American Songbook Series
Ishmael Reed’s THE FINAL VERSION Stars Rome Neal at Nuyorican Poets Cafe through January 19, 2014 Rome Neal Leads the Cast of the World Premiere of Ishmael Reed’s THE FINAL VERSION at Nuyorican Poets Cafe, 12/12/13-1/19/14
2013 National Black Theatre Festival Photos: Gala, Power Play and Knock Me A Kiss
Photos: David Henry Hwang, Annie Baker and Rajiv Joseph honored at Sixth Annual Steinberg Playwright “Mimi” Awards
Roscoe Orman, Phynjuar, Horace Vincent Rogers and More Set for Rome Neal’s Banana Puddin’ Jazz: “A Jazzy Thespians Night” at Nuyorican Poets Café
Rome Neal’s Banana Puddin’ Jazz presents Motown… Ain’t Nothin’ But A Party 2 at Nuyorican Poets Cafe
Rome Neal in Laurence Holder’s MONK at the NUYORICAN POETS CAFÉ in New York
Signature’s Revival of The Piano Lesson Sweeps AUDELCO’s with 8 Wins including Best Revival, Ruben Santiago-Hudson, Roslyn Ruff, Chuck Cooper and Brandon J. Dirden; Also Among 2013 “VIV” Winners – Wild with Happy’s Coleman Domingo and Sharon Washington; and Storyville’s Mercedes Ellington
Photos: LAByrinth’s Opening Night of Dominique Morisseau’s Sunset Baby with John Earl Jelks, DeWanda Wise, Harvey Gardner Moore, Daphne Rubin-Vega, Tracie Thoms, Alano Miller and More
Photos: André De Shields, Michael Shannon, Rajiv Joseph, Christine Sherrill, Doug Peck, Alexis J. Rogers, Karen Ziemba and More Celebrate 2013 Jeff Equity Awards
Click here for the Lia Chang Articles Archive and here for the Lia Chang Photography Website. All text, graphics, articles & photographs: © 2000-2014 Lia Chang Multimedia. All rights reserved. All materials contained on this site are protected by United States copyright law and may not be reproduced, distributed, transmitted, displayed, published or broadcast without the prior written permission of Lia Chang. You may not alter or remove any trademark, copyright or other notice from copies of the content. For permission, please contact Lia at liachangpr@gmail.com

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