THE BLUES AIN'T A COLOR Comes to Dr. King at Chicago's Elastic Arts, 1/14
Denise La Grassa will present her 75-minute original jazz-theater performance The Blues Ain't A Color to honor Dr. Martin Luther King Day, followed by a brief community discussion about Dr. King's legacy.
La Grassa and co-composer/co-performer John Kregor's music mixes with historical photos, current video images, and paintings by the late Swiss artist Maria Kern to highlight issues of race and diversity in America today. The show also features taped interviews with retired Chicago Defender publisher Col. Eugene Scott, author Orlando Ceaser, social service advocate Sister Simone Campbell ("Nuns on the Bus"), Urbana State Representative Carol Ammons, Chicago Department of Cultural Affairs' Lorraine Render, and Rainbow Push Excel students.
La Grassa's original songs in The Blues Ain't a Color include "Davina's Song," "I've Had It With The Blues," "Color Is The Difference," "Spinning Jenny," "Vain Game," and the title track, and accompany sung and spoken poetry. The current version also features the song "Tiny Star of Peace," co-written with children from the Western Avenue Community Center in Normal, IL.
Following Trump's election, La Grassa heard about students who were concerned about their place in America. "They saw this bully, this man who would become president saying awful things about women, minorities, and the Muslim religion, which divided instead of uniting us. I was surprised to find the children I was working with were hopeful, joyful and inspired by Christian and Muslim teachings."
Sunday, January 14, 2018, 6 p.m.
Elastic Arts, 3429 W. Diversey Ave., #208, Chicago, IL 60647
TICKETS: $10, 773-772-3616
Wall-to-wall paintings by the late Swiss artist Maria Kern (www.mariakern.com) are projected behind the performance. Historical and current photos as well as other media are curated by Chicago videographer and co-producer Pat Ulie (links below).
The Illinois Arts Council, a state agency, awarded La Grassa a grant to record the show's music. She also received an inaugural 2014 IMusE Entrepreneurship Grant from the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign.
The Blues Ain't A Color, as a jazz theater production, was originally staged at the Armory Free Theatre at the University of Illinois, directed by Associate Theater Professor Lisa Dixon. Dale Calandra directed subsequent iterations at Theater Wit during summer 2014, Katerina's, and Uncommon Ground, and at Jazz Showcase. La Grassa received an inaugural 2014 IMusE Entrepreneurship Grant from the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, to present a run at Theater Wit in 2015.
The song "Pieces of Peace" now opens the show, and was first performed for MLK shows in 2017 at Chicago's Jazz Showcase, then at Rogers Park's Uncommon Ground following the Muslim travel ban.
Denise La Grassa has been performing her original music and poetry in Chicago at clubs, hotels, festivals and events for over 25 years. She was a regular performer at Chicago's once-thriving jazz clubs such as the Bop Shop Jazz Club, Velvet Lounge and HotHouse, where her shows evolved into performances in New York City, Scotland, Germany, and Switzerland, as well as at theaters and festivals in Chicago. The first show, BITE, performed with a jazz trio, won critical acclaim from the Chicago Tribune, Chicago Sun-Times, and Chicago Reader. La Grassa also worked with The Second City Touring Company, where her writing, acting, singing, and improvisational skills entertained audiences nationwide.
La Grassa has won three Emmy Awards, and been nominated numerous other times for her work at WTTW-TV (PBS) in Chicago and WILL-TV (PBS) in Urbana. In August 2016, she completed her doctorate in Jazz Performance with a minor in Theater History from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, where La Grassa began creating The Blues Ain't A Color following the shooting death of Trayvon Martin. She continues performing the show and facilitating discussions in Chicago and central Illinois, and is currently working on musical documentary of the production. La Grassa holds the position of Lead Faculty, Jazz Studies, at Lincoln College in Lincoln Illinois. She recently produced and co-wrote with students an original Jazz-Theater presentation with Lincoln College Students Next Stop:Harlem.
La Grassa started volunteer teaching music and composition to children 14 years ago at Chicago's Mercy Home for Boys and Girls. Kids had previously co-written a celebration song with her called "Greatest Man in the Land" for Obama's election in 2009: www.pantagraph.com/news/local/children-at-western-avenue-exuberant-over-inauguaration/article_b9858043-b866-5d5b-bf68-86e3acff18ac.html
John Kregor (co-composer) received a B.A. in composition at the University of Texas, and is a prized member of Chicago's jazz community. He has played in groups led by Jim Gailloreto, Rob Clearfield, Matt Ulery, and currently plays with Patricia Barber every Monday at the Green Mill when Barber is not touring the U.S. and Europe. Kregor also played on Barber's critically acclaimed 2013 Blue Note Records album Smash.
Dale Calandra is an award-winning Director, Actor, Writer & Producer based in Chicago. He was a Founder of Center Theater Ensemble and Creative Director of The Training Center for the Working Actor, Chicago's top acting school, for 20 years. And for 12 years, was Artistic Director of Festival Theatre, Illinois' oldest outdoor Shakespeare Company. In his career, Dale has Directed 70+ Productions and Acted in 100+ Shows. His acclaimed Lysistrata, 2411 A.D. was published by Doubleday, with National Productions. Dale specializes in One-Person Shows, including Tom Mula's Circus of Dr. Lao (Next Theater) and La Grassa's Is There Anything Going On Upstairs? (Royal George Cabaret). He has also developed/coached club acts/stage performances for Charlene Brooks, The Sparkle Sisters, Shane Taylor, Charles West, Carol Moss, Becky Menzie, Judy Rosignola-Rice, Rob LaMonte and Elizabeth Doyle. He was Jeff-nominated as Best Actor for The Whale (Victory Gardens). He performed Edna in Hairspray (1st Nat'l Broadway Tour). And in 2013, the Chicago Tribune named him one of the top-ten Best Performers in Chicago Theater.