In the 1930s and ’40s swing ruled the airwaves and Benny Goodman
reigned as king. Duke Ellington, Dizzy Gillespie and Count Basie
led bands across the country, directed them in sold-out concert
halls and were treated like royalty. But behind the stars were jazz
musicians that brought the music to life.
These musicians were known as side men. They played the
soundtrack of a generation and are the focus of Warren Leight’s
Tony award-winning play “Side Man,” which is coming to CSU.
Side men were talented jazz musicians who played with the big
names of the day, but because they moved around from group to
group, they never really found a following for their immense
Directed by Dr. Laura Jones, “Side Man,” opens tonight at the
Johnson Hall Main stage and runs through April 24.
“Side Man” follows Gene (Nic Roberts) from gig to gig through
the twilight of the Big Band Era and into the ’50s when Elvis
Presley and Rock ‘n’ Roll brought it all to an end.
Told through the eyes of Clifford (Nathan Young), Gene’s son,
the play explores the life of a side man who masters his craft, but
then remains so obsessed with it that after his time in the
spotlight is up, he still can’t give it up.
“This (play) takes a unique peek through the lens of the jazz
world,” Jones said.
A world that dominates the landscape of pop culture in the ’40s
and introduces Gene to his wife Terry (Stephanie Tschetter). It is
also a world that turns a happy relationship into a marriage
strained by alcoholism and unwillingness to let go of the past.
“It’s about what happens to relationships when you put them in
the context of your art,” Jones said.
Using characters like the heroin-addicted Jonesy, the balding
womanizer Al, the enigmatic Ziggy and the always-sexy Patsy as
brushes, Leight paints this story upon a canvas of jazz.
Al, Ziggy, Jonesy and Gene are held together by a common
passion, and when they’re not playing a gig or standing in the
unemployment line, they’re at The Melody Lounge, the bar that acts
as their real home.
Clifford emerges as the only stable character and is forced to
raise his parents. In one scene he gets Gene ready for a gig, fixes
Terry’s TV, re-fills her drink, lends Gene money, all the while
trying to calm an argument between his mother and father.
“Side Man” provides a dark comical commentary on the lives of
men who, as Clifford tells the audience at the end of the play,
“mastered their obsession, who ignored or didn’t even notice
anything else. They played not for fame, and certainly not for
money. They played for each other. To swing. To blow. Night after
night, they were just burning brass.”
The obsession that drives the play’s characters to ignore fame,
money and family was one aspect that motivated Jones to stage “Side
Man.” According to Jones the notion of artistic passion and
commitment links the worlds of music and theater.
“If you want to succeed as a musician or actor, it’s not an easy
life,” Jones said. “It’s not easy for those who love you and have
to live with you.”
Johnson Hall Mainstage
491-5116 or 491-5562
April 15 to 17 and April 22 to 24 @ 8:00 p.m.
Sunday Matinee: April 18, @ 2:00 p.m.
Tickets: $5, $9, $12