This Friday and Saturday evening, The Jazz Gallery will present two special performances of MOBRO, a jazz oratorio from the saxophonist/composer John Ellis and the playwright Andy Bragen. The piece, just released on record, was commissioned by The Jazz Gallery in 2011, and takes its inspiration from the journey of the Mobro 4000, a garbage barge from New York that unsuccessfully tried to unload its unwanted cargo at various ports across the eastern seaboard in 1987. In the hands of Ellis and Bragen, the story is transformed into a moving drama that challenges our concept of the unwanted, whether human or material.
NB: There will only be one set each night, starting at 9 p.m.
We at The Jazz Gallery met John and Andy at Andy’s apartment in the East Village to talk about their working process and the challenges of combining jazz and theater:
The Jazz Gallery: The New York jazz and theater communities are ones that don’t overlap all that often. How did you two meet and start working together?
Andy Bragen: I was taking a playwriting course up at Hunter College with an old mentor, Tina Howe, and John’s mother apparently was up for the year on a fellowship, getting a second Master’s degree at Hunter, and was in the playwriting class. We became friends, and I mentioned that there was an opening in my house coming up—this was 1995 or ’96.
John Ellis: I came up in ’97, so it probably was late ’96.
AB: She said, “My son is looking for a place.” So I met John then in 1997. He ended up living in the same house as me for a year or two, and we became good friends. We knew each other for about 10 years before we started working with each other and had seen each other’s work and had an artistic conversation through a friendship.
JE: It really was the first Gallery commission I got called Dreamscapes where I was thinking about the potential for interaction between music and language. I wanted to start with these dream-oriented poems. I had a pretty good idea of what I wanted to do, but I needed the words to react to. Andy was just the obvious choice, so we just started there. It was a cool first effort and we learned a lot.