The Jazz Drama Program In Mississippi

Nora's Ark Workshop, University of Ole Miss, Oxford, Mississippi

Nora's Ark Workshop, University of Mississippi (Ole Miss) Oxford, Mississippi

The trip to Mississippi was amazing.  The photo above captures the sheer joy we felt at the culmination of the workshop performance of Nora’s Ark, the jazz musical by Clifford Carlson and me.  Judi Holifield, Director of Whole Schools Initiative, sponsored by the Mississippi Arts Commission, brought me down to University of Mississippi at Oxford, MS to give workshops and perform for teachers.  These are teachers empowered and inspired by art ready to change and uplift the world!

Bill Strickland and Eli Yamin

Bill Strickland inspired us!

July 12th I arrived in Oxford to participate in the retreat.  Setting the tone for the week was the magnificent keynote speaker, entrepreneur, social activist, artist, visionary, author, jazz leader, Bill Strickland.  In addition to hearing his keynote address and receiving this signed copy of his book, Make The Impossible Possible, I got to spend some time talking with Bill about making positive change in the world for ALL people through art.

The following day, workshops began with “Music As a Container.”  In the workshop we explore how music gives us a chance to express “unspeakable feelings,” as well as stories, culture and community.  I found participants, teachers from throughout the state of Mississippi, wonderfully engaged and warmhearted in the workshop. “Music as a Container” was inspired by a collaboration I had years ago with Dr. Abigail McNamee of Lehman College, City University of New York.

Janice from B.B. King Museum and teachers in workshop

Janice from B.B. King Museum and teachers in workshop

In the afternoon, it was time for the Blues Immersion Workshop.  We sang Leadbelly’s, “Good Morning Blues,” and the teachers wrote blues songs based on this model.  Then it was time to head over to the Nutt Auditorium at Ole Miss where I was joined by the great clarinetist Evan Christopher from New Orleans for a duo concert.  What a great way to warm up an audience–teach ‘em workshops all day long first.  Just a great vibe…
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I Want To Be A Teacher is on my new CD, You Can’t Buy Swing, available on www.eliyamin.com, www.cdbaby.com or itunes.

The day after the concert, blues historian Scott Barretta and aficionado Thomas Henry Freeland IV gave me some tips on how I should go to Clarksdale.  Before I knew it, I was on my way to the Mississippi Delta, birthplace of the blues.  In Clarksdale, you can feel the spirit of the blues elders all over the place.  It’s in the dust, sky, trees and wind…

Fabled blues crossroads, Clarksdale, Mississippi

Fabled blues crossroads, Clarksdale, Mississippi

Delta Blues Museum, Clarksdale, Mississippi

Delta Blues Museum, Clarksdale, Mississippi

When I arrived at the Delta Blues Museum, eight or nine youngsters had gathered in the basement for blues class with veteran blues man, Bill “Howlin’ Madd” Perry.  Before I could count to four, I was in the mix, helping the young piano players.  Many thanks to Bill for such a warm and energized welcome.  You made me feel completely at home.

Eli Yamin and Bill Perry

Eli Yamin and Bill Perry

After the class, we headed over to Morgan Freeman’s blues club, Ground Zero.  Bill was playing along with his son, Bill Perry Jr. on piano and their group.  What a fantastic sound.  Completely modern yet absolutely from the roots.  I was knocked out to sit in the band and completely floored when Bill said, “There is no way you don’t have a least SOME Mississippi down in ya’ playing the blues like that.  That ain’t no New York blues!”  Thanks Bill for the sweet compliment.  You guys are holding it down.  Can’t wait to see you up here in New York at Terra Blues!

Bill Perry performs at Ground Zero, Clarksdale, Mississippi

Bill "Howlin' Madd" Perry performs at Ground Zero, Clarksdale, Mississippi

Eli sits in with Bill Perry at Ground Zero

Eli sits in with Bill "Howlin' Madd" Perry Blues Band at Ground Zero

Mr. John Billington, founder of Delta Blues Museum Education Program performs

Mr. John Billington, founder of Delta Blues Museum Education Program performs

I drove back to Oxford blasting one of the CD’s I bought at the Delta Blues Museum, Muddy Waters Greatest Hits, of course.  What a night it was.

The following day, I was joined by a brilliant angel, newly located to New Orleans.  The great singer and teaching artist, Sonya Robinson.  She conducted her own workshops and partnered with me in the Nora’s Ark workshop. Thanks for your great partnership Sonya!

Sonya Robinson, teaching artist extraordinaire

Sonya Robinson, teaching artist extraordinaire

Sonya and I joined forces to lead a nine-hour workshop production of Nora’s Ark, the jazz musical by Clifford Carlson and me.  Check out the following clip and see what a wonderful job these professional educators do in leaping into the risk taking and soul expanding world of jazz drama.  Many of the teachers plan to return to their schools throughout Mississippi to stage Nora’s Ark with their students. We are eager to see the results…

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After all this, I’m truly excited for the future.  So many teachers being creative and spirited.  Young people picking up the ball and running with it.  One of the teachers in the Nora’s Ark workshop brought her 17 year old son, Chris.  He made for a terrific Mr. Cheetah in the production and went home with new found interest in blues men Albert King and Muddy Waters and jazz in general.  Hats off to you-skies the limit Chris!

You can also see photos below of myself with Bill Perry Jr., a wonderful young blues and jazz pianist from Clarksdale.  Look out for this fiery young man.  And, myself with the director of the Thacker Mountain Radio Show on Mississippi Public Radio.  Thanks for having me on the show.  What a great feeling–words and music, perfect together.

Big thanks to everyone at the Mississippi Arts Commission and Whole Schools.  You are through-the-roof fantastic.  Thanks a million for doing what you do.  Together we are making the impossible possible.  More art, more kids, more creativity, more humanity, more learning, more healing, more joy!

Hope to see you soon!

Eli and Bill Perry Jr., blues and jazz pianist from Clarksdale

Eli and Bill Perry Jr., blues and jazz pianist from Clarksdale

Director of Thacker Mountain Radio Show and Eli

Director of Thacker Mountain Radio Show and Eli

Eli with Chris, who played Mr. Cheetah in the Nora's Ark workshop

Eli with Chris, who played Mr. Cheetah in the Nora's Ark workshop

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