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The Holler Sessions


People on the Eastern Seaboard, I should have written about The Holler Sessions a few days ago and scooped the NYT so LGM readers would have known it was a hot ticket before it was now very probably sold out (and closes the 17th).  Alas.  But I will tell you about it even so.  This 80-minute mostly one-man show is written by and stars Frank Boyd. He plays DJ Ray; the play is set during his show.  (The play even features a participatory element; the audience can call in to an on-air quiz. Every answer is true, he tells us.)  Ray loves jazz, and he will tell you all about jazz, and how much he loves it, and you will watch him dance and pick out every ratatat on a snare and trumpet blare with his body.  It’s probably the best piece of commentary on music I’ve ever encountered, because by merging both the opportunity to listen and the opportunity to watch someone deeply immersed, it makes a more persuasive, visceral case for Why You Should Love This Too than could be possible with any other form of criticism or appreciation.

In one scatalogical passage (of a few) he tells us that listening to jazz music is as high stakes as helping your friend shit into a bag.  Soldiers, he tells us, sometimes have to team up in a trench, with one person holding a plastic bag in just the right spot. You have to be in just the right receptive position, and if you fail, you are in for an unpleasant afternoon, even more so than the usual afternoon waiting in a trench.  To listen is just like that high wire act; if you are not carefully attending, not where you need to be, you invite disaster.  Crazily, this speech actually does make the act of listening feel very important.  Then the lights go black and he puts on a Charlie Parker record.  Heeding his instruction, I concentrated so hard on the task before me that I forgot I was in fact watching theater, and should consider opening my eyes again to check whether there was something to see.  When I finally did, I realized a small desk light was illuminating Boyd, but I closed my eyes again.  I didn’t want anything to distract me from listening.

A program note of The Holler Sessions tells us, “It is, at its root, the lucky experience of watching someone fall in love.”  Just so: this show is about what it was to love something.  For eighty minutes you get to see a character purely, unselfconsciously given over simultaneously to passion — the rapture he feels listening to music — and devotion — the generosity of his evangelical zeal.  We don’t know anything about this character other than how he presents in the moment: he is kinetic and geeky and white and nervous and so full of love.  There’s nothing he could say about himself that’s important; we need to hear about jazz.  That, too, is a testament to just how much he loves.  The program tells us that the show is semi-autobiographical; Frank Boyd came to jazz late, is still in the thrall of discovery, so the feeling of immediacy of watching someone is love comes in part from the fact that he’s not just playing someone in love, drawing on a bank of experiences with some other object to make believe about loving this music.  It’s simpler than that.  He’s showing us something about him.  At one point he makes a long list of names of empty talkers — Oprah is on the list, and it culminates, in a disgusted sneer, in “Chuck. Todd.  Then he instructs us to imagine the earth opening and swallowing them up.  He puts on Miles Davis.  The list of dross only makes you hear the beautiful purity of the music more clearly.  And the list of people speaking without truth or relatedness only makes you feel that much more how much Boyd loves.

Because of how funny and open and raw he is in showing us how much he loves this music, it’s hard to resist his imploring: listen.  Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m — uncharacteristically — going to put on Kind of Blue.

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