Theatre Mirror Reviews - "Live Bird"

THE THEATER MIRROR, New England's LIVE Theater Guide


"What Happened in Boston, Willie"

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note: entire contents copyright 1998 by Larry Stark

"Live Bird"

Written, Directed, and Performed by
Jeff Robinson

The word "performed" here is very important, because Jeff Robinson enters from the back of the house with an alto saxophone hung from his neck playing a good re-creation of a long, jagged, yawping, swooping, sweeping Charlie Parker solo, then launches into almost two hours of re-creating "Bird" himself. He chats-up people in the audience, and calls into existence people from Parker's past and his present (in 1947) to hold lengthy conversations with empty air. At one point he changes jackets, dons a hat, and picking up a huge tenor sax demonstrates a solo of Lester ("The Pres") Young's in contrast. But what he really demonstrates is the nervous, imperious, profligate artist that made all that music.

Bird for Robinson is a serious natural musician, a devious scam- artist, a penitent junkie, a slice of history, a social critic and a loner, depending on which minute you notice. Needing to score he talks the bar-tender to pay him song-by-song --- a hundred each for three songs, one for what he just played, another in advance for the next one --- and only moments later shoves it all into the hands of an old friend out of work drummer. Cut off at the bar, he crosses the street to con some limey tourist into standing him free drinks by pretending to be a Londoner.

The main body of the show is a grudging interview with a young writer from Downbeat that ranges through the Kansas City days of learning how, the birth of Bop, and a long litany of names, famous and forgotten, who taught him things. He interrupts it for a weekly call to Momma, only to learn that his estranged wife has cold custody of his son.

His final statement on drugs is advice to the Downbeat guy to stay away from the bad-man pusher. Baring his arm he points: "See that hole? That's my house. And that one? It's my Cadillac. And that one is Sonny Stitt's horn! And nobody ever played as good high as they could have straight. You stay straight, and clean."

This is perhaps an "in thing" best appreciated by jazz enthusiasts who know most of the names mentioned, appreciate the music, and realize that Charlie Parker, warts and all, was unique.


"Live Bird" (till 6 October)
Improv Asylum, 216 Hanover Street, BOSTON

THE THEATER MIRROR, New England's LIVE Theater Guide