Posted on September 26, 2017 at 2:38 am
On the morning of September 11, 2001, my then-girlfriend (with whom I’m still in touch) and I woke up to the sound of my mother on my answering machine, yelling something like “they’re blowing up Manhattan,” and by the time I raced to the phone to find out what she was talking about, she had hung up in a panic. When I tried to call her back, I couldn’t get a dial tone. We turned on the TV and that’s when we saw what was happening eighty blocks south of us – we tuned in twenty seconds before the second plane hit, and we stared numbly at the TV for an hour until the South Tower buckled and collapsed. In the terrifying confusion of the next couple of hours, I wracked my brain to think of who I might know in the World Trade Center. With alarm, I realized that my ex-wife, with whom I was then embroiled in deeply contentious litigation, worked occasionally for a firm with offices in the towers. Almost without thinking, I picked up the phone, and amazingly, I got a dial tone. I dialed her number. She picked up.
When I sat down the next morning to try and process what I was feeling and what it felt like to be in the middle of that awful and yet weirdly exhilarating moment in New York City, I wrote these lines: “Whatever I said doesn’t matter. Whatever you said doesn’t hurt. Whatever we meant and whatever we did is lost in the water.” And for sixteen years, every time I have performed “Coming Together,” I sing that line and think about that phone call, about that instinctive urge to bridge an unbridgeable distance in a moment of crisis. It didn’t make our relationship any better, and I didn’t expect it to, but I knew it was my responsibility to reach out. We are connected, we are breathing the same air, we are asking the same questions.
I haven’t performed “Coming Together” in a long time – it seemed insane to sing about how “People are coming together” when it seemed so blatantly obvious that of course the country was becoming more divided by the hour. But this year, I remembered the Women’s March on Washington, the protests all across the country and the world, the chants on the Capitol steps, the amazing courage and decency of ordinary people in the face of the horrifying rise of the American Fascists, anti-Semitism, racism and sexism unmasked and unrepentant; and I thought, People ARE coming together. Not ALL people, alas. But so many, and doing such good in the world. I can sing about that, I can celebrate that. And so this year, on September 11, I opened my concert with “Coming Together,” the first time I’ve performed it in at least ten years. I was honored to be joined by Bryonha Marie Parham, currently giving a mind-blowing performance every night in Prince of Broadway, singing the part originally sung by Adriane Lenox and recorded by Lillias White. We were also supported by an exultant choir led by Jesse Warren-Nager, featuring so many glorious voices.
The night also marked my first (but certainly not last) collaboration with the tremendously gifted Justin Guarini. I had heard Justin on American Idol, but he really got my attention when he was featured in Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown on Broadway, in which he unleashed an absolutely thrilling instrument, and then again in last year’s In Transit. Not only did he sing a heartbreaking rendition of “Over,” he donned the nerd glasses for “Being A Geek,” pulled out all the stops for “Getting Out,” and delivered a heartbreaking version of Donny Hathaway’s iconic “Someday We’ll All Be Free.”
I was also joined by an old friend, the genius jazz trumpeter Winston Byrd, who sat in with the band all night and then jammed with me on the gorgeous standard, “That’s All,” and made me feel like I really was a jazz pianist after all these years. So much soul-healing music-making!
And since I had a choir around, as well as my violinist par excellence Todd Reynolds, I also premiered a new song written for The Connector, the climactic song in the show, entitled “The Western Wall.”
Every night at SubCulture is a gift to my soul – I’m so grateful to Bryonha, Justin, Winston, the choir, the always legendary Caucasian Rhythm Kings, the whole staff at SubCulture and of course the audience. I hope you’ll return next month for my first collaboration with the incredible Grace McLean on October 22!
BRYONHA: Coming Together from Wearing Someone Else’s Clothes (2004)
Everybody Knows (2017)
JUSTIN: Being A Geek from 13 (2008)
JUSTIN: Getting Out from Wearing Someone Else’s Clothes (2004)
JUSTIN: Someday We’ll All Be Free (Music and lyrics by Donny Hathaway and Edward Howard, 1973)
JUSTIN: Over from Wearing Someone Else’s Clothes (2004)
WINSTON: That’s All (Music and lyrics by Alan Brandt & Bob Haymes, 1952)
The Hardest Hill (2015)
The Western Wall from The Connector (2017) (premiere)
Music of Heaven from Wearing Someone Else’s Clothes (2004)
Jason Robert Brown: piano, vocals
Justin Guarini: vocals
Bryonha Marie Parham: vocals
Jesse Warren-Nager (leader), Ta’Rea Campbell, Danielle Greaves, Brad Greer, Jason McCollum, Sydney Morton, Jamison Scott, Anne Fraser Thomas, Julius Thomas III: choir
Winston Byrd: trumpet, flugelhorn
Todd Reynolds: violin and electronics
Gary Sieger: electric and acoustic guitar
Randy Landau: electric basses
Jamie Eblen: drum set, dumbek