Breathing deeply

By Tony Omer - October 5, 2006

"Coming Up for Air, an AutoJAZZography", conceived and performed by Stan Strickland, written and directed by Jon Lipsky, produced by Alliger Arts. Boston Center for the Arts.

There was no doubt in my mind that "Coming Up for Air" was a terrific show, but the lengthy standing ovation at its conclusion sealed the deal. It appeared that all hundred or so in the packed black-box theater at the Boston Center for the Arts were in agreement - jazz musician, dancer, actor Stan Strickland's new show is spectacular. It should not be missed.

Noted Boston musician, singer, saxophonist, flutist, keyboardist, drummer, actor, dancer, and storyteller Stan Strickland and Island playwright/director Jon Lipsky have combined forces to create a moving, enlightening, and entertaining 80 minutes of music, dance, drama, and humor. It is an autobiographical story, or what they call an autoJAZZography, comprising about 50 percent monologue and 50 percent music. It is Mr. Strickland's life pirouetting out of the events of a three-day period in Hawaii in 1989. A period during which a rogue wave almost drowned him and that left him with a new appreciation for life and the music to which he has dedicated his life.

Mr. Lipsky said, "In most plays the music supports and underscores the story, but in this play the story supports and underscores the music." The show began as a workshop production at the Vineyard Playhouse in 2005 and was presented in its final workshop production this past August at The Yard in Chilmark.

Mr. Strickland and Mr. Lipsky use the events of these three days as starting points to riff on the musician's years growing up in Ohio and the influences, both positive and negative, of his parents, both of whom died when he was young, and his grandmother. Their songs and the songs of the church laid the foundation which later found their rebirth for Mr. Strickland in the freedom and creativity of the music of Jon Coltrane and grew into the sounds and rhythms which he has made his own. Mr. Strickland plays more than 10 characters, dancing, singing, telling stories, and accompanying himself on keyboards, flute, saxophones, and drums. We are given satisfying glimpses into his work and his life, including Mr. Strickland's years in college in Yellow Springs where a half-hearted major in chemistry was aborted, allowing him the time to pursue his first love, music, where his experiments with mind-altering smoking substances lead to a desire to find the musical answer to what is between the meeting point of Yes and No. His later session in India with a guru who told him that he would not find his answers in jazz lead him to "to look for transcendence in this world." If there is any fault to be found in this play it is only in the brevity of both the dialogue and the music. I could have listened to both all night.

Stan Strickland. Photo by Ralph Stewart
Stan Strickland performed his one-man show this summer at the Yard in Chilmark. Photo by Ralph Stewart
Vineyard resident Jon Lipsky and Stan Strickland have known each other for more than 20 years, having meet here on the Vineyard where Mr. Strickland occasionally played and hung out. They developed a mutual respect for each other's work over the years, most recently when Mr. Strickland almost stole the show as Dr. Sax, the musical muse of the Jack Kerouac character in Mr. Lipsky's play about Kerouac, "Maggie's Riff." This adaptation of Jack Kerouac's ``Maggie Cassidy" had its opening run at the Vineyard Playhouse in 2002.

Stan Strickland has performed and recorded with many of today's top jazz musicians all over the world. He currently teaches at the Berklee College of Music, Tufts University, and Longy School of Music, and is co-executive director of Express Yourself, working with adolescents in public mental health facilities.

Jon Lipsky is a playwright, author, and director who is a professor of acting and playwriting at Boston University's College of Fine Arts. He is also the Associate Artistic Director of the Vineyard Playhouse. He lives with his wife, Kanta, and their two boys (both accomplished actors) in West Tisbury.

The show runs until Oct. 14 at the Boston Center for the Arts. Work it into your next trip to Boston; you will love it.

"Coming Up for Air, an AutoJAZZography", conceived and performed by Stan Strickland, written and directed by Jon Lipsky, produced by Alliger Arts. The show is a part of the Boston Center for the Arts 2006-2007 Cultural Partners Series. For more information, call 617-933-8600 or visit