John Coltrane inspires Urban Bush Women

Feb. 04, 2014 @ 04:39 PM

As Urban Bush Women approached its 30th anniversary this year, founder/artistic director Jawole Willa Jo Zollar felt like she was finally ready to make a dance inspired by John Coltrane’s monumental jazz work, “A Love Supreme.”
“I love the music. It’s just powerful. It’s a masterpiece,” Zollar said in a telephone interview earlier this week.
She and her company have been working on the new dance during a two-week residency at Duke University that also included workshops for students.
The new dance, “Walking With Trane, Chapter 2,” will have its world premiere, performed by Urban Bush Women, Friday and Saturday at Duke University’s Reynolds Industries Theater. The dance will be performed to original music created and played live by pianist George Caldwell, who was inspired by Coltrane’s “A Love Supreme.”
When finished, “Trane” will have three chapters. It just so happened that she and co-choreographer/company member Samantha Speis were able to complete the second chapter first, Zollar said.
Most consider the 1965 “A Love Supreme” to be Coltrane’s most acclaimed work. It garnered two Grammy Awards and earned Gold Record status in the U.S. and Japan.
Born Sept. 23, 1926 in Hamlet, N.C., Coltrane grew up in High Point. His father played several instruments and sparked Coltrane’s interest in playing the saxophone. He went on to revolutionize jazz through his compositions as well as such techniques as being able to play multiple notes at the same time to create what he called “sheets of sound.” He explained how he did this by saying, “I start in the middle of a sentence and move in both directions at once.”
The Duke program also features other new work: Zollar’s “Hep Hep Sweet Sweet;” Nora Chipaumire’s “Dark Swan;” and “Being Bushified,” created by Zollar and company member Maria Bauman.
“Hep Hep Sweet Sweet” offers Zollar’s take on the music and culture, fueled by the Great Migration, that emerged in jazz clubs in Harlem and her hometown of Kansas City, Mo. Her parents, coming from Texas and Alabama to Kansas City, were part of that migration, from 1916-1970, in which more than 1 million African-Americans relocated from the rural South to cities in the North, Midwest and West. “Hep – as in ‘hep cat’ was used in the 1930s to denote “hip,” Zollar said.
In “Dark Swan,” Chipaumire re-imagines the classical European ballet’s romanticized femininity by portraying instead modern women, who claim their strength and identities.
Zollar would reveal nothing about “Being Bushified” except to say, “It’s a surprise.” But you can bet it has something to do with the company’s 30th anniversary season this year.  “We have a vision that’s enduring. Our work has social relevance and deep humanity through the lens of African-American culture,” Zollar said of the company’s longevity.
Jazz is part of that culture and Zollar’s exposure to this indigenous American music began as a child in Kansas City. “My mother was a jazz singer and pianist. My parents had an extensive record collection. Jazz was all around,” Zollar said. Her parents would also take her and her five siblings to hear live jazz performances.
Since the 1930s, Kansas City, Mo., has been know as one of the cradles of jazz in the U.S. Some of Zollar’s earliest memories of jazz come from listing to jazz recordings at home after school. “I would race home and put on music. I would play jazz and I would imagine choreography,” Zollar added.


WHAT: Urban Bush Women perform 30th Anniversary Program.

WHEN:  8 p.m. Friday and Saturday.
WHERE: Duke University’s Reynolds Industries Theater.
TICKETS: 919-684-4444 or