Local jazz musician and comedian Ahamefule J. Oluo brings his solo show — with big-band accompaniment — about personal crises back from New York and to The Moore Theatre.
“I’ve never graduated from anything in my life,” said trumpeter, composer and stand-up comic Ahamefule J. Oluo during a phone interview before next week’s remount of his brilliant, wildly successful pop opera “Now I’m Fine” at the Moore Theatre.
Oluo was reflecting — with customary self-deprecation — that though he studied jazz in school, he and classrooms have never gotten along.
“The only thing that I liked about going to school was jazz band,” he said. “We’d show up an hour early, first period, then I would either leave or stay in the practice room.”
‘Now I’m Fine’
By Ahamefule J. Oluo. 8 p.m. Saturday, April 2, and 7:30 p.m. Sunday, April 3, at the Moore Theatre, 1932 Second Ave., Seattle; $30 (877-784-4849 or stgpresents.org).
That was back in 2000, at Mountlake Terrace High School, when the jazz band first made the finals of the Essentially Ellington competition in New York. (Oluo dropped out of school before the trip.) He had an even shorter career at Cornish College of the Arts, where he studied for a year with trumpeter Jim Knapp and saxophonist Hadley Caliman.
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Not that any of this ultimately matters, because Oluo is a summa cum laude graduate of the school of hard knocks, which is what his opera is all about — the ability, as he says in the piece, “to feel OK when you know things are not OK.”
“Now I’m Fine” relates the tale of a horrendous year during which Oluo — abandoned as a baby by his Nigerian father and raised by a struggling white single mom — suffered a talking-blues-caliber run of personal and medical catastrophes.
The show played to sold-out houses at On the Boards in 2014 and to rave reviews earlier this year at New York’s Public Theater. Now, curious to see how the piece will fare in a larger venue, especially one with so much sentimental value for him, the 32-year-old artist is bringing it all back home.
“I saw Smashing Pumpkins there [at the Moore] when I was a teenager,” he recalled. “The only reason I was able to see them was that I collapsed on the floor crying when they told me the show was sold out.”
“Now I’m Fine” flips between stand-up segments and richly orchestrated music for 17 instrumentalists and a vocalist. The ensemble includes Oluo’s bandmates in the popular indie-jazz quartet Industrial Revelation — drummer D’Vonne Lewis, keyboardist Josh Rawlings and bassist Evan Flory-Barnes — plus a raft of brass and string players and the charismatic vocalist Okanomodé Soulchilde — but no reeds.
“Brass doesn’t let you relax,” Oluo explained about his instrumentation choice. “There’s something about the attack. They’re on the edge of breaking. I wanted to have that constant tension.”
The lyrics for “Now I’m Fine” were written by Soulchilde, and Flory-Barnes arranged the strings. Oluo’s wife, feminist author and columnist Lindy West, co-wrote the script.
It was West, he said, who encouraged him to retain a line in the show that started as an off-the-cuff quip about racism. It will stop you in your tracks.
It will also make you laugh — and maybe squirm a bit, too.
“I only care about the difficult laughs,” he confessed.
Just before this interview, Oluo was in Los Angeles with fellow comic and longtime collaborator Hari Kondabolu, with whom he is cooking up a top-secret new project.
After that, Oluo said, he wants to write a piece about his mother.
Whatever he does, you can be sure he won’t be going to school to learn how to do it.