First, allow me to point out that I am a white guy. I say that simply to point out that I am not a member of the intended audience. However, this audible original appealed to me. Hence, I decided to give it a try. Here are my thoughts on Olio Live, an Audible Original.
Now, before I get into what I did and didn’t like, let’s talk about what this is. I will give you the publisher’s summary in a moment. However, to me this was like a night on Broadway. Or at least how I would imagine a night on Broadway to be.
In Olio Live—a very special one-night performance recorded live at the Minetta Lane Theater in February, 2019—poet Tyehimba Jess introduces listeners to his 2017 Pulitzer Prize-winning collection, Olio.
A stellar cast of actors, accompanied by pianist Jeremy Gill, performs a selection of poems from the collection, all of which reinterpret the lived experience of real historical figures. You’ll meet William “Blind” Boone, who testifies to Scott Joplin’s greatness at a time when “Alexander’s Ragtime Band” by Irving Berlin used uncredited sections of Joplin’s work; Sissieretta Jones, an operatic star who elevates what a “revue” show could be; and other African American musical stars of the early 20th century.
Despite the Emancipation of African Americans and the rise of Tin Pan Alley, these gifted composers and musicians continued to experience appropriation of their work and, often, lack of remuneration.
In this context, the word “olio” also means a hodgepodge, or a miscellaneous collection of literary or musical selections; taken as a whole, the triumphant performances of Olio Live ask listeners to consider the nature of identity, performance, and ever-present history. Tyehimba Jess and Yahdon Israel immortalize and embody a long tradition of African American “citizenship through musicianship” in this timeless live audio.
My Thoughts on Olio Live
Right out of the gate, this performance can be a little uncomfortable for white people. The subject matter dictates that it be so. However, it quickly turns to an uplifting story.
Yes, the story is of a blind black man who was born a slave. Blind Tom Wiggins. Unfortunately, he would remain property of his white owners after slaves were freed. Despite these setbacks, this man went on to be a famous musician.
The sad part of the story is that his family didn’t profit from his success. Those profits went to his former masters. This story is told through beautiful poetry. It’s a form of poetry that I was unfamiliar with. However, I was mesmerized by the performance.
The next part of the show was my favorite. The performer has told the story of Blind Boone. Unlike Unlike our 1st musician, he was a free man. However, he was a black performer in a time when it was difficult to be such.
I felt that his story was told in a fantastic way. I love the part where they recreated in interview that he had done. The following is an excerpt from that interview that was my favorite part.
Excerpt From Olio Live:
It was like a chill came over me and I could feel that piano shifting underneath me. I’d never felt nothing like it. Never have since.
I could see he’d been playing the storm just like the same one back in Marshfield. And I could see we were two leaves being blown all over the place in that storm. That cyclone that had thrown him all the way over to where he was, and hat set me down nicely into this house you see right here.
I don’t know about you, but that makes me wish I could hear the song played.
The show ends on a low note for me personally. I’m not a fan of opera. Hence, although I enjoyed the final story I didn’t love the music at the end.
Do I recommend on Olio Live?
Olio Live introduced me to an art form I was unfamiliar with. The syncopated sonnet. The writers wrote two sonnets that could then be broken down and performed together as one. This gives the poem a whole new meaning.
The writing was masterful, and the performance was extraordinary. I’m not a huge poetry guy, but I absolutely loved it. I found myself replaying the performances to catch the poems in their original form. Then, hearing the combined performance again, I caught all of the nuances. It was amazing.
Olio Live introduced me to both art forms and artists that I was unfamiliar with. It taught me both history and perspective while entertaining me. Thus, it is one of the best Audible Original offerings I have encountered to date. While it is free for the month of June, I would without hesitation reccomend buying it if you miss that window.