Happenstance Theater (Mark Jaster, Alex Vernon, Sarah Olmsted Thomas, Sabrina Mandell, and Gwen Grastorf) in Moxie; A Happenstance Vaudeville, Round House Theater, 2016.
(photo: Leslie Swan photography)
More than a week past the expiration date... too late for a year's-end reflection/recap? Nah, I now lead an unhurried life in Italy, so why not?!
In January 2019 I was living in Düsseldorf, Germany. I returned to the US in the spring to work with Washington, DC area Happenstance Theater on a new show, Pantheon. It was a success, I had a blast, and received some welcome good press:
Craig Jaster, composer, onstage musician, and deliverer of prologues and epilogues, glues it all together. Music punctuates every action and vice versa. His original song for Orpheus...hasn't left my ears.
–Jack Read, Broadway World
Mr Jaster’s talents are in full bloom: not only does he play multiple instruments throughout the show, he also wrote much of the jaunty music... He fills in the show’s soundscape with 40s standards from Irving Berlin, Cole Porter and other luminaries; watch out for “Bennie’s From Heaven,” a particularly delightful piece.
–Jill Kyle-Keith, DC Theatre Scene
From his spot downstage, he switches from piano to drum kit, to bass, to accordion with ease. At one point, he plays right hand figures on the keys while brushing the cymbals with his left and hitting the high-hat pedal with his foot, essentially becoming a rhythm section unto himself, while his scat-singing sounds like a muted trumpet.
–Ian Thal, Washington City Paper
Meanwhile, back in Germany, I now had a promising trio with fellow expats, from England and Wales, respectively, both longtime Düsseldorfers and excellent musicians. But my wife's job, the reason we'd moved there (health insurance is affordable and accessible in Europe; did you know? Can't afford insurance in the US any more) ended. I hope I get to play again with these gentlemen, and I will miss our German friends.
flanked by Dave Saunders & Mike Williamson
In April my wife received another offer we couldn't refuse: a teaching job in beautiful Florence, Italy. We'd continue to rent our house in New Hampshire and live as expats.
Before we made the move from Germany, however, we were home in New England for much of the Summer. Memorable moments from gigs with my trio included a lively interview and performance on syndicated radio program DreamFarmRadio and a show at The Purple Pit with old friend guitarist Paul Bourgelais sitting in for the night. My Americana band The Buskers ended the Summer with a concert in a beautiful renovated barn in Sanbornton, NH, playing for an outstandingly attentive audience; and a sunny day playing at the League of NH Craftsmen Fair. We look forward to returning to both those venues this Summer; we're still hammering out the dates.
The Buskers performing at Autumn's End Barn, Sanbornton, NH, August 2019
Life here in Italy has been good. People have been kind. As the new year begins, I am beginning to make contact with some other musicians, but when not negotiating the hilariously dizzying maze of document collecting necessary to establish official residency here, or enjoying the city and surrounding countryside, I've been productive songwriting and woodshedding. I've also been hard at work learning Italian–until recently, in three-hour classes, with homework, five days a week. I love it.
Today, though, I'm working once again for Happenstance Theater, transcribing and rearranging an old standard from the American Songbook for a new finale to the company's remount of Moxie, their wonderfully funny, touching homage to the days of vaudeville.
And I have been painting. I am excited about the direction my work seems to be headed, and I just received my first 2020 request for a commission. Here is a recent piece:
"Untitled," 8 inches x 10.5 inches, gouache, acrylic and ballpoint pen on paper (c) 2019
What's next? We all know 2020 will be extraordinarily challenging on so many fronts. But let's face it with purpose, positivity and hope. I will leave you with advice my astrologer friend Amy recently gave me, said with great conviction along with her usual effervescence, when I questioned the importance of the work I am doing.
One of the things you have to realize is, even if you’re just practicing, or you’re just alone painting; the very act of creative energy, it’s like smoke–it rises up into the universe and it affects the world, whether we see it or not; and it’s important to realize that, because what is creativity? Creativity is life force energy. And negativity, ultimately, is the lack of life force energy, and right now, Lord knows we need all the life force energy we can get in the world. Rather than thinking, "I'm just being selfish in doing this work," –if you’re really trying to do it for the universe, for God, and you’re really letting yourself be conduit, then it is important work in the world, and that is so true, because when you think about it, every great revolution has or had its artists. When you think about it, people in concentration camps still did creative things. It is so powerful. We have to have it. And there are many people out there who, through no fault of their own, they cannot do it. The people who can do it– it’s part of their seva!