JLP radio series producer Sara Fishko alerted me to a new 35mm restoration of Shirley Clarke’s film “The Connection” that will premier at the IFC Theater on 6th Avenue on May 4. There are many overlaps of “The Connection” and the goings on at 821 Sixth Avenue. Here’s what I wrote in the JLP book:
Jazz musicians spend a lot of time waiting. Waiting to get called for gigs, then waiting for the gigs; waiting for a pianist or drummer to show up; waiting for a turn to solo; waiting to get paid by a club or label owner. Bassist Bill Crow said, “There was a lot of idle time in the afternoons. We learned which museums and galleries were free and we’d go look at art in the afternoons, when we weren’t practicing.”
The drug users also spent time waiting for a fix. In 1959 Jack Gelber’s play, The Connection, dramatized this particular brand of waiting at the Living Theater on Sixth Avenue and 14th Street, just fourteen blocks from 821 Sixth Avenue. The loft could have served as the play’s stage set and Gelber sought to achieve a realism that broke down the boundaries between the stage and an audience. The “connection” was a dealer named Cowboy and jazz musicians – Freddie Redd and Jackie McLean, among others – were languishing in the theater space, playing tunes to pass time and escape boredom. Gelber attempted to break down boundaries between the stage and the audience in a manner not unlike Smith’s fly-on-the-wall loft recordings. Loft musicians Ronnie Free and Frank Hewitt were stand-ins for The Connection and Redd remembers the opening night party for the play’s cast and crew being held at 821.
In December 1959, Smith recorded Symphony Sid’s radio show on WEVD and he caught this mention of The Connection:
Ladies and gentlemen, have you seen The Connection? This is a play written by Jack Gelber. And a play with jazz featuring the Freddie Redd Quartet with Jackie McLean on alto. It’s called ‘a play with jazz,’ the Village Voice explains because there’s a quartet onstage which provides lots of good jazz and lots of good acting. Of course, there are fourteen other people in the play. And this is the first production of any sort, not just theater, in which modern jazz is used dynamically to enhance dramatic action rather than merely decorate or sabotage it, with music written by Freddie Redd. The Villager says, ‘It’s jazz of an exceptionally superior sort, almost alone worth the price of admission.’ And all the musicians are making their acting debuts. The Connection is now playing at The Living Theatre, 14th Street and Sixth Avenue. And you can call for a ticket reservation at Chelsea 3, 4569. Weekdays, The Connection starts at 8:30. Saturday shows are at 7 and 10:30. And there’s a Sunday show at 8:30 PM. The New York Post said, “Fascinating, a real gone slice of life that you won’t find unless you know the right path.”
The Living Theater revived The Connection in 2009.