‘Trane rolls on

Savion Glover’s NJPAC students star in a jazzy theater original about John Coltrane


Broadway tapper Savion Glover, NJPAC’s Dance Advisor, returned to the swinging scene of Manhattan’s storied nightclubs for A John Coltrane Story ‘or Something Along Those Lines, his second jazz-inspired production for the Arts Center’s musical theater students.


On September 16, 40 youngsters ranging in age from 9 to 18 stepped into the spotlight, giving their all in two performances that wrapped six weeks of intense rehearsal with the Tony Award-winning artist and choreographer. Glover himself welcomed family and friends to “my living room” – the stage of NJPAC’s Victoria Theater – and dedicated the performances to the memory of NJPAC arts champions Jordan Phillips, Caitlin Evans-Jones and Shamuddin (“Sham”) Abdul-Hamid.


Written by Vangela Crowe and conceptualized and directed by Glover, Coltrane Story played to the individual talents of the large, auditioned cast, which was led by Clifford “CJ” Holmes as the tormented jazz saxophonist of the title, known as “’Trane.” (Solo sax player Jalin Silver of NJPAC’s Wells Fargo Jazz for Teens, a George Wein Scholar, supplied Coltrane’s cascading “sheets of sound” from the upstage jazz combo led by Music Director Victor Burks on piano.)


Coltrane’s musical genius, destructive drug addiction and battles against racism were folded into a story of faith and redemption, peppered with appearances by jazz legends like Dizzy Gillespie, Charlie “Bird” Parker and Miles Davis. The production featured a Greek chorus of four sassy-girl singers and tap-dancing twins Jaden and Ellis Foreman, who conjured up the spirit of the fleet-footed Nicholas Brothers. The audience was treated to program filled with standards performed by the band, such as “Softly as a Morning Sunrise” and “’Round Midnight,” and soulful solos by Nia Harris and Joshua Johnson.


Following the matinee, Holmes, a veteran of NJPAC’s musical theater programs, said one of the greatest takeaways from Glover’s guidance was being introduced to Coltrane’s compositions. He watched videos of the saxophonist to replicate the placement of his hands on the instrument.


“Now I listen to A Love Supreme,” he added, referring to the album many consider to be Coltrane’s masterpiece – and recorded in 1964 by engineer Rudy Van Gelder in his Englewood Cliffs, N.J. studio.


“Using their talents, this amazing cast led the audience through Coltrane’s legacy, from his days as an enlisted Navy man, playing in an all-white military band, to his spiritual reawakening,” said Alison Scott-Williams, Vice President of Arts Education. “They enthusiastically translated this knowledge in a way that was both entertaining and enlightening.”


Last season, Glover showcased his student artists in BRiNG TiME BaCK @ NJPAC, which, as this year, included members of Wells Fargo Jazz for Teens. Glover returns to the Victoria Theater on December 7, when he performs in a new original work.


Sept. 25, 2017