by Richard Riaz Yoder
A couple of weeks ago, composer Joel B. New asked if I wanted to sing a song in a concert he was putting together called “Joel B. New is Trying Too Hard.” Now I have been a fan of Joel ever since we went to college together at good old Oklahoma City University. He sent me a song called “I Play With Words Not Guns” and I immediately said yes.
Last year when City Center Encores! was doing Assassins, they put out a call for an original song inspired by Sondheim’s “The Gun Song.” In true Joel fashion, he concocted a song expressing his feelings about the state of gun laws in a cool and haunting jazz piece, which earned him an honorable mention amongst over 90 submissions from around the world.
My passion for both gun laws and jazz are vast, so putting the two together was fascinating to me. The song immediately spoke to my heart the first time I heard it. The way he weaves together this beautiful music with these clever but pointed lyrics gives me chills. It reminded me of the first time I listened to Billie Holiday singing “Strange Fruit.” Not the subject matter, but the ability to combine a strong political statement with something like jazz that people would normally not put together.
Though I have known Joel for years, I have never had the pleasure of working with him. In the room, he has a sense of ease about him that relaxes you and lets you be free to try new things and make mistakes, but is also very specific about what he wants when things need fine tuning, which is great as an actor. Also being able to work on something new that most people have never seen before can be exciting and scary. There are no preconceived ideas about what the song is and the only expectation anyone has is that you will tell a story.