University of Pittsburgh
May 23, 2004

World Premiere Performances of Pitt Jazz Studies Director Nathan Davis' Jazzopera: Just Above My Head Presented June 9-13 by Opera Theater of Pittsburgh

Davis' opera, staged during 2004 National Performing Arts Convention in Pittsburgh and based on 1979 James Baldwin novel, is unique fusion of jazz, gospel, Western classical music, and modern dance

Sharon Blake


Cell: 412-277-6926

John Harvith


PITTSBURGH—Jazzopera: Just Above My Head—a unique operatic fusion of jazz, gospel, Western classical music, and modern dance composed by University of Pittsburgh Jazz Studies Director Nathan Davis—will receive its world premiere performance at 8 p.m. June 9 in the CAPA (Pittsburgh High School for the Creative and Performing Arts) Theater, 9th Street and Fort Duquesne Boulevard, downtown. The fully staged Jazzopera, presented by the Opera Theater of Pittsburgh through June 13, will feature renowned vocal soloists and jazz artists performing with dancers, a gospel choir, and a full symphony orchestra. Based on the 1979 James Baldwin novel Just Above My Head, Jazzopera's libretto is by Ursula Davis. Thomas Douglas, lecturer in voice at Carnegie Mellon University, is the conductor.

The performances coincide with the 2004 National Performing Arts Convention being held June 8-13 in Pittsburgh, a first-of-its-kind gathering of national arts leaders and organizations from a wide spectrum of performing arts disciplines (Web site address:

Davis created Jazzopera while touring Europe in the 1980s with his Paris Reunion Band. With a keyboard on his lap, he composed the music in planes, on trains, and in hotel rooms throughout Italy, France, and Spain. "You can hear the flavor of the different countries in certain parts of the production," he said.

In 1984, Davis asked Baldwin for permission to proceed with the project, received an oral OK, but never received permission from Baldwin in writing, although he had requested it. On Dec. 1, 1987, while in a Paris hotel room during one of his European

tours, Davis was saddened to see a television news report that Baldwin had died the day before. Thinking the project would have to be shelved permanently, he returned to Pittsburgh two months later, only to find that a letter from Baldwin, containing the long-sought written permission, had arrived in the mail.

Internationally renowned mezzo-soprano Mildred Miller Posvar, a legendary Metropolitan Opera star and founder of the Opera Theater of Pittsburgh, served as Davis' operatic consultant when he was composing Jazzopera's solo vocal lines in the 1980s. Posvar, widow of former Pitt Chancellor Wesley W. Posvar, remembered Davis' unproduced opera when her opera company was seeking a new work to present this season and championed the mounting of a premiere production.

Jazzopera's plot involves two families linked by love and loss—brought together through jazz, gospel singing, and the church and divided by crises of incest, drug addiction, race riots, and murder. According to Davis, who says that his goal in life has always been to be "a good, complete musician," Jazzopera's musical influences run the gamut from Big Band and mainstream jazz to Stravinsky. Jazz trumpeter Jimmy Owens will be featured, along with Davis, saxophone; Tony Campbell, saxophone; Dwayne Dolphin, bass; Greg Humphries, drums; and Craig Davis, piano. The performing forces also include jazz musicians and singers from Pitt, a chorus from CAPA, a Pittsburgh gospel choir, dancers from the Pittsburgh-based Xpressions Contemporary Dance Company, and instrumentalists from Duquesne University; Carnegie Mellon University provided design and art installation support. Davis' work is the first opera to be performed at CAPA.

"This performance promises to be one of the most diverse and all-embracing cultural events to take place in Pittsburgh," said Jonathan Eaton, the Opera Theater's artistic director. Baritones Herbert and Eugene Perry, twin brothers who have appeared in major roles with leading opera companies throughout the world, including the 2003 world premiere of Philip Glass' "The Sound of a Voice," have unique leads in Jazzopera. "We started out thinking they would divide naturally into narrator and enactor, then we found as we worked more deeply into each character that it was more effective for each to play different fragments of the same personality. One is more the momentary consciousness, the other is more caught up in life's journey," explained Eaton.

Performance times are 8 p.m. June 9-12 and 3 p.m. June 13. Seating prices are: patron, $60; premium, $45; and select, $25. For details on the Gala Opening Celebration Wednesday, June 9, as well as regular admissions, ticket discounts, or the Reception with the Stars immediately following the premiere, phone ProArts at 412-394-3353 from noon to 5:30 p.m. Mondays through Saturdays, or order online at For more information, go to

"Opera Theater recognizes Kathleen White, Dr. George R. White, and Dr. Herbert L. Reid Jr. for their deep commitment to the community and thanks them for their support of this multicultural performance," said Sara Hargreaves, Opera Theater of Pittsburgh's managing director. The lead grant for the production of Jazzopera: Just Above My Head was awarded by The Fisher Fund of The Pittsburgh Foundation.