Jazz Noir returns on Jazz88 KBEM this April with an original radio drama

Jazz Noir returns on Jazz88 KBEM this April with an original radio drama



Connie Shaver



Michele Jansen


Jazz Noir Returns on Jazz88 KBEM with an Original Radio Drama Live Broadcast from The Dakota – Sunday, April 27

Created by the Award-Winning Playwright Christina Ham and Composer John Penny 


Minneapolis, January 8, 2014 -- Jazz radio station Jazz88 KBEM 88.5 FM will host its original radio drama series Jazz Noir in front of a live audience from the beautiful Dakota Jazz Club in downtown Minneapolis on Sunday, April 27, with shows at 5 and 9 p.m. The 9 p.m. performance will be broadcast live on Jazz 88.5 FM. Ticket information will be available at

For those who long for "the grand old days" of radio, Jazz88 KBEM has once again answered the call. Jazz Noir is an original radio drama series complete with live voice actors and musicians in front of a studio audience, just like in the days of radio's infancy. The next episode is an original radio drama in which playwright Christina Ham has been commissioned to explore the rich North Minneapolis jazz scene of the 1960s and will collaborate with composer John Penny who will create and perform an original jazz music score for the drama. Ed Jones, veteran actor and Jazz88’s morning show host will direct the production. The Playwrights' Center and American Composers Forum partnered to assist with the call and jury process for the writer and composer for this Jazz Noir production.

In addition, George Roberts at Homewood Studios in North Minneapolis will be curating and presenting a gallery show featuring Northside artists reflecting on themes from that period that will be on view concurrent with the production.

Originated and produced by Kevin Barnes, Jazz Noir debuted in 2013 with Charles & Avon, an original radio drama set in Saint Paul’s Rondo neighborhood in 1929, written by Alex Lewin with an original jazz score by composer George Maurer. Charles & Avon was staged and broadcast from the Artists’ Quarter Jazz Club (AQ) in downtown Saint Paul in April 2013. In addition to two sold out houses at the AQ, thousands of Jazz88 listeners locally, nationally and internationally experienced the broadcast at 88.5 FM or at the web stream at “I’m delighted to have the opportunity to bring a team together to produce another edition of Jazz Noir,” says Barnes.  “With Jazz88 nestled in North Minneapolis at North High School, our focus on the 1960’s North Minneapolis jazz scene is especially appropriate and evocative.” 

The Dakota, one of the premiere music venues in the United States, offers an exquisite, unique and exciting stage for the drama and is excited to partner with Jazz88 on this latest production. “This type of collaboration in the arts community is exactly what we like to see happening in the community,” says  The Dakota founder Lowell Pickett, “and we are thrilled to partner with KBEM on this project.  We are excited to see how the theme develops both musically with the direction of John Penny and theatrically from the gifted Ms. Hamm. This will be a unique experience for everyone involved.”

The Jazz scene in 1960s in North Minneapolis was rich but not well-documented. This commission is an opportunity to explore that scene through story and music against the vibrant political climate of the Civil Rights Movement that pulsed through the city during that time by using drama and music to do so. Both Ham and Penny’s work on the Jazz Noir project will explore the idea of the bleakness and pessimism that is usually associated with the phrase “noir” and juxtapose it with the excitement that was exploding in the North Minneapolis community during this political climate and the fusion of Jazz styles that it birthed. This program has an opportunity to not just speak to the residents of the area but to shine a light on a community that had been nothing more than a footnote in Jazz music history for so long.

“It’s a thrill to be able to explore this little known aspect of Jazz History in North Minneapolis,” says Ham. “I think that North Minneapolis’ Jazz scene gets overshadowed by some of the larger cities, but the fact is that quite a few of the musicians that came from here went on to work with some of the greats. I’ve said before that I see my job as a playwright as that of an artistic dig and find the unknown.”

From December 2013 to March 2014, Ham will be researching and writing about the undocumented Jazz scene in the Sixties within the North Minneapolis community in order to come up with a living document that will be dramatized and broadcast April 27th at the prestigious Dakota Jazz Club. Working in conjunction with composer John Penny who will explore how “words and music acting as a single expression thrive,” they will extensively develop this piece in preparation for its live broadcast in April. 

Christina Ham is an award-winning playwright who is currently a Core Writer at the Playwrights’ Center in Minneapolis. In addition to this commission, she is currently working on her fifth commission for SteppingStone Theatre in Saint Paul.

Composer and guitarist John Penny has developed a unique and exciting approach to both disciplines. Along with writing music and lyrics for his own brand of world Jazz, John has scored music for films and has performed with some of the best musicians in Jazz.

About the Playwright
Christina Ham’s plays have been developed both nationally and internationally with the Kennedy Center, Center Theater Group, The Goodman Theater, The Guthrie Theater, Ensemble Studio Theatre, SteppingStone Theatre, and the Tokyo International Arts Festival among others. She is a two-time recipient of the McKnight Advancement Grant and a Jerome Fellowship at the Playwrights’ Center in Minneapolis, and was a MacDowell Fellow. Prior to this commission she has received commissions from The Guthrie Theater, Ensemble Studio Theatre/Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, and SteppingStone Theatre among others. She is a graduate of the University of Southern California and holds an M.F.A. in Playwriting from the UCLA School of Theater, Film, and Television. She is currently a Core Writer at the Playwrights’ Center. Christina is one of eight playwrights who co-run the Workhaus Collective an ensemble of nationally known Minneapolis-based playwrights who have been producing innovative and highly theatrical work in the Twin Cities since 2006 as the company-in-residence at the Playwrights’ Center. This year her children’s play Four Little Girls: Birmingham 1963 was presented at more than 50 theaters across the country including a sold-out presentation at the Kennedy Center, directed by Tony Winning actress Phylicia Rashad, to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church bombing. Her children’s musical Ruby! The Story of Ruby Bridges was the best-selling show in the history of Saint Paul’s SteppingStone Theatre. More at

About the Composer
Born of his exposure to music from across the world at early childhood, John Penny's compositional style has been heard in regional and national TV commercials for Best Buy, Frito Lay, McDonalds, Perkins Restaurants, and scores of others. John also composed music for industrial and theatrical films in association with River Road Productions, Film Dallas, The Filmakers, and more. As a sound designer, John created soundscapes to drive the graphics for CBS sports, NBC News, and the Science Museum of Minnesota's Omnitheater. John brought his guitar to the stage and studio to perform with great musicians that include Hammond organ legend Jack McDuff, trombonist Bill Watrous, drummer Bernard Purdie, harmonicist Howard Levy, and a stellar opportunity to jam with Chick Corea and the Return To Forever band. John taught the first accredited course in Jazz history at the University of Iowa while earning his BA in music. He has also conducted seminars at music training centers on the subject of electronic and acoustic music production, and on the music creation process. John holds a MIS graduate certificate from Metro State University of Minneapolis - Saint Paul. As an artist producer, John's 1997 CD production for the late trumpet player Gene Adams called A Lifetime of Jazz led to the birth of the Twin Cities Jazz Festival. John is currently putting the finishing touches on the first in a series of CD releases of his cataloged Jazz, Latin, and other themes that wrap his unique style. More at

About Jazz88 KBEM 88.5 FM
Since 1970, KBEM has served the Twin Cities as the unique “voice” for Education, and Jazz, broadcasting at 88.5 FM. KBEM is licensed to the Minneapolis Public Schools Board of Education. From its inception as an innovative distance learning resource project conceived in the mid 1960’s, to a curriculum based school program located at North Community High School, KBEM has evolved to be recognized as the Twin Cities public radio voice for Jazz and Education, reaching nearly 100,000 devoted listeners weekly. As the Twin Cities mainstream jazz station and exclusive source for traffic reports broadcast from the Minnesota Department of Transportation (MN/Dot) Regional Transportation Management Center in Roseville, KBEM indeed reaches well beyond students and parents from North High School and the Minneapolis Public Schools.

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