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Preview: Shadowball- The baseball jazz opera

UPDATE: AUGUSTINA DIAS’S REVIEW IS HERE

Cleveland Watkiss is really getting into the role he is about to play in the forthcoming baseball jazz opera Shadowball. And when he told me about American baseball legend Leroy Robert “Satchel” Paige (1906-1982) it became easy to understand why.

Anyone who can come up with quotes like these must have been worth getting to know:

-Age is a case of mind over matter. If you don’t mind, it don’t matter.

-Work like you don’t need the money. Love like you’ve never been hurt. Dance like nobody’s watching.

-How old would you be if you didn’t know how old you are?

-Don’t pray when it rains if you don’t pray when the sun shines.

There are plenty more where those came from.

But there’s also his unique life story. Paige started off his baseball career in the Negro leagues, and was among the first players to be inducted into major league baseball – two days after his forty-second birthday. He continued to play until he was almost 60.

Shadowball, produced by Hackney Music Development Trust is the second jazz opera project to involve the triumvirate of writer Mike Phillips, pianist/composer/broadcaster Julian Joseph and Cleveland Watkiss. The three collaborated on Bridgetower, a City of London Festival Commission in 2007, the bicentenary of Wilberforce’s Bill to abolish the slave trade. That work toured with English Touring Opera.

Shadowball will also chart, and draw parallels with the struggles of black jazz musicians for civil liberties.

The three performances of Shadowball at the Mermaid Theatre will involve 120 schoolchildren from Hackney. There have been some workshopping sessions, but rehearsals proper begin next week.

Shadowball has already collected a gong, the “Inspire Mark” from the London Olynpic Games Organizing Committee. And it also has the endorsement of Major League Baseball. Branford Marsalis and Clarke Peters of the TV series the Wire have also given support.

Shadowball has received support, among others, from the Esmee Fairbairn Foundation and Arts Council England.

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