When James Jarvis sits behind a piano, his fingers tickle keys in a way that infuses eclectic jazz with calming merriment. His music is an expression of life’s mystical motives and divine interventions, and it’s made even more experiential when paired with the written and spoken word.
On January 29, at Old Books on Front Street, Jarvis will merge both art forms in “Conversing with Ghosts,” featuring original piano compositions and written works by a bevy of local talent: John Wolfe, Gwenyfar Rohler, Steven Ritenour II, Toni Sunseri, Melissa Newcity, Joanna Stotts, Diana Clark, J. Tully Beatty, Jared Sales, Alicia Inshiradu, Christof Maupin and Jen Ingulli.
“What I find interesting is my musical approach to this project,” Jarvis says. “The spoken word is based on not just the content of the writing, but also the tone of the human voice and the rhythm in a sentence of words. I try to convey the emotion of what is being said through the notes and melody I choose for each reading.”
Jarvis teaches piano at Old Books and plays live for the public for free every Sunday afternoon. The second installation of “Conversing with Ghosts” (the first took place at Bottega last year) is an exciting multi-layered collaboration, according to Old Books owner Gwenyfar Rohler—a published author who also writes for local publications encore and Salt. Rohler will read “My Legally Dead Dog,” which will clock in at around 5 minutes. It’s an expanded version of the story “Horace Comes Home,” currently available in Old Book’s vend-a-book machine.
“This provides writers an opportunity to present work that really needs to be performed, rather than just experienced on the page,” Rohler says.
Rohler’s story follows the moment nine years ago when she rescued her pup, Horace Rumpole, from death row at the local animal control. The staff came up with a ruse that would send the dog to a furever home.
“At the time I fell for it hook, line and sinker,” Rohler remembers, “but in retrospect, I realize they saw me walk in the door and knew I was a mark. The big dog they had been trying unsuccessfully to find a home for was going home with me—no matter what it took. They ended up declaring him legally dead and handed him to me, telling us to walk out the door.”
Rohler’s subject matter fits perfectly with the event’s theme, “New Beginnings.” Jarvis wanted to focus on the new year and decade. “Change is in the air on so many levels,” he says. “I thought it was an appropriate theme for the current times.”
But it’s not necessarily an easy one to combine with the idea of ghosts. Jarvis chose to name the event “Conversing with Ghosts” after a few group conversations with his writer friends. Ritenour and Wolfe used to go to The Blind Elephant to watch Jarvis play weekly, and often they would read from works they were writing. “We got to talking about how I would never get to hear them because I was playing the piano at the same time they were reading out loud,” Jarvis remembers. “John told me the piano was merging with their spoken word and I thought, Why not actually merge the two together in a performance? Everyone thought it was a great idea.”
They settled on the event name after coming to the realization that past writers and poets influence today’s writing; the same can be said of music and musicians, art and artists. “We carry the torch of dead writers and poets in our own words,” Jarvis says. “‘Conversing with Ghosts’ is the link between ourselves and the past.”
Local writer and filmmaker Alicia Inshiradu will tackle her past while helping mold her future screenplay, “The Last Fear.” She will read a poem and memoir, inspired by personal experiences. Both were constructed in the late ‘80s when she lived in New York City, as well as in the late ‘90s when she was a student in the creative writing program at UNCW.
“The works will probably include three experiences,” Inshiradu tells, “one at a segregated Catholic elementary school in 1950s Kinston, NC; another being catapulted out of NYC one night at eight months pregnant and back to my hometown (Kinston) a week later in 1988 and the subsequent death a year later of my youngest child’s artist father; and the last when I was brutally raped three weeks after being married on New Year’s Eve 1972 in North Jersey.”
Ritoner will host and introduce each writer, who will have 10 minutes for their reading. Beer and wine will be sold, and the event is free to attend. Jarvis sees “Conversing with Ghosts” continuing and even growing, with sights on launching the next event midsummer.