Is Jeremy Douglass growing up? Don’t hold him to it, but yeah, it kind of looks that way.
“In four or five years, I’m going to be 50,” says the piano-playing, composing-and-arranging St. Pete wunderkind. “And there’s something inherently wrong about a 50-year-old man loading gear into a club.”
He’s so done, he says, with being a sideman in jazz bands. “It’s just not the future I see for myself post-50. So I’m trying to put some pieces into place, to set up some other kind of work where I’m not loading equipment for a living.”
Solo piano gigs, he stresses, he’ll always do. “Until I can’t stand up any more.” Likewise his baby, the multi-hued Florida Bjorkestra, has its own, permanent front bedroom in his heart.
For 2020, Douglass is transitioning into the world of Tampa Bay musical theater.
He’s thrown himself mind, body and keyboard into the upcoming Jobsite Theater production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Producing artistic director David Jenkins, who calls Douglass a “mad genius,” gave him carte blanche to write music cues, and instrumental passages, for the show.
Shakespeare’s dreamlike fantasy is all about fairies, wood nymphs and romantic sorcery; Douglass thought back to his childhood for inspiration.
“I fashioned it after 1980s-era fantasy movies like The Neverending Story and The Dark Crystal,” he explains. “Fantasy synth-pop is where I went with it. I also had fun with the Mendelssohn from the Midsummer ballet – re-arranged the cues for synthesizers and drum machines.”
Indeed, the instrumental score was written for, and recorded on, a blend of synths, artificial drums and good old piano.
There are three vocal songs in the production, which opens Jan. 15, including one written by singer/guitarist Ed Wotil, a sometime member of the Florida Bjorkestra. “It’s stuck in my head,” Douglas enthuses. “I can’t get it out of my head, and I spent the better part of a week recording it. We have this magical song that Ed wrote: It could be the end credits song to a Disney renaissance-era film.”
Here’s “Love Happens,” the love theme from A Midsummer Night’s Dream. The vocals on this recording are by Kasondra Rose and Martin Powers; it will be sung live during the production.
Douglass is as excited about working for the theater as he’s ever been about anything.
“Musical theater – it’s all the art forms!” he raves. “It just seems like one of the most complex creative collaborations that humans can do. It’s such an inspiring thing.
“You go to a concert, you get the band. But you go to a musical, you get the band but you also get costume design, and dancing … the amazing technicians that work on it, that are invisible. It’s like an Apollo moon mission every night.”
He’s been working closely with Katrina Stevenson, who’s choreographed Midsummer, designed the costumes and created live aerial effects, and director Jenkins.
It’s not Douglass’ first music for Jobsite, but his most complex score to date
“I think of David as the Miles Davis of the theater world here,” Douglass says. “Miles was a great player, he was a great bandleader, but I think what he really excelled at was putting the band together. Grabbing the personnel.
“Between the three of us, we’re making independent decisions about what we’re going to contribute that’s going to create the shape of this thing. David is quality control, but the amount of freedom he gave me, I don’t feel like he directed me. And I would imagine that Katrina maybe would say the same thing.”
Douglass and his wife, violinist Rebecca Zapen, have two young children. At 46, he’s starting to think more and more about stability, and being home at (semi) regular hours.
“I spent so much time chasing jazz gigs, and I should have been in music theater the whole time,” he says, shaking his head. “There’s just so much joy there.”
He wrote the music for Silent Sky, the last production at American Stage, and will be musical director for Footloose, the company’s springtime musical in Demens Landing park.
April 11 brings a reprise of Buffyfest, the Florida Bjorkestra’s unique musical salute to TV’s Buffy the Vampire Slayer.
Later this year, he’ll music-direct two more shows for Jobsite.
And should this newfound maturity have an expiration date, Jeremy Douglass has a fallback position in mind.
“My dream retirement job is to be that piano player on Main Street at Disney World, in the Magic Kingdom,” he explains. “The old man playing ragtime versions of Disney tunes? I want that gig when I’m 70 years old.”
The opening weekend of A Midsummer Night’s Dream is sold out. All other tickets and information here.