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South Side Story

October 26, 2006 By:
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Capathia Jenkins and Louis Rosen

The South Side of Chicago has provided a North Star of soundly satisfying stability in the melody line that is composer Louis Rosen's life.

In a way, Rosen's collaboration with singer Capathia Jenkins, his musical muse, gives voice to two peoples, blacks and Jews, in a harmony rarely heard offstage.

"Capathia Jenkins and Louis Rosen: South Side Stories," their first CD together, joins them at the hip and the haunting as they prepare performances of their work the next three Sundays at New York's Joe's Pub.

Black and Jewish pub soul food? It eats away at differences as each song on the CD seizes opportunities to reflect and replenish.

For Rosen, a neighborhood by any other name is just a neighborhood. The South Side, where blacks and whites alternately sidled up to each other and took opposite sides, is a memory.

"You had to acquire street smarts," says the smartly raised Rosen. "It's part of the romance of the area."

But some jilted lovers were left at the crossroads when white flight from the region took its toll. If it's a road less traveled now, it certainly wasn't back then. Rosen, who "grew up in a square-mile Jewish enclave, surrounded by various ethnicities," became aware that, more so than anything else, class cleaved the groups from each other.

The real villain may be real estate. Now a resident of Park Slope in New York, Rosen views geopolitics as more in a slump than slope. "What Park Slope has shown," says the showman and composer of class acts and theatrical musicals, "is when class is not the issue, diversity is possible."

Rosen's protean talents are obvious to all but the oblivious. With a CD, new show and a book -- The South Side: The Racial Transformation of an American Neighborhood -- as his source and inspiration, Rosen does more than talk a good game; he writes it, composes it and performs it, too.

Indeed, being part of a black and white environment leaves him with an ebullient ebony state-of-the-art attitude: "When I'm in an environment where there are only affluent white people, I don't feel particularly comfortable."

His comfort cadence cascades through his rendition of "South Side Jew's Blues" on the album and in his act. "I feel blessed to have found Capathia," says the composer, who must be echoing the same sound sentiment of producers of "Martin Short: Fame Becomes Me," whose show she serves as a shake-her-hips showstopper.

"We are musical soulmates."

Musical soul mates -- "not in any romantic sense" -- and sole mates, too, with separate scintillating careers and families. They have mated on professional projects before; indeed, this is their third club collaboration.

A "South Side Story" with the two as a platonic Tony and Maria? Their partnership is part artistry, part philosophy, says Rosen. "We don't pretend that color doesn't exist, but we don't want to be defined by it."

Definitely, they mean business. But it's an easy, accessible relationship, he adds of working with a woman he considers the "anti-diva."

Do audiences divine the divine relationship they share? Not all get it, he says, facing social facts, which is one reason both their faces are on the CDs, to show "a black woman and a white man -- and a team."

He's certainly not timid about taking it to the masses. But then, Rosen rises to the occasion." Being Jewish," he says of his punchy pitter-patter before audiences, "is always good for a few jokes."

Indeed, more than anything, there's a rhyme and reason to the team, especially the rhyme. "We did a benefit for St. Benedict's Prep in Newark, which is a school with a 95 percent African-American student body."

He stops a beat. "It's the first time I played for an audience that knew to clap on 2 and 4."

For the record, do Jenkins and her Jewish counterpart socialize much offstage? Real life reels him in: "My wife and I hardly have any social life at all; she's an actress and we have a child," so they rarely go out with others to begin with but do see Jenkins on occasion.

And when he does see other adults, it's usually from a blackboard of a bimah. Rosen is an instructor in musical theory and music history at New York's 92nd Street Y.

Why he does what he does is also obvious from a visit to his Web site(http://cdbaby.com/cd/jenkinsrosen), and also helps explain why this practitioner of what he calls "guerrilla Judaism" is a soulful street warrior whose "South Side" shows his best side.

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