- Interview with Fe Nunn
Fe Nunn is a songwriter and composer who lives in Ithaca, New York. He has written music for television and radio commercials as well as for film. He composed and performed the original score for the award-winning documentary Passin' It On (directed by cinema professor Simon Tarr and a collaborative team of Ithaca College students in 2002). As a pianist, he specializes in jazz and avant-garde musical forms. Nunn grew up in Buffalo, New York, during the powerhouse jazz era of the 1960s, where he regularly heard John Coltrane, Sonny Stitt, and Roland Kirk perform live at the Blue Moon. He wrote the score for the All of Us Project, an initiative to involve the entire Ithaca community in children's education. With Ithaca College professors Jeff Claus and Baruch Whitehead, he helped to launch the Community Unity Music Education Program, a new form of music school. His CDs include We Can Make It (1999) and Precious Moments (2004). A fourth-grade teacher at Beverly J. Martin Elementary School in Ithaca, he is interested in how involvement in the performing arts can spur academic success. He and guitarist Mike Vitucci, who also performed live during the Within Our Gates screening, have played together for more than twenty-five years. Nunn brought to the project his own impressive experience in avant-garde jazz, as well as the combined talents of an ensemble of musicians who could rehearse a score beforehand and still respond spontaneously to each other's playing on the night of the actual performance.
ANNA SIOMOPOULOS: How did you first get involved with the Within Our Gates project?
FE NUNN: Well, I've known Patty [Zimmermann] for a long time. She was involved with Passin' It On, a documentary produced for a filmmaking class at Ithaca College about the South Side Community Center in Ithaca. I was involved with that project in many ways—I did the musical score for the film, and I was interviewed in the film as the director of the center. Patty was a consultant on that project. She [End Page 132] also was responsible for getting me jobs playing live at Ithaca College events. At one of those events last November, the inaugural event for a new college program, Patty asked me if I would be interested in doing a score for a silent film.
AS: What were your first thoughts about scoring a silent film?
FN: I had scored commercials for years, and I had just done the score for Passin' It On, but I had never scored a silent film. But Patty makes everything colorful and exciting. She has that kind of powerful energy. She makes you feel good about yourself because she feels good about herself. She really pumped me up, and told me, "Fe, you're not just a piano player, you're a writer and a composer." I said, "Patty, just show me the water, and I'll drink." Once we started to collaborate, she opened up the path for my creativity, and my ideas about how to put it together with the dancer, the drummer, the spoken word.
AS: Let's go through each of those ideas, why you thought of them, and how you thought they would work.
FN: Well, Patty thought that the project should be more than just a silent film with music, or the kind of black-history event where they show Eyes on the Prize and sing "We Shall Overcome" at the end. She kept asking, "What else can we do?" That's when I suggested the drummer and the African dancer. At one point, we even considered having two little girls play patty-cake at the front of the auditorium during the invocation. And Patty said "We've got two new PhDs working with us. We can ask them for ideas, and there's a new film production professor named Chang [Chun] who would be great at coming up with the lighting design." And we knew that Zach [Williams] had these great oratory skills, and an ability to project. It was really beautiful how it came together, to see...