Bandleader Sam Boshnack Honors Groundbreaking Journalist Nellie Bly in Song

Sam Boshnack Quintet Presents The Nellie Bly Project

Friday, May 9

As Einstein once said, “Energy, rightly applied, can accomplish anything.”

If that statement gave you pause, you’d be right. A journalist named Nellie Bly—not Einstein—famously stated those words.

Nowadays, it’s not as if you’d know, says Seattle composer Samantha Boshnack. “A lot of people don’t know who she is,” she says. “But there’s fun in her story, and a realness in her story.”

In fact, it sometimes borders on the fantastic. A turn-of-the-century pioneering investigative journalist, Bly feigned madness to be committed to a women’s lunatic asylum, and shortly after published an expose on the neglect and abuse she experienced as a “patient” there. Writing for The New York World, she embarked on a trip that bested Jules Verne’s fictional account of circumnavigation—Around the World in 80 Days—by eight. She was active in the social issues of the day, writing about the struggles of working women and minority laborers, and developed patents.

Boshnack, who plays trumpet and studied jazz composition at Bard College in New York, first heard about Bly from her dad, himself a journalist. “I was fascinated,” she says. Though a King County 4Culture grant, she began to pursue a narrative work (something the 32-year-old bandleader hadn’t yet done) with Bly as her subject, examining her life and legacy in a four-part jazz suite: “Early Years,” “Asylum Expose,” “Around the World,” and “Lasting Legacy.”

Since it’s unrecorded—it premieres tonight—I haven’t heard the work. But judging from Boshnack’s latest release—her debut, Exploding Syndrome—it will likely contain elements of salsa, modes of traditional jazz, and a free-wheeling, avant-garde edge—well-suited to what quintet clarinetist Beth Fleenor calls Bly’s “punky irreverence.”

Boshnack says she hopes the composition will attract a new wave of admirers equally in awe of Bly’s accomplishments. “It’s hard enough now,” Boshnack says, of being female and creative in her field. “I can’t imagine what it must have been like 100 years ago, how challenging it was.” Chapel Performance Space, 4649 Sunnyside Ave. N., waywardmusic.org. 8 p.m. $5–15.

 
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