Hoppin’ Around Town

“Dred Scott Fitzgerald” reveals little known side of F. Scott Fitzgerald



Professor Joel Pace and his band Irie Sol released new album “Dred Scott Fitzgerald,” which combines hip-hop with famous works of literature by F. Scott Fitzgerald “The Great Gatsby” and “Bernice Bobs Her Hair.”

Classic literature and funk ballads may seem an odd mix, but don’t tell Joel Pace, a UW-Eau Claire English professor who also moonlights as a member of the band Irie Sol in his spare time.

Pace doesn’t fit the stereotype of a career academic who has been invited to speak at Harvard and Oxford during his career. Step into his office and one is confronted with a soft-spoken man who has a fondness for black fedoras that offset the worn jeans, plain T-shirts and unbuttoned dress shirts he commonly wears. The bookshelves are stuffed with dense academic texts and dog-eared comic books alike. Papers waiting to be proofread lay in stacks. A guitar case is propped against the corner.

Irie Sol is just as much a culture clash as Pace is. The band incorporates elements ranging from reggae to rock, soul to hip-hop and funk to jazz in their music.

With the release of their album “Dred Scott Fitzgerald” on Sept. 24, the band has added American literature to their laundry list of influences.

Scott Fitzgerald’s classic “The Great Gatsby” and his lesser known work “Bernice Bobs Her Hair” serve as the primary inspirations for the album, which has been characterized as “Lit-Hop.” Much of the album pays homage to the jazzy tunes that dominated ‘20s New York; its lyrics reference Fitzgerald’s works in a dense, conversational style that wouldn’t look out of place in the original prose.

Irie Sol intended for the “Dred Scott Fitzgerald” to carry on where Fitzgerald left off, Pace said, and that included exploring subtle themes many readers overlook.

“What is left unsaid in Gatsby is fascinating,” he said. “So we wanted to occupy the moments of silence, the interstitial spaces, the dot dot dots, the ellipsis, and those are Harlem.”

Although Fitzgerald never acknowledged the influence of black culture in his works, the telltale signs of the Harlem Renaissance are evident in the pages, Pace said.

There is reason to believe that Fitzgerald — who faced prejudice as a “Black Irish” during his college years – may have sympathized with the struggle of minorities on a personal level, he said.

The global popularity of jazz had a profound influence on Fitzgerald during his time in New York and abroad. In many of his stories jazz served as a bridge between cultures and a symbol of the American dream’s power, Pace said.

The inclusivity of jazz Fitzgerald recognized is also captured in Irie Sol’s “Dred Scott Fitzgerald.”

“We are a band that is very diverse in our musical interests, geographies, and ethnicity,” Pace said. “And that appears in the music and that music critiques (cultural) segregation, even in musical genres.”

The full album “Dred Scott Fitzgerald” is now available on iTunes for $4.99 or individual songs for 99 cents.