There is no doubt that the COVID-19 pandemic is having a devastating effect on the jazz community, leaving countless musicians to face an uncertain future. While governments have provided only limited assistance for the Art’s sector we’re encouraged to see many private initiatives come online to provide some relief. Our “Buy Jazz Direct campaign has received wide support from jazz fans and we’ve seen other organizations launch creative projects. One of these organizations is the Jazz Foundation of America and the organization’s efforts to assist members of the jazz community impacted by this ongoing crisis.
This Friday vocalist, bassist and songwriter Esperanza Spalding and pianist/ composer Fred Hersch have committed to do their part to help fellow musicians in need with the limited release of Esperanza Spalding & Fred Hersch: Live at the Village Vanguard – Rough Mix EP, a five-song EP captured during the duo’s 2018 run at the iconic New York City nightclub. The EP is a live rough mix with no edits.
The EP will be offered exclusively for download through Bandcamp, with all proceeds benefiting the Jazz Foundation of America and the organization’s efforts. The scintillating performance will be available only through June 2020 for a minimum of $17, with additional donations encouraged on a pay-what-you-wish basis.
“All of my musician friends are in the same boat,” Hersch laments. “People who rely on gigs to make ends meet have seen entire tours cancelled. What opportunities may come – and when – remains a huge question mark.”
Besides raising much-needed funds for a vital cause, Live at the Village Vanguard provides a rare opportunity for listeners to enjoy this singular and thrilling collaboration. Spalding and Hersch have convened for only a handful of NYC performances since their first meeting during Hersch’s annual duo series at the Jazz Standard in 2013. In that limited time, the pair has developed a wholly unique approach, not only in the annals of piano-voice duets but in their own already distinctive practices.
“This recording feels like you’ve got the best seat in the house for a very live experience,” Hersch says. “You can really feel the energy of the room, of the audience, and our interplay, and I think it’ll make people feel really good to hear it.”
“I think there’s a lot of joy and beauty in this music that Fred and I made,” adds Spalding. “Beyond collecting money for musicians in need, sharing the beauty in our hearts can have a healing effect as well.”
The five pieces included on Live at the Village Vanguard span a vast spectrum of repertoire, from original compositions to a Brazilian classic to familiar standards offered with a stunningly fresh perspective. A determined original in her own music, Spalding rarely sings standards, and her approach here is unique to her partnership with Hersch. Her improvisation on the Gershwins’ “But Not For Me” becomes a witty, poetic extemporization on the lyric itself, examining the changes in language represented by the original’s sometimes archaic terminology. Neal Hefti and Bobby Troup’s chauvinistic ditty “Girl Talk” comes under barbed scrutiny from not only a feminist but also an eco-conscious perspective.
Hersch’s “Dream of Monk” has been a staple of the duo’s sets since the beginning. With lyrics penned by the pianist himself, the tune is a dedication to one of Hersch’s most indelible influences. “Some Other Time” is a Sammy Cahn/Jule Styne song, less well known than the Leonard Bernstein classic of the same name but a favourite of Hersch, who weaves an elegant and vivid tapestry during his mesmerizing solo. The set closes with Egberto Gismonti’s “Loro,” launched by Spalding’s unconventional scatting, which she eventually uses to engage in a nimble dance with Hersch’s jaunty piano.
“Playing with Fred feels like we’re in a sandbox,” Spalding says. “He takes his devotion to the music as serious as life and death, but once we start playing, it’s just fun. I like to live on the edge in my music, but I find myself trying things that I usually wouldn’t when I play with him, finding new spaces to explore in the realm of improvised lyrics.”
“I don’t think anybody’s heard Esperanza sing like this,” Hersch says, returning the compliments. “She’s fearless and is one of the smartest people I know. She’s got a huge reach in her intellectual knowledge and is a big thinker in her projects and her outlook.”
This particular music, recorded October 19-21, 2018, has already made a restorative impact on the two dauntless artists who created it. Though it’s hard to believe given the buoyant spirits and playful interaction of the performances, both Spalding and Hersch were working through pain that weekend. Although the stint ended on a celebratory note with the occasion of Hersch’s 63rd birthday, he was also scheduled to enter the hospital the very next day for hip replacement surgery.
“I was in a lot of pain and walking with a crutch,” he recalls. “Just getting down the famous stairs to the Vanguard was an ordeal.”
Spalding, meanwhile, was struggling with family issues while juggling an intense schedule that included writing an opera with the legendary Wayne Shorter and beginning a teaching position at Harvard University. “I was going through a very difficult time in my life,” she admits. “I was miserable every day when I got to the Vanguard, so I had to decide to plug into the capacity for this music to heal. I wanted to emanate something positive even though I was feeling so horrible. Neither of us was feeling well in our lives outside of the music, so the stage of the Vanguard became an alchemizing place for both of us, and I think you can feel that in the music.”
Esperanza Spalding, vocals | Fred Hersch, piano
1. But Not For Me 09:26 | 2. Dream Of Monk 07:37 | 3. Girl Talk 11:56 | 4. Some Other Time 07:20 | 5. Loro 09:39
Release Date: 29 May 2020
Label: Independent Release
Last modified: May 28, 2020