A Night for Freedom with Esperanza Spalding, Bobby McFerrin, Gretchen Parlato and Special Guests Paul Simon and Prince!

Music is the greatest expression of freedom and that theme carried through in every capacity of the evening. Free the Slaves organizer Sarah Gardner started the show with a brief introduction about how the organization changes the lives of people still living in slavery in this modern-day in age.

The charm and wit of the lovely Esperanza Spalding carried the remainder of the night. She explained to the guests that she was brought up on the notion that using art and talent is the best way influence humanity for the greater good. Her voice rang with a soft chaos and moved across her bass with the grace of a ballroom dancer. Comrade and internationally recognized jazz singer Gretchen Parlato was introduced to the stage and brought another level of dimension and emotion to the performance.

The first surprise for the evening came with the introduction of the legendary Paul Simon. Esperanza did her best to respect Paul’s wishes and not to overdo the introduction, but that was quite impossible. Her introduction was a little early as Paul wasn’t quite ready to appear on stage. She joked about how now would be an appropriate time to Tweet and text your friends about not coming to the show and missing a chance to see Paul Simon! When Paul walked on stage he got right down to business and plucked out the first few chords of Sound of Silence. A truly religious experience for anyone in the room that night and a perfect instrumental duet between her bass and his guitar.

Bobby McFerrin was next up on stage and joined Paul and Esperanza for an impromptu performance of Scarborough Fair, Freedom Jazz Dance and Peace. Bobby continued to perform with Esperanza and the rest of the Chamber Music Society band. Bobby’s demeanor and presence on stage was perfectly in tandem with Esperanza and it was apparent that his seniority didn’t get in the way of working with the new girl on the block.

The second surprise of the evening was a very coy anecdote from Esperanza about her attempts to get auction items for the evening. She referenced a “very special” person who she nervously approached and graciously asked for practically anything, even a dirty sock! The morning of the show in the midst of sound checks and meetings a small box was delivered to her. The contents included a yellow, dirty sock. It was later confirmed that the one and only Prince would be sending a guitar to auction. And because he’s Prince, he took a private Jet to New York City and sat in our VIP section and enjoyed a portion of the performance. Esperanza very graciously nodded to him and she introduced the guitar.

The night was incredibly successful for the Free the Slaves organization raising somewhere in the neighborhood of $45,000 for the cause. A true night for freedom and memorable musical performance by some incredibly generous names in music.

 

Special thank you to photographer Adriana Mateo to which these photos are credited.

Eric Hutchinson: Uncorked and Uncovered

 

Artist: Eric Hutchinson

Playing at City Winery: October 29th, 2012

 

Emerson College is known for the focused environment it provides and driven mentality it encourages. Has this affected your approach to your musical career?

Yeah! I met some amazing people and was totally inspired by the Emerson world. I did my first official show on campus.

With so many colleges in Boston, house shows are very popular there. Did you ever go to house shows or play any?

I’ve played a few house concerts over the years. Good times, but I like a proper stage better.

Who are some of your biggest musical influences?

The Beatles were like religion in my house growing up. My dad used to play them every night during dinner and my mom would quiz me on which Beatle was singing each song.

Your voice has a real old-school jazz, blues tone to it. Did you grow up listening to that type music, too?

I love all kinds of music including jazz, but I tend to think my influence comes more from the soul records I love. Stevie Wonder, Smokey Robinson, The Isley Brothers. All that classic soul.

Who are some musicians/bands out there today that you are currently listening to?

I love Vampire Weekend, The Black Keys, Frank Ocean, Fun & Gregory Porter.

You’ve lived all over the country, but you now call NYC home. How do you like it here? How do you think it has affected you as a musician?

I’ve been here for 6 years now and love it. I wrote my new album “Moving Up Living Down” here and was really inspired by the city’s energy. Love doing hometown shows!

Have found any favorite spots in NYC that you now frequent?

TONS. But can’t divulge them. So I can still get a table.

This upcoming show is at the only fully functioning winery in all of Manhattan. It’s pretty cool, right? Are you excited to play in this type of venue? And to try the wine?

I love wine and I’m looking forward to seeing my face on a bottle of Cab Sauv. Hope I’m sober enough to perform!

 

Grant Lee Phillips: Uncorked and Uncovered

Artist: Grant Lee Phillips

Played at City Winery: October 3rd, 2012

 

Q&A With City Winery

You’ve done a lot of work recently with comedienne, Margaret Cho. What role does comedy play in your life? Are there any other comedians you’d love to work with?

Margaret’s a force of nature. We’ve known one another for ages, but it was a huge treat to work with her on her “Cho Dependent” album. Comics and musicians are a bit like distant cousins, but there’s a crazy amount of courage it takes to be a comic and I look upon people like Margaret and Paul F. Tompkins with awe.

Do you check out any comedy shows? Any favorite places to check out? Do you ever think of getting on stage at an open mic or taking an improv class?

Largo out in L.A. has long been a hotbed for comedy. It’s a place where comics and songwriters mix and through Largo I’ve been able to explore the high-wire thrill of being onstage without a guitar.

You are very vocal about your Native American heritage. How has it informed your songwriting? What drives you to incorporate this into your music?

I grew up with an awareness of my Creek heritage. It was reinforced by my mother and grandmother. My desire to grasp the history of our country, one that’s often untold, has been a driving force behind a lot of my songs. Becoming a father has also compelled me to better understand where I come from, to honor my ancestry and pass that knowledge onward.

It seems like you have also been able to use comedy as a way of demonstrating your awareness of your heritage against a contemporary American backdrop. In the Margaret Cho video for “Asian Adjacent,” you appear as a Native American man when she says the word “Cherokee.” Something Margaret (and many comedians do) is poke fun at herself and address stereotypes that affect her on a personal level. Was this experience a first for you (as far as addressing it in a comedic way)?

Margaret came to me with “Asian Adjacent.” She’d written these lyrics inspired by our first meeting many years ago. For ages, she had assumed because of my features and the “Lee” in my name that I was Chinese. It’s not the first time that I’ve encountered this. When I explained that I’m actually Creek and Cherokee, it inspired the concept of being “Asian Adjacent.” In one scene of the video we did a take-off on “Miss Saigon.” I was portraying an American soldier, pursuing Margaret. The editor dropped me in on the Cherokee lyric, (the power of editing and suggestion). There’s something really incredible about her way of using comedy to challenge stereotypes.

You also combine your music and your heritage as a means of awareness and outreach. Though the Internet has had some negative impacts on the music industry, it has also been an amazing tool in expanding audience. Additionally, it has become a means of outreach and awareness. One platform this is possible through is PledgeMusic, which you are currently using; how has that been?

My new album, Walking In The Green Corn, is a Pledge Music project. I love the grass-roots connectivity of this approach. There’s something very hands-on about it that appeals to me. I’ve also become very informed in the ways of shipping these days and I have a greater appreciation for the US Postal Service.

Outside of your heritage, what inspires you as a writer/performer?

Songs are just the evidence of whatever life you live, the people you love, your desires, your fears and the rest.  I’m just trying to walk and sing at the same time.

I just wanted to mention that your website is incredible. How do you think that the aesthetic style and the design (interactivity, click-throughs) reflect you as a musician and as a person?

My website is one part American Pickers and one part Hoarders. I’m very at home there.

You’ve done a bit of acting work, even had a recurring role on Gilmore Girls. Is acting something you’d like to do more of, maybe having bigger, more prominent roles?

I’d love to do more acting. When Gilmore Girls ended I went back and studied some more. I’ve got a lot of respect for actors and all they have to put themselves through.

Do you have any favorite things to do in NYC? Are there any stores or restaurants you have to stop at when in town? Any other interesting spots along the road you love?  

New York, for all of the times that I’ve visited, still takes my breath away. I grew up in the country and learned to drive on one-lane highways out in the foothills so the city is little overwhelming. Still, on a warm night, with good friends there’s nothing like it.  New York is also a place where people still hold the door for each other. More often that you would think. ( LA is the worst for that). There’s a rhythm to this city. It can be tough to find the downbeat at first, but when you do, it’s an incredible place.

What is the best meal you’ve ever eaten? 

Depended how hungry I was.

If you could eat any meal right now, what would it be? Would there be a drink to go with it? 

I’m always up for a cup coffee and I’ve never pushed away a pecan pie.

Do you have any big plans for 2013? 

More music, more coffee, more pie. Let me get that door for you…

Artist Spotlight: Mason Jennings, coming to City Winery NYC Mar 29 & 30, 2012

Artist: Mason Jennings
Playing At City Winery: March 29th & 30th – Buy Tickets Here
Q & A With City Winery

You were born in Hawaii and your music has appeared in the surf film Shelter. Do you surf yourself?

No, I don’t surf. Not much opportunity at home in Minnesota. I relate to the culture’s focus on simplicity and closeness with nature, though.

At a young age, your family moved to Pittsburgh and you began playing music. What was/is the music scene like in Pittsburgh?

I am not sure. I moved away at 19 before I ever got involved with a scene there. I came to Minneapolis following bands I loved like The Replacements, The Jayhawks and Prince.

You dropped out of school to move to Minneapolis to pursue your music career. What drew you there?

The bands I just mentioned. And I felt instantly at home in the landscape. I find the seasons intense and beautiful. I’m never in traffic. And there’s great public radio up there.

Your newest album is entitled Minnesota. Is this and ode, of sorts, to your home?

Sure. The theme is probably home but the most similar thing to Minnesota is how much variety there is on the record. The record feels like a collage to me, hence the cover art, and Minnesota has such contrasts as a place too. Freezing winters, hot summers, water and land, art world and back-woodsmandry.

Many of your songs are about love. In fact, on your website your new album Minnesota is described as “a collage of love trying to survive the transition into being a grown-up in a complex world”. What appeals to you about the subject?

Not sure any song about any subject is any good if it’s not about love. Or a longing. All longing seems to be about love in the end.

And how have your ideas about love changed and grown over the course of your songwriting career?

Oh, I’m just more open and hopefully more aware now. I love more deeply now. Being a parent there is much more at risk.

Artist Spotlight: Ben Lee

Artist: Ben Lee

Played at City Winery: February 25, 2012

 

Q&A With City Winery

Your music career took off when you were really young, 14 years old. Was age ever a problem for you? Were you at all overwhelmed?

Well, at the time I just desperately wanted to get out of school and the regular, mundane teenage life. But now, in retrospect, I think I was on the younger side to deal with some of emotional issues: the criticism and other pressures. But, everyone’s life has different challenges, so that’s where I dealt with a lot of stuff.

Were you ever turned away or not able to do something because you were too young?

Sometimes when I’d play in a pub I’d have to go in and out the back door, I wouldn’t be able to hang out in the dressing room at all. And there were some gigs with bands like Pavement in the 90s when I was so excited about the gig but I wasn’t aloud to watch them after we played. It’s kind of silly.

You got your start with the band Noise Addict. How did your ­­­­­experience with them affect and/or help shape your solo career?

I’ve never really separated the two. Making music, and just being a human being, it’s a daily learning experience. There’s definitely been a continuum, where each project and each experience has led to an appreciation or internal ripening that’s led me to the next thing. I’ve never felt like anything was wasted.

You grew up in Australia but you now live in LA. Do you consider yourself an Australian artist or an American artist?

I’ve always been more interested in boundlessness. I’ve never been a nationalist person, I’m more interested in experience, and connection, and emotion. So that’s not really a big question for me. People are obsessed with where you live and where you’re from. But, I could easily move somewhere else!

What’s your favorite song to play live?

It changes a lot, but the song we sound checked with today, “No Right Angles,” I always enjoy. There’s a song off the new record called “Lean Into It” that I also really enjoy.

Do you have a song that you always connect with, even if the crowd isn’t into it?

Yeah, all of them. I always cynically assume no one’s going to be into it, and I always try and connect with it on my own. There are a few, like “Catch My Disease,” that I do every night because it’s expected by the audience. So for those it’s sometimes a little harder to connect with emotionally because the rebellious side of me says, “Ugh, I don’t want to do something just because it’s expected. “

You put out a new album this past October, Deeper into Dream. It was a concept album of sorts, right? What inspired that idea?

For almost the last ten years, my central interest in my records and my music is consciousness, and different ways of interacting with it, and creativity and connection. And dreams come from the same place, where the psychological, spiritual, creative surges of inspiration come from. So for me it was just another way or examining what it is that’s making the motor run in this whole thing. I did a few years of dream analysis, and that really opened me up to looking at dreams as a portal into the unconscious. I always right what I’m interested in. I used them as a jumping off point to explore what we don’t know about ourselves.

Any big plans for 2012?

At the moment, I’m working on a musical of the book B is for Beer by Tom Robbins. And my new album’s almost finished, it’s called Ayahuasca: Welcome to the Work, which will hopefully be out sometime around September.

 

Artist Spotlight: Marc Broussard

Artist: Marc Broussard

Played at City Winery: February 2, 2012

 

Q&A With City Winery

You can hear all kinds of genres in your music: R&B, gospel, funk, blues, jazz, country, rock…who influenced you when you were young? Who did you play on repeat?

Well, my father is a musician so my father’s tastes in music were very influential on me. And he is predominantly interested in jazz, specifically jazz fusion. So, that can be maddening for a singer, because jazz fusion doesn’t have a singer. So it was a struggle to find a voice, to put my ear on something that really piqued my interest. And every time Stevie Wonder came on, or Otis Redding, or Marvin Gaye it was exactly what I wanted to hear. So those guys definitely influenced my heavily. You’re going to hear some country tinges just because of some of the co-writers that I’ve worked with in Nashville. And all the other stuff is just a personal preference.

On that note, your music has been described as “Bayou Soul.” How would you define your own music, and your unique sound?

I like the term Bayou Soul, mostly because it’s an invented term to describe something that’s unique, I think, and that’s me. So that’s kind of an honor that somebody would think they need to create a unique term for a guy like me. And I would describe my music as Bayou Soul. I think that’s a pretty accurate description in and of itself.

Your first studio album is entitled “Carencro”, after your hometown. How much does your connection with Louisiana influence your songwriting and your music in general?

It’s had a tremendous amount of influence. I live across the street from my parents on the street that I grew up, and my wife and four children are there and we’re a very close family. So, everything about me as a man stems from my relationships with my family. And that translates into my writing, so Carencro is hugely influenced by them.

You’ve also been really involved in the Hurricane Katrina relief effort, including donating all proceeds of your 2005 release Bootleg to Benefit the Victims of Hurricane Katrina to the cause. Can you talk a little about your experience?

We started the Momentary Setback fund after Hurricane Katrina and we really didn’t know what was going to come about. But through some pretty small moves on our part, just simply turning the record button on at a show and putting a product out, we were able to raise substantial amounts of money. Almost all of that money went straight to United Way. Obviously, there was an outpouring of support from all over the world after that storm and luckily we were able to do our part in some small way to help people get back on their feet. It’s something that I think is very important for an artist. Whenever there’s a need that we can fill, I think it’s important that we step up. Philanthropy is definitely a huge part of who I am.

One of the first things that drew me into your music is your amazing vocal range. On Carencro, the difference between the lowness and grittiness of “Home” and the high, bright, catchy “Hope for Me Yet” blows me away every time. Is that your natural vocal range or did you have to work to acquire it?

I push it pretty hard. A lot of the songs I sing are probably outside of my comfort zone. I’m a baritone, but I often sing in the tenor range. I can’t resist it. I try to write songs in lower keys and everyone says I sound so good up there. So after years and years of that I’ve just resigned to the notion that I’ll blow it out on any given night and hope for the best.

This is City Winery after all…do you have a favorite type of wine?

Yeah! A Brunello.

What’s your favorite thing to do when you’re in New York City?

I like to eat anywhere, but I think eating in New York City is an adventure. I try never to hit the same spot too many times in a row. For instance, I ate here at City Winery for lunch and I had a lamb wrap that was so good. So yeah, I like to eat in this town.