Friday, October 24, 2014
YOLO COUNTY NEWS
99 CENTS

Lara Downes to premiere Billie Holiday program at Mondavi Center

Lara_Downes_Billie HolidayW

Lara Downes brings her Billie Holiday jazz tribute to Davis with concerts at Mondavi on May 17-18. Adrian Mendoza/Courtesy photo

By
From page C6 | May 09, 2014 |

That’s the ticket

What: Lara Downes, premiering a Billie Holiday-inspired concert project, “But Beautiful”

When: 8 p.m. Saturday, May 17, 2 p.m. Sunday, May 18

Where: Mondavi Center for the Performing Arts

Tickets: $46 general, $19 students; www.mondaviarts.org, 530-754-2787

When pianist Lara Downes was a girl of 7, she took classes on Saturdays at the San Francisco Conservatory. After class, Lara and her sisters would dress up in their mom’s party dresses, pick out a few albums from their parents’ collection and dance around the living room.

“We excavated the Beatles records, the Sinatra albums, Charles Aznavour, Barbra Streisand, Nat King Cole … and Billie Holiday. And I fell in love with (Holiday’s) dark eyes shaded by the white gardenia, with her wonderful, world-worn voice, and with what I knew — even then — to be the totally, startlingly distinctive qualities of mood and phrasing, line and color that she brought to even the simplest tune.”

And now, years later, Downes will premiere a Billie Holiday-inspired “concert project” at the Mondavi Center on Saturday, May 17, at 8 p.m. and Sunday, May 18, at 2 p.m.

Titled “But Beautiful,” the program is “a cycle of solo piano concert transcriptions by my brilliant friend and colleague Jed Distler,” drawing on “the songs most strongly associated with Lady Day (as Holiday was known): “God Bless The Child,” which she wrote herself; “Good Morning Heartache”; “What a Little Moonlight Can Do”; “Violets for My Furs”; and Downes’ childhood favorite, “I Cover the Waterfront.”

“I’m playing sad songs, and bittersweet songs,” Downes said. “And powerful songs like ‘Strange Fruit,’ that most wrenching, most sorrowful, most audacious protest song — a condemnation of the lynching of African-Americans that was part of the violent racism that pervaded 1930s America.

“Many of these songs have been sung by dozens of great singers, from Sinatra to Aretha Franklin, but we best remember Billie Holiday’s inimitable versions,” said Downes, who has made her home in Davis for a decade or so. “She brought to them her one-of-a-kind inflection and intention, a certain bold imprint that is audacious, unexpected and unbelievably strong.

“Jed and I were hearing Billie sing as we translated these songs for the piano, using the range and color of the instrument to orchestrate the echo of her voice and its magic. To reinterpret these songs is a tremendous privilege, and also a challenge to memorialize without imitating, to transform while preserving, to bring different musical traditions together.”

Downes’ project is timed to coincide with the upcoming 100th anniversary of Billie Holiday’s birth (she was born on April 7, 1915). Downes has recorded the Holiday material for release on an album on the Steinway label (also titled “But Beautiful”) in early 2015.

The project is also personally important to Downes because of her family heritage.

“On my bedside table I have two studio photographs from the 1930s. They’re of my grandmothers,” Downes said.

“My grandmother Fay, one of seven sisters born to Jewish immigrants from the Ukraine, grew up in Buffalo (New York state), and then came out to California with my mother. And my Jamaican grandmother Ivy moved as a young woman to Harlem and died when my father was very small — her story is lost to family history and memory, except for the equation of nose and cheekbones that I see whenever I look in the mirror,” Downes said.

Holiday moved to Harlem in the 1930s as a young teen, and started singing in night clubs at a young age. She eventually became a vocalist with bands led by Count Basie and Artie Shaw. In the 1940s, she recorded many of the tunes for which she is now best remembered. But she was arrested several times for drug possession in the late 1940s and 1950s, her health declined, and she died in 1959 at age 44.

“Looking back 100 years at Billie Holiday’s short and troubled life, lived within the landscape of early 20th century American racial realities, I realize that I can’t begin to understand the scope of her personal and artistic struggles,” Downes said. “But I know that what happiness and luck she did find, she found through her music.

“And finding your joy, your strength, your power in music is something I do know about. And I know, too, about commanding a room as a woman in a satin dress, pulling the audience in, making a listener fall in love with a piece of music the way I fell in love with Billie Holiday’s songs when I was 8 years old.”

Tickets for these concerts are in short supply. They’re $46 general, $19 for UC Davis students, available at www.mondaviarts.org or 530-754-2787. Downes will hold a question-and-answer session with the audience after both performances.

— Reach Jeff Hudson at jhudson@davisenterprise.net or 530-747-8055.

Comments

comments

.

News

 
Courageous Thompson tapped for cycling shrine

By Bruce Gallaudet | From Page: A1 | Gallery

UC researchers: How low-water can our landscapes go?

By Katie F. Hetrick | From Page: A1 | Gallery

 
Testimony begins in Winters murder trial

By Lauren Keene | From Page: A1 | Gallery

A-Z: Downtown Davis is the place to celebrate

By Kimberly Yarris | From Page: C1

 
Hong Kong protesters to vote on staying in streets

By The Associated Press | From Page: A2

 
Cloud business lifts Microsoft’s quarterly results

By The Associated Press | From Page: A2

 
Can you give them a home?

By Enterprise staff | From Page: A3 | Gallery

Scientists work to save endangered desert mammal

By Kat Kerlin | From Page: A3 | Gallery

 
Host families needed for students and teachers from Mexico

By Special to The Enterprise | From Page: A3

Halloween Dance set Friday for teens

By Enterprise staff | From Page: A3

 
Yoga and chanting workshop planned

By Enterprise staff | From Page: A3

Downtown menu: coffee, boba tea, dessert

By Wendy Weitzel | From Page: C3

 
Day of the Dead folk art class set

By Enterprise staff | From Page: A4

Flea Market planned Sunday

By Enterprise staff | From Page: A4

 
Enjoy A Taste of Capay at historic ranch

By Enterprise staff | From Page: A4

Red-hot tunes set at Blues Harvest

By Enterprise staff | From Page: A4

 
Learn how to fill a cornucopia with flowers

By Enterprise staff | From Page: A4

Video highlights Props. 1 and 2

By Special to The Enterprise | From Page: A4

 
‘Homeopathy at Home’ program planned

By Enterprise staff | From Page: A4

Celebrate origami at Davis library

By Enterprise staff | From Page: A4

 
Garden sale and open house features water-wise demos

By Special to The Enterprise | From Page: C4

Meet Poppenga at dog park Sunday

By Enterprise staff | From Page: A4

 
Bay Bridge art project needs $4 million to keep shining

By San Francisco Chronicle | From Page: A5 | Gallery

Weir honored, a year early

By Enterprise staff | From Page: A5

 
Explorit: Poison-proof your home with free lecture

By Lisa Justice | From Page: A6

For a good cause

By Fred Gladdis | From Page: A6

 
Americans, internationals make connections

By Enterprise staff | From Page: A6

Sutter auxiliary seeks volunteers

By Special to The Enterprise | From Page: A7

 
School board hopefuls discuss homework policy

By Jeff Hudson | From Page: A7

Project Linus seeks donations

By Enterprise staff | From Page: A9

 
Walkers welcome to join Sierra Club outings

By Enterprise staff | From Page: A9

.

Forum

The magic is long gone

By Creators Syndicate | From Page: B5

 
What’s next with Ebola?

By Letters to the Editor | From Page: A10

More theories on the abstention

By Letters to the Editor | From Page: A10

 
Rights beget responsibilities

By Letters to the Editor | From Page: A10

Water returns to its source

By Letters to the Editor | From Page: A10

 
A solution to the drought

By Letters to the Editor | From Page: A10

Experience nature’s treasures

By Letters to the Editor | From Page: A10

 
Subs have other concerns

By Letters to the Editor | From Page: A10

 
Tom Meyer cartoon

By Debbie Davis | From Page: A10

.

Sports

Bump, set, playoffs: Blue Devil girls clinch spot in postseason

By Thomas Oide | From Page: B1 | Gallery

 
Aggies expect a bonny meeting in Sacramento

By Bruce Gallaudet | From Page: B1

DHS footballers take on Pleasant Grove

By Enterprise staff | From Page: B1

 
Bye No. 2 comes at perfect time for nicked-up UCD

By Bruce Gallaudet | From Page: B1 | Gallery

Shhh. Are Aggie women BWC’s best-kept secret?

By Bruce Gallaudet | From Page: B1

 
UCD roundup: Preseason awards roll in for Aggie hoopster Hawkins

By Enterprise staff | From Page: B2 | Gallery

 
Sharks suffer from road woes

By The Associated Press | From Page: B12

.

Features

.

Arts

‘St. Vincent:’ Quite a character

By Derrick Bang | From Page: A11 | Gallery

 
Rumpledethumps to play at Village Homes Performers’ Circle

By Enterprise staff | From Page: A11 | Gallery

DMTC plans ‘My Fair Lady’

By Special to The Enterprise | From Page: A11

 
Czech Philharmonic Orchestra to perform

By Enterprise staff | From Page: A11

Calling all artists for upcoming show

By Enterprise staff | From Page: A11

 
.

Business

 
Car Care: Five things to ask yourself when shopping for a new vehicle

By Special to The Enterprise | From Page: B7

.

Obituaries

Lewis Melvin Dudman

By Special to The Enterprise | From Page: A4

 
Ann Foley Scheuring

By Special to The Enterprise | From Page: A4

.

Comics

Comics: Friday, October 24, 2014

By Creator | From Page: B3