Saturday, February 8, 2014

Lara Downes Premieres 'But Beautiful,' 'Solo Piano Concert Transcriptions' of Billie Holiday Songs on May 17, 2014 at Mondavi Center, UC Davis

Exiles' Cafe; Lara Downes, Piano; 

Steinway & Sons 30016 (2013)

Pianist Lara Downes,, writes:

Good morning Bill-
I hope this finds you very well!
I wanted to share this piece about my new Billie Holiday project!

Very best,


Greg Sandow turned his blog over to pianist Lara Downes for a day, Thursday, February 6, 2014:

From Lara Downes: Billie Holiday and me
by Saturday mornings, when I was a kid, were spent at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music, with a rigorous schedule of what we called “Saturday Classes”: theory, solfege, sight reading, music history, chamber music, composition, and more. This regimen started shortly after I started piano lessons at 4, and by the time I was 7 those classes had prepared me to write an opera based on Charlotte’s Web, which got its first and only performance that year at the conservatory. And which was, by the way, the pinnacle of my career as a composer.
Saturday afternoons, when we got home, my sisters and I had a weekly ritual. We’d get out our “dress-up” from the vintage steamer trunk that housed a collection of my mother’s 1960’s party dresses and my grandmother’s furs. And we’d go through my parents’ record collection, and we’d dance around the living room. At those Saturday dance parties, we excavated the Beatles records, the Sinatra albums, Charles Aznavour, Barbara Streisand, Nat King Cole…and Billie Holiday. And I fell in love, with her 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.
In my diary, the year I was 8, I made a careful list of all my favorite things: a little memorial, in perfect cursive, to the odd, time-warped child I was. My favorite song: Billie Holiday — “I Cover the Waterfront.”


Billie Holiday, or Lady Day, as they called her:  icon, legend, one of the most innovative and distinctive musicians of any genre, ever. She was a brilliant, mesmerizing, self-destructive woman whose life swung from tragedy to triumph and back again. She died so young, at 44, used up by her demons. She burned bright, and she lives on. Her voice spoke volumes about hard living and heartache, and about improvising your way through it all. Even as a child, I heard her music and understood something profound about the love and loss and longing that were still far in my own future.
And now, years later, I’m living with Billie Holiday’s music every day as I develop a new project called But Beautiful: Billie Holiday Remembered.

My project
But Beautiful is a cycle of solo piano concert transcriptions, by my brilliant friend and colleague Jed Distler, of the songs most strongly associated with Lady Day: “God Bless the Child (one of the few songs she wrote herself); “Good Morning Heartache,” “What a Little Moonlight Can Do,” “Violets for my Furs,” and, of course, my old favorite ”I Cover the Waterfront.” 


The world premiere of But Beautiful is scheduled for May 17 at the Mondavi Center for the Performing Arts, UC Davis. It’s almost sold out! Click on the link for information and tickets.

And look for the album on Steinway & Sons Records in early 2015.


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