Esperanza Spalding and Fred Hersch Are 'Live at the Village Vanguard' to Raise Money for Musicians

Photo: Courtesy of the artist via Bandcamp

Esperanza Spalding and Fred Hersch release a live recording from a 2018 show to raise money for a good cause: other jazz musicians.

Live at the Village Vanguard- Rough Mix
Esperanza Spalding and Fred Hersch


29 May 2020

Esperanza Spalding felt stressed the nights she and Fred Hersch were performing at the Village Vanguard in New York City. That was during 19-21 October 2018, well before the current COVID-19 pandemic. According to the promotional materials, the four-time Grammy Award-winning vocalist/bassist/composer said she was struggling with family issues, work (she was beginning a teaching position at Harvard University), and artistic concerns. She and saxophonist Wayne Shorter were writing an opera.

"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," Spalding wrote. Meanwhile, 15-time Grammy nominee pianist Hersch felt even worse. His body ached, and he had to use crutches to walk. He was scheduled for hip replacement surgery right after the shows. Like Spalding, he used the occasion as a way of controlling his pain and transforming it into joy. Creative artists can do this and lift the spirits of those around them.

Spalding and Hersch have decided to take their act one step further. They are releasing a five-song EP from the session to benefit musicians impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. The release, Live at the Village Vanguard, will raise funds for the Jazz Foundation of America and be available exclusively through Bandcamp only through the month of June. The duo know that the current situation has been a tough one for jazz musicians as tours and performances have been canceled with no clearly defined resolution in sight.

The recordings feature a live mix with no edits, with audience applause and the performers' ad-libs presented as they happened. Spalding interacts with the crowd, charmingly poking fun at the datedness of the language of the Gershwins' "But Not for Me" (re: "heigh-ho", "alackaday") and comically addressing the sexism (and secret feminism) of Neal Hefti and Bobby Troup's "Girl Talk". She usually sings the lyrics straight before launching into scatting. Hersch frequently takes off instrumentally and extemporizes from the very beginning or right after Spalding has stopped singing the introductory verse. That makes the material consistently fresh.

The two musicians frequently go off on tangents, taking long solos as a way of prodding each other to improvise continuously before getting back to the main theme. That works especially well on Hersch's original song in tribute to Thelonious Monk, "Dream of Monk" and Brazilian composer Egberto Gismonti's "Loro". It doesn't matter who begins a song, whether it is Spalding's singing or Hersch's riffing, the two are dynamically connected to each other's vibe. There is a pleasant fearlessness to the whole affair. No one seems concerned about hitting a sour note or heading in the wrong direction. This would be impossible because all avenues are imaginatively open. The pair rely on their wits and musical intelligence to always inventively move forward.

Live at the Village Vanguard provides evidence of two artists having a good time in front of a friendly, intimate audience. At one point, Spalding even says, "god bless you" in response to someone in the crowd who sneezed. There's something light-hearted about the gig despite the intensity of the performances. This new release raises money for a good cause, which seems appropriate to the show's original ambiance. It's only available until the end of June, so get it while you can.





90 Years on 'Olivia' Remains a Classic of Lesbian Literature

It's good that we have our happy LGBTQ stories today, but it's also important to appreciate and understand the daunting depths of feeling that a love repressed can produce. In Dorothy Strachey's case, it produced the masterful Olivia.


Indie Rocker Alpha Cat Presents 'Live at Vox Pop' (album stream)

A raw live set from Brooklyn in the summer of 2005 found Alpha Cat returning to the stage after personal tumult. Sales benefit organizations seeking to end discrimination toward those seeking help with mental health issues.

Love in the Time of Coronavirus

A Lesson from the Avengers for Our Time of COVID-19

Whereas the heroes in Avengers: Endgame stew for five years, our grief has barely taken us to the after-credit sequence. Someone page Captain Marvel, please.


Between the Grooves of Nirvana's 'Nevermind'

Our writers undertake a track-by-track analysis of the most celebrated album of the 1990s: Nirvana's Nevermind. From the surprise hit that brought grunge to the masses, to the hidden cacophonous noise-fest that may not even be on your copy of the record, it's all here.


Deeper Graves Arrives via 'Open Roads' (album stream)

Chrome Waves, ex-Nachtmystium man Jeff Wilson offers up solo debut, Open Roads, featuring dark and remarkable sounds in tune with Sisters of Mercy and Bauhaus.

Featured: Top of Home Page

The 50 Best Albums of 2020 So Far

Even in the coronavirus-shortened record release schedule of 2020, the year has offered a mountainous feast of sublime music. The 50 best albums of 2020 so far are an eclectic and increasingly "woke" bunch.


First Tragedy, Then Farce, Then What?

Riffing off Marx's riff on Hegel on history, art historian and critic Hal Foster contemplates political culture and cultural politics in the age of Donald Trump in What Comes After Farce?


HAIM Create Their Best Album with 'Women in Music Pt. III'

On Women in Music Pt. III, HAIM are done pretending and ready to be themselves. By learning to embrace the power in their weakest points, the group have created their best work to date.


Amnesia Scanner's 'Tearless' Aesthetically Maps the Failing Anthropocene

Amnesia Scanner's Tearless aesthetically maps the failing Anthropocene through its globally connected features and experimental mesh of deconstructed club, reggaeton, and metalcore.


How Lasting Is the Legacy of the Live 8 Charity Concert?

A voyage to the bottom of a T-shirt drawer prompts a look back at a major event in the history of celebrity charity concerts, 2005's Live 8, Philadelphia.


Jessie Ware Embraces Her Club Culture Roots on Rapturous 'What's Your Pleasure?'

British diva Jessie Ware cooks up a glittery collection of hedonistic disco tracks and delivers one of the year's best records with What's Your Pleasure.


Paul Weller Dazzles with the Psychedelic and Soulful 'On Sunset'

Paul Weller's On Sunset continues his recent streak of experimental yet tuneful masterworks. More than 40 years into his musical career, Weller sounds as fresh and inspired as ever.

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features
PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.