PopMatters is moving to WordPress in December. We will continue to publish on this site as we work on the move. We aim to make it a seamless experience for readers.


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.


Please Donate to Help Save PopMatters

PopMatters have been informed by our current technology provider that we have until December to move off their service. We are moving to WordPress and a new host, but we really need your help to fund the move and further development.





Jefferson Starship Soar Again with 'Mother of the Sun'

Rock goddess Cathy Richardson speaks out about honoring the legacy of Paul Kantner, songwriting with Grace Slick for the Jefferson Starship's new album, and rocking the vote to dump Trump.


Black Diamond Queens: African American Women and Rock and Roll (excerpt)

Ikette Claudia Lennear, rumored to be the inspiration for Mick Jagger's "Brown Sugar", often felt disconnect between her identity as an African American woman and her engagement with rock. Enjoy this excerpt of cultural anthropologist Maureen Mahon's Black Diamond Queens, courtesy of Duke University Press.

Maureen Mahon

Ane Brun's 'After the Great Storm' Features Some of Her Best Songs

The irresolution and unease that pervade Ane Brun's After the Great Storm perfectly mirror the anxiety and social isolation that have engulfed this post-pandemic era.


'Long Hot Summers' Is a Lavish, Long-Overdue Boxed Set from the Style Council

Paul Weller's misunderstood, underappreciated '80s soul-pop outfit the Style Council are the subject of a multi-disc collection that's perfect for the uninitiated and a great nostalgia trip for those who heard it all the first time.


ABBA's 'Super Trouper' at 40

ABBA's winning – if slightly uneven – seventh album Super Trouper is reissued on 45rpm vinyl for its birthday.


The Mountain Goats Find New Sonic Inspiration on 'Getting Into Knives'

John Darnielle explores new sounds on his 19th studio album as the Mountain Goats—and creates his best record in years with Getting Into Knives.


The 100 Best Albums of the 2000s: 60-41

PopMatters' coverage of the 2000s' best recordings continues with selections spanning Swedish progressive metal to minimalist electrosoul.


Is Carl Neville's 'Eminent Domain' Worth the Effort?

In Carl Neville's latest novel, Eminent Domain, he creates complexities and then shatters them into tiny narrative bits arrayed along a non-linear timeline.


Horrors in the Closet: Horrifying Heteronormative Scapegoating

The artificial connection between homosexuality and communism created the popular myth of evil and undetectable gay subversives living inside 1950s American society. Film both reflected and refracted the homophobia.


Johnny Nash Refused to Remember His Place

Johnny Nash, part rock era crooner, part Motown, and part reggae, was too polite for the more militant wing of the Civil Rights movement, but he also suffered at the hands of a racist music industry that wouldn't market him as a Black heartthrob. Through it all he was himself, as he continuously refused to "remember his place".


John Hollenbeck Completes a Trilogy with 'Songs You Like a Lot'

The third (and final?) collaboration between a brilliant jazz composer/arranger, the Frankfurt Radio Big Band, vocalists Kate McGarry and Theo Bleckman, and the post-1950 American pop song. So great that it shivers with joy.


The Return of the Rentals After Six Years Away

The Rentals release a space-themed album, Q36, with one absolute gem of a song.


Matthew Murphy's Post-Wombats Project Sounds a Lot Like the Wombats (And It's a Good Thing)

While UK anxiety-pop auteurs the Wombats are currently hibernating, frontman Matthew "Murph" Murphy goes it alone with a new band, a mess of deprecating new earworms, and revived energy.


The 100 Best Albums of the 2000s: 80-61

In this next segment of PopMatters' look back on the music of the 2000s, we examine works by British electronic pioneers, Americana legends, and Armenian metal provocateurs.


In the Tempest's Eye: An Interview with Surfer Blood

Surfer Blood's 2010 debut put them on the map, but their critical sizzle soon faded. After a 2017 comeback of sorts, the group's new record finds them expanding their sonic by revisiting their hometown with a surprising degree of reverence.


Artemis Is the Latest Jazz Supergroup

A Blue Note supergroup happens to be made up of women, exclusively. Artemis is an inconsistent outing, but it dazzles just often enough.


Horrors in the Closet: A Closet Full of Monsters

A closet full of monsters is a scary place where "straight people" can safely negotiate and articulate their fascination and/or dread of "difference" in sexuality.


'Wildflowers & All the Rest' Is Tom Petty's Masterpiece

Wildflowers is a masterpiece because Tom Petty was a good enough songwriter by that point to communicate exactly what was on his mind in the most devastating way possible.

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

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