The Center For The Arts Presents An Evening with Madeleine Peyroux
Monday, May 7th 7:30 PM Main Stage Theatre
- On sale to Encore Club Thursday, December 7 at 10:00 am
On sale to Members Thursday, December 14 at 10:00 am
On sale to General Public Thursday, December 21 at 10:00 am
Vocalist Madeleine Peyroux is an acclaimed performer with a dusky, lyrical style and a bent toward covering jazz and blues standards along with her own folky originals. Bursting onto the international scene in the ’90s, Peyroux drew favorable comparisons to Billie Holiday. While her intimate sound certainly owes a debt to Holiday, Peyroux has carved out her own distinctive stylistic niche, balancing a modern pop sensibility with a respect for older vocal traditions.
Born in Athens, Georgia in 1973, Peyroux grew up in Southern California and Brooklyn, before moving to Paris with her mother at age 13 after her parents’ divorce. It was there that Peyroux began singing, inspired by the street musicians of Paris’ Latin Quarter. By 1989, she was performing as a member of the old-timey jazz band the Riverboat Shufflers. Around age 16, she joined another vintage-inspired ensemble, the Lost & Wandering Blues & Jazz Band, and spent several years touring around Europe performing jazz standards by such legends as Fats Waller, Billie Holiday, Ella Fitzgerald, and others.
Peyroux eventually caught the ear of Atlantic Records A&R man Yves Beauvais, who signed her to a recording contract. In 1996, she released her debut album, Dreamland. Featuring a lineup of top-level New York jazz musicians, including pianist Cyrus Chestnut, drummer Leon Parker, guitarists Vernon Reid and Marc Ribot, and saxophonist/clarinetist James Carter, the album showcased Peyroux’s genre-crossing approach to standards from the 1920s and ’30s. Along with songs like Fats Waller’s “I’m Gonna Sit Right Down and Write Myself a Letter,” Billie Holiday’s “Gettin’ Some Fun Out of Life,” and Bessie Smith‘s “Lovesick Blues,” Peyroux also recorded three of her own tunes on Dreamland, including “Always a Use,” on which she accompanied herself on guitar.
Although Peyroux continued to tour and perform live, it took another eight years for her finish her follow-up, 2004’s Careless Love. Working with producer Larry Klein at Rounder Records, Peyroux expanded her approach to included a more contemporary, stylistically wide-ranging set of covers, including Elliott Smith‘s “Between the Bars,” Bob Dylan‘s “You’re Going to Make Me Lonesome,” and Hank Williams‘ “Weary Blues.” The album received wide critical acclaim and achieved gold certification status in several countries, including the United States.
On the heels of her sophomore success, Peyroux returned in 2006 with the Klein-produced Half the Perfect World. Along with standards and reworkings of songs by Serge Gainsbourg and Tom Waits, the highly anticipated album also featured a duet with k.d. lang. The well-received album reached number 33 on the Billboard 200. Her third Rounder release, 2009’s Bare Bones, found Peyroux developing her sound even further with a set of all-original compositions, some co-written with producer Klein, Steely Dan‘s Walter Becker, and guitarist Julian Coryell. Although somewhat of a creative gamble, the album was welcomed by her fans and debuted at number one on the Billboard jazz chart. After some time off, Peyroux returned in 2011 with Standing on the Rooftop for Decca. Produced by Craig Street, the album featured Peyroux backed by a stellar lineup of musicians including violinist Jenny Scheinman, guitarists Marc Ribot and Chris Bruce, bassist Meshell Ndegeocello, and drummer Charlie Drayton. Also included were guest appearances from Patrick Warren and Allen Toussaint, among others. Along with eight originals, Peyroux delivered elegant renditions of the Beatles‘ “Martha My Dear,” Bob Dylan‘s “I Threw It All Away,” and Robert Johnson‘s “Love in Vain.”
For her next album, 2013’s Klein-produced The Blue Room, Peyroux drew inspiration from Ray Charles‘ revolutionary 1962 recording Modern Sounds in Country and Western Music. Along with tracks from Charles’ original, the album found Peyroux reworking contemporary songs in a similar fashion, many with orchestral backing featuring arrangements by Vince Mendoza. The album garnered a Grammy nomination for Best Engineered Album, Non-Classical.
Twenty years after her recording debut, Dreamland, Madeleine Peyroux continues her musical journey of exploring beyond the ordinary with Secular Hymns, a spirited and soulful masterwork of loping, skipping, sassy, feisty and sexy tunes delivered in a captivating mélange of funk, blues and jazz.
With her trio that had been touring together for two years—electric guitarist Jon Herington (lead guitarist Steely Dan) and upright bassist Barak Mori—Peyroux set out to record in a live setting a collection of songs that have their own hymn-like stories of self-awareness and inner dialogue, a communal consciousness and a spiritual essence.
“Music has been our spiritual life,” she says. “So I think of these as hymns, secular hymns—songs that are very individual, personal, introverted.”
With her seductively expressive voice, Peyroux intimately renders tunes by seminal blues artists (two penned by Willie Dixon and one by Lil Green), the classic gospel singer Sister Rosetta Tharpe, the under-the-radar dub star Linton Kwesi Johnson, three renowned contemporary composers (Tom Waits, Townes Van Zandt, Allen Toussaint), the 19th century composer Stephen Foster (considered to be the first great songwriter in America) and ending with a traditional African-American spiritual.
What’s remarkable is the unique way in which this recording came to life. The story starts with a concert in an old church in the rural Oxfordshire countryside of England. Celebrated French chef Raymond Blanc had purchased an old manor in the tiny village of Little Milton and renamed it Belmond Le Manoir where he hosts events, including a nine-course meal in his Michelin-starred restaurant. As a part of the whole experience, people are invited before dinner to go to the nearby 12th-century Norman-styled church, St. Mary the Virgin, to attend a concert of live music. Last year Peyroux and her trio were invited to perform.
“At the sound check, I was singing Randy Newman’s song ’Guilty,’ and it was amazing the way my voice sounded in the cavernous room,” Peyroux says. “It has a wood ceiling that gave my voice a reverb. My live engineer Doug Dawson told me I should make a record there.”
Fresh from the rarefied experience of performing their songbook there, a few months later, they all returned to the church with Peyroux wanting to document the secular hymnal she and her band had been developing on the road. “We had all become very close, and we were stretching to come up with new sounds,” the acoustic guitarist says, noting that she had added a guilele (an acoustic, nylon-stringed tenor ukulele) to the voice of the band. “Jon became very versatile on the guitar and Barak was good with the bow. Plus they both like to sing.
Peyroux booked the 200-seat church for three days—first day for set up and sound check, second for a free live show for townspeople that was recorded, and third to recut new live takes sans audience if needed. “It was a blast playing with Jon and Barak and so much had to do with the interplay among us,” says Peyroux. “It’s a recording that reflects the organic way we had been working as a trio on the arrangements of these songs.”
While noting that she veers away from being “the normal jazz trio,” Peyroux nonetheless brings her jazz sensibility into roots music territory in such a moving way that she captures the celebration and praise implied in the songs—a special ten-song collection of bona fide Secular Hymns.
Peyroux’s seventh studio album is set to release in spring of 2018.