Music News & Reviews

May 15, 2014

Sacramento live: Lara Downes pays tribute to Holiday

The Davis-based pianist premieres her solo piano tribute to Billie Holiday.

Davis-based pianist Lara Downes has an expansive vision of music, even though she’s mainly identified as a classical artist.

She has recorded historical repertoire by Frederic Chopin, Johann Sebastian Bach and Sergei Rachmaninov, but also more modern works by Leonard Bernstein, Samuel Barber, Aaron Copland and the acclaimed young American composer Mohammed Fairouz.

This weekend Downes premieres her latest project, “But Beautiful: Billie Holiday Remembered,” a solo piano tribute to the jazz singer and songs identified with her. Holiday, who was born in 1915, recorded hundreds of songs in career. But there are, of course, several such as “Good Morning Heartache,” “Fine And Mellow,” “God Bless the Child” and “Lover Man” that are indelibly associated with her. Downes will perform those and others in the 19-song program.

“It was a personal choice for me,” Downes said. “She sang so many songs, and she wrote very few of them herself, so it’s really a question of the which songs we associate with her.”

Downes included the 1933 jazz standard “I Cover the Waterfront,” a ballad composed by Johnny Green with lyrics by Edward Heyman, because she wanted the program to have diversity.

“I also wanted songs that represented different periods for her and different moods because you run the risk of doing a project of very, very tragic material,” Downes said.

“I wanted to present the different sides of her voice and what she was able to communicate and then find the songs that work best for this medium. I was looking for material that lent itself well to the piano.”

Composer Jed Distler, who already had worked with Downes, created the solo piano transcriptions for her. Though she’s played some of the tunes as encores for concerts in the past year, this will the first time the complete cycle has been performed.

8 p.m. Saturday and 2 p.m. Sunday in the Vanderhoef Studio Theatre Cabaret at the Mondavi Center for the Performing Arts. Tickets are limited, $19-$51. (866)754-2787,

Real indie rock music

A mini Popfest breaks out at the Witch Room on May 22 as bands from Australia, the Zebras and Monnone Alone, play on a bill with new group Imaginary Pants, featuring the legendary Rose Melberg (Tiger Trap, The Softies, Go Sailor). If that weren’t enough, Sacramento’s own little-seen Arts & Leisure will play along with a group, which may or may not include familiar faces, the Mechanical Bride.

So you won’t get bored between sets, DJs Roger Carpio (formerly of Lipstick!) and Scott Miller (from the English Singles) will spin certified indie pop records starting at 7 p.m. May 222, at the Witch Room, 1815 19th St., Sacramento. Tickets are $6. The show, which is for 18 and over, is at 8 p.m.

The Most Open Mic

For all your progressive hip-hop needs, TheMostOpenMicInTheCity returns Monday to the Brickhouse Gallery, 2837 36th St., Sacramento. Andru Defeye and Brian AlienLogik Baptista host the every-other-week event, which is free before 8:08 p.m. and $5 after that. Expect poetry, rap, hip-hop, freestyling and all kinds of guerrilla flash mob art activities.

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