Monday, December 15, 2014

Chicago bands teaming up to present third annual Woman Power Holiday Show


For the third year in a row,  Chicago-based group Diana & the Dishes will present the Woman Power Holiday Show, a night of female-fronted bands raising money for a nonprofit that supports women in Chicago.

This year's show will benefit Global Girls, a dance, theatre and performance education organization for girls in Chicago's South Shore neighborhood.

The show will be presented Dec. 22 at Schubas Tavern, 3159 N. Southport Ave., Chicago. The music starts at 8 p.m. and tickets are $15, available by going to http://www.lh-st.com/Shows/12-22-2014+Woman+Power+Holiday+Show.

I had the chance to talk to show organizer and Diana & the Dishes frontwoman Diana Lawrence about the upcoming show.


Q - Great talking to you again. This is the third year of the Woman Power Holiday Show. What made you want to start the event in the first place? Has it lived up to your expectations?

I started the WPHS for many reasons...to feature fantastic local female talent, to raise awareness about the problems facing women in our city, to connect music-makers and music fans to the organizations that are fighting those problems. Each year, we've learned more about how to run the event successfully. 

Last year, despite a snow storm, we raised a good chunk of change for Deborah's Place, a local women's shelter, and the vibe in the room was incredibly warm and giving and fun.  I've really come to look forward to putting on this show each year!

Q - What should people expect from this year's show? How did you go about choosing the bands for this year's show?

I'm really excited about the bands on this year's show. Since the organization we are benefiting is a theatre education organization, I decided to invite two bands onto the bill that are fronted by women who are active in Chicago's professional theatre community (as am I).

Fantastic singing, fantastic songwriting/arrangements/musicianship, fantastic stage presence.  These ladies know how to put on a show.

Q - This year's show benefits Global Girls. How did you hear about the group and how do you determine each year what group to help?

I found Global Girls just through word of mouth and Internet research. They have been wonderful, and are really partnering with us to make this show a success. Each year, I've tried to find a organization with a slightly different and but equally compelling mission... thus far, I've aimed for Chicago-based organizations (as opposed to national charities), and that's worked well. I like keeping it local.

Q - How are things going with your own group, Diana & the Dishes? What can we expect from the group in the coming year?

Things are going well with the Dishes! We were featured in an indie film this past fall (Teleporter Productions' "The View From Tall") which won't be coming out for some time, but which we're very excited about. In 2015, I'm hoping to keep building our local and regional presence, and ideally release a new record by the end of 2015. 

We have tons of new material we're working on, some of which we hope to reveal at this Schubas show. I so love the guys in my band... they're fantastic, thoughtful musicians (and hilariously fun people) and the more we work on material, the more I love 'em.

Q - What do you think of the Chicago music scene and where do you see yourself fitting into the scene?

Chicago's music scene is always bursting at the seams with more bands and shows than you could ever go see in a lifetime, and I love that. But I think it can be a tough nut to crack. 

I'm honestly not always sure where I and Diana & the Dishes fit into it. We pull from rock, pop, soul and blues, but also from folk, jazz, and cabaret, which I've found is kind of a rare breed of band in Chicago. 

But (for better or worse) we've never really concerned ourselves with being "hip," and we certainly love what we're doing and where we're going in the Chicago music scene and beyond. Also, I've unfortunately found that being a female-fronted band can make things more of an uphill slog. 

But my goal is that the Woman Power Holiday Show will keep doing it's part to show that women in this city can(/should/will continue to) rock, and should continue to demand everyone's attention, at the holidays and at every other time of the year.   

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Chicago band Everybody Says Yes bringing soul sound to Wire in Berwyn


Fronted by the powerful vocals of singer Meghan Murphy, Chicago band Everybody Says Yes will bring its infectious R&B/soul sound on Dec. 5 to Wire, 6815 W. Roosevelt Road, Berwyn.

The show starts at 8 p.m. and tickets are $10, available at www.ticketweb.com.

I had the chance to talk to Murphy and songwriter John Fournier about the band.

Q - Great to talk to you. I understand you guys plan to release your second EP soon, along with a live album and video. What should people expect from the new EP? In sitting down to make your first EP, what were your goals and do you think you accomplished them?

John: The new EP is an extension of the first in every way and not a departure. It is a clearer picture of the sound and concept of the band, I think.

The mix of influences (Muscle Shoals, Stax, Chicago Blues, Van Morrison and Dusty Springfield), are still in there but the more we work on the material and progress as a group, the more the sounds come together into something unique and all our own.

The thrill for me of keeping a band together and working on original material and an original group sound is how it gels over time. As everyone figures out their unique role in the group and starts to master their part in the ensemble, it just gets better every time we play.


It is a very exciting and rare thing to have and I've been around long enough to cherish it because it doesn't happen to every band. It also is vital to have a shooting star fronting the band and we have that in Meghan Murphy.

Meghan: I think the new EP will be a little tighter musically as this is our second go at recording. We’ve had a number of songs ready to go for a couple years now, so we are trying to get them out to the people in ways that are accessible.

The influences of soul, rock, R&B, and blues are all still there and we are fine tuning our unique sound of an old school throwback with a modern voice. It’s familiar, but unlike anything you’ve heard before.

I think people are really going to dig the new tunes.

Q - I understand that the two of met through mutual friends and quickly found out that you had a musical chemistry. Why do you think you fit so well together musically?

John: I think Meghan and I hear music in the same way. When I bring her a new song, we generally learn it first as a duo before we bring it to the band. I never have to coach Meghan on how the song could be interpreted, she learns it very quickly and realizes its potential by the second or third time through as she simply understands the song and my intent instantly.

It is a rare pleasure to have a partner like that when you are a songwriter and I love writing songs for Meg.


Meghan: One of the first things I noticed about John was his musical integrity. John and I met after he’d seen me in my one-woman show and he asked me if I’d be interested in singing some of his original songs.

So we met for the first time, he played me about 15 songs and I could really hear myself singing some of them right away. As for some others, he said to me “If you don’t like it, we won’t do it!”

He didn’t want to waste my time by putting on heirs or stroking his own ego. He wanted to make really good, authentic music and I was definitely down for that.

Not to mention the man can write ANYTHING, and always with his own unique style. I’ve always thought of myself more as an interpreter of a story when it comes to singing, so I think we make a great team.

Q - Everybody Says Yes has grown to a seven-piece band. How did you go about picking the other members in the band and what do you think they bring to the table?

John: All of the band members: Lee Taylor, Scott Tipping, John Abbey, Alex Beltran and Scott Stevenson are musical veterans who have been on the scene for years. They are also straight up virtuosos on their chosen instruments and have thousands of gigs under their belts.

They all have a deep understanding of what the band is all about and are able to instantly make it come alive. We are honored that they have chosen to be in this band.

Meghan: This band is crazy good. All veterans of the scene that John has either played with for years or knows simply through reputation. Lee Taylor (drums), Scott Tipping (guitar,) John Abbey (bass), Alex Beltran (sax), and Scott Stevenson (organ) are insane musicians who understand the style from the inside out.

Since John has been in this scene for much longer than I have, he was the one who gathered this superb group of fellas together. I am so honored to play with them each and every time. Like I’ve said before, “I wear the dress, they do the rest.”

Q - Meghan, I enjoyed your performance in "Rent" at the Paramount Theatre in Aurora. I understand that you will be playing the Acid Queen in "The Who's Tommy" at the Paramount Theatre. Tina Turner seemed to have been made for the role in the movie version of "Tommy." What do you hope to bring to the role?

Meghan: Well, I couldn’t possibly begin to try and “fill the shoes” of one of the greatest live entertainers of all time, but I will certainly try and withhold the standard that has been set for me. I
saw Tina when I was 15 years old, was blown away, and was instantly a life-long fan.

The rawness, the sexual prowess, the vulnerability, the pure liquid JOY she seems to be having on stage are all things I hope to bring to the role. I also plan to sing the living piss out of it.

Q - John, you won a Jeff Award for writing the words and music to "The Madam Barker Show." Do you feel you need both in your life, theatre and music?

John: Well I am a songwriter and I am happy to have my songs sung anywhere. Whether I am writing songs for theater projects or musical ensembles, it is a joy for me.

I am very fortunate to be able to write songs and ridiculously fortunate to have them heard. And winning an award for songwriting was a cool experience.

Q - What do you think of the Chicago music scene and how do you see the band fitting into it?

John: I love the Chicago music scene. I grew up here so a lot of the sound of EVERYBODY SAYS YES is a distinctly Chicago sound, I think.

People in Chicago are very smart listeners and have little patience for anything too pompous or self-important. Our sound is something people can latch onto right away, we sing songs about healing and joy and in these troubled times, we can try to help lift some spirits for an hour or so.

I think Chicagoans appreciate that simple mission.

Meghan: I love the Chicago music scene because there is room for everyone. It’s inclusive, not exclusive. It takes the greatest attributes from the greatest styles of music and puts them all in a big melting pot of Awesome.

I think that’s what we are trying to do with Everybody Says Yes. I mean, it’s in our band NAME!! In a world where it’s so easy to say “no,” we are trying to spread the good word and say “Yes.”

Yes to positivity, yes to mixing the old with the new, the past with the present, and yes to feeling BETTER after you leave our show. After all, isn’t that the whole point of music??

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Chicago jazz singer Elaine Dame to perform at Jazz Showcase in support of new album


Those who have been anxiously waiting for Chicago jazz/pop singer Elaine Dame to release new music will soon be rewarded.

Dame will perform Dec. 1 at the Jazz Showcase, 806 S. Plymouth Court, Chicago, in celebration of her sophomore album, "You're My Thrill."

Dame will perform at 8 p.m. and 10 p.m. Tickets are available at www.ticketfly.com.

I had the chance to talk to Dame about her new album.

Q - Great talking to you. Of course, you will perform at the Jazz Showcase on Dec. 1 in celebration of your sophomore album, "You're My Thrill." In sitting down to make the album, what were your goals and do you think you accomplished them? Is there any meaning behind the album's name?

Great talking to you too! Thanks for the interview!

To answer your question, my goal in making this album was to make a recording that any person will like, not just the savvy jazz listeners, and to make a musically interesting recording with great tunes that I like to sing with phenomenal musicians and fun arrangements.


I hope I've reached my goal. Based on the feedback of the folks who have listened to it already, the response has been very positive.

There is no specific meaning to the album's name, except that it is "catchy" and I thought it would make a good album title. The tune is usually performed in a dreamy, moody ballad style, but I heard it as a funky, swing tune and that's the way it's arranged and performed on the recording.

Q - Your last album, "Comes Love," was released in 2005. Why so long between albums? How do you think you have grown musically since the release of "Comes Love?"

Lots of people have been asking me that question, and I think the short answer is "money." I produced my first record, to the tune of $20,000, and went into debt. 

I spent the subsequent years working to reduce my debt, while still trying to maintain my professional standing in Chicago. It is a constant day-to-day challenge, albeit a good one, to continue to grow as an artist and make a living. I'm so grateful that I am able to make a living as a jazz singer.

A very generous friend of mine gave me $14,000 and I raised the rest of the money through a crowd-funding platform called, Indigogo.com I'm spending about $5000 of my own money, which is a far cry from $20,000.

I think I have grown so much as a singer since my first recording and that just comes from years and years and years of doing it. There's no other way around it. 

You cannot learn from a book, you just have to practice, practice, practice. I think I have my own style now, which is great, and I am a more relaxed and confident singer, which comes from experience and from working with incredible musicians.

Q - How did you go about picking the musicians featured on "You're My Thrill" and what do you think they bring to the table?

It was actually a difficult process because I work with so many amazing jazz musicians. I think I wanted to try something different (and not use the same musicians as my first recording), so I chose people that I'd worked with a lot over the last few years, people that I really like personally and professionally and have a musical camaraderie with.

They all have had extensive experience in the recording studio as well, which really helps, and they all sound absolutely incredible on the record.

Q - The album features jazz standards like Nat King Cole's "This Will Make You Laugh," but also songs that are not jazz standards, such as Richard Thompson's "Dimming of the Day." How did you go about choosing the songs for the album?

Yes, that's right. I sang that one for my mom. She is no longer able to see me perform, but when she was, she would always ask for that one, and it was always when I was performing with Dennis Luxion, the pianist on the recording.

It is by no means a jazz standard, but I'd heard Bonnie Raitt cover it on one of her records and loved it, so I started performing it at gigs. It also gave me the opportunity to work with my friend and colleague, Paul Marinaro, who sings harmony on it quite beautifully.

Q - You have been called one of the top Chicago jazz musicians. What is your approach to jazz? What attracted you to jazz in the first place?

Thanks for the compliment! I never listened to jazz as a kid. I grew up with a lot of music in the home, though. 

My mom listened to classical music ad nauseam and my Dad listened to soul and R & B. I took voice, piano, and flute lessons growing up and attended college on a classical voice and flute scholarship, and I wasn't exposed to jazz until my mid thirties.

I was working in a restaurant and the manager played jazz all the time and I really started liking it. Then, I read a book called "The Artist's Way" and that book changed my life. 

I decided I wanted to become a jazz singer so I found a pianist, rehearsed and learned the repertoire and became obsessed with the vocal jazz genre. After a year of that, I started "pounding the pavement" to get work. 

I got very lucky early on as I was hired to sing regularly at The Fairmont Hotel three to four nights a week. Now I have a few "steadies" around town, both in East Lakeview (Macku Signature and Taverna 750) and I've had the good fortune to have been offered regular appearances at New York's legendary Rainbow Room. 

I also perform for corporate events, weddings and private parties which is where most of my income comes from.

"What is your approach to jazz?" That is such a huge question, I'm actually not sure how to answer it. 

I try to practice every day, get out and hear other musicians for inspiration, listen to jazz singers and instrumentalists, and I try to learn and grow as an artist by studying theory and piano, so that I can have a more informed approach to harmony.

It is a never-ending process of growth and discovery, both daunting and thrilling.

Q - What do you think of the Chicago music scene and how do you think you fit into it?

I think the music scene here is amazing. Where else can you go and hear all types of music any night of the week?

My community in particular is very supportive and helpful, there is a lot of camaraderie and support for other musicians and their creative endeavors, which is the way it should be. I'm not sure how I fit into it.

I hope that people think of me as a good musician who approaches this music from a place of sincerity and integrity. I am also a jazz singing teacher and it really makes me happy to know that I am helping people study and appreciate this genre.

Q - Do you have any dream projects or collaborations?

Hmmm...on my next record, I'd love to collaborate with all of the great guitarists in town. There are so many that I've had the privilege of working with. 

I'd love to travel the world performing and I'd love to sing with a big band too. That is something I have never done.

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Linda Marie Smith's "Mearra - Selkie From the Sea" production coming to Old Town School of Folk

Those who come out to see Chicago singer-songwriter Linda Marie Smith's latest production, "Mearra - Selkie From the Sea," will experience a rich multimedia show. 

The family-friendly performance features Smith's adaptation of a classic Celtic tale told with original songs and performed with a six piece orchestra playing along to projected animation.

The story revolves around Mearra, a mythical seal as she makes use of her magical ability to transform into a human being, marries Ian, a lonely fisherman and eventually starts a family; knowing all the while she must inevitably return to the sea as a seal, or perish.

The show will be at 3 p.m. Dec. 7 at Old Town School of Folk Music's Gary and Laura Maurer Concert Hall, 4544 N. Lincoln Ave., Chicago.

I had the chance to talk to her about the show. 

Q - Great talking to you. In sitting down to make "Mearra - Selkie From the Sea," was it your intent to always bring it to life visually? What was your inspiration for the project?

Yes, it was always my intent to add a visual component to Mearra.

I’ve been drawn to folklore and fairy tales since I was a child. Years ago, I watched a movie called “The Secret of Roan Innish.” I was captivated by this unusual tale and began reading all that I could about the subject. 

The idea of transforming from one being to another is fascinating to me. And I think this tale is a metaphor for what we as humans do throughout our lives…evolve and transform.   

Q - For those who attend the show, what should they expect?

The live performance is a musical/multimedia experience that tells a story about Mearra, a young Selkie maiden who falls in love with a lonely fisherman named Ian. Ian is enchanted from the moment he sees her. 

So, Mearra bids farewell to her life in the sea, marries Ian and eventually they have a family together. The instrumentation includes me on piano and acoustic guitar, along with immensely talented musicians who play electric guitar, violin, Irish tin whistle, drums and bass.

I sing lead on all the songs and I’m accompanied by rich vocal harmonies. In addition to the music, moving animated illustrations accompany each song, which is projected on a large screen above the musicians and myself. Also there is a spoken narrative before some of the songs, which also help tell the story too.  

Q - What would you like for them to take away from the show?

This is a little long winded, but here ya go. Folklore and fairy tales usually involve fantastic people or animals, but usually deal with things we value most highly, fear most deeply and hope for most ardently. 

"Mearra~Selkie From the Sea" is a love story about two people who know from the beginning of their relationship that in seven years Mearra will have to return to the sea. However, Mearra and Ian are so overcome in love that they don’t let that inevitability change their plans. They marry and have a family.

As the seven years pass, Mearra becomes ill, her life on the land has taken it’s toll and now she must return to the sea. Her son Morlo is a Selkie too and feels the strong pull to live in the sea with his mother. 

The father Ian and daughter Ffion are of the land. This family loves one another so much that they accept the inevitable but know that their love will be the everlasting thread that keeps them together forever.

Mearra's story is a relevant experience for all human beings. Love is the most important thread in the human existence.

We yearn for it, we risk our lives for it, we succumb to it, we thrive in it. Shortly after I finished the recording of "Mearra," my mother died. 

It was the most devastating loss of my life but the story of Mearra really helped in my grieving process because I do believe that if you love someone they are always a part of you forever.

Q - The show will be presented at the Old Town School of Folk Music, where you also teach. What do you try to convey to your students?

I teach in the adult guitar program. I think it’s important to remind students to leave their stress at their jobs and have fun and enjoy the process of learning something new. 

I find that teaching is a very rewarding experience. I’ve been at The Old Town School of Folk Music for 14 years and I’ve loved every minute of it.

Q - Your last multimedia show, "Artemisia," debuted in January 2006. Was it time to do another multimedia show? What were your goals for “ Artemisia” and do you think you achieved them?

Yes, it was time to do another multimedia show. My goals for "Artemisia" were to educate an audience through the medium of music and visuals about the enigmatic Italian painter Artemisia Gentileschi. 

And I think I have met my goals for this project with the exception of someday seeing the live presentation of this work on public television!

Q - The renowned Michael Smith appeared on your first three albums and you have worked with him on different projects. What you you take away from working with a musician of such caliber?

He is a master songwriter and his songs have been an inspiration to me since the first time I heard “The Dutchman.” His songwriting style helped me learn and understand the process of how to tell a story through music. 

The use of imagery and poetry are very strong aspects in Michael’s music and he has inspired me to do the same within my own songs. I am forever grateful for Michael’s influence in my life and in my music.

Q - What do you think of the Chicago music scene and where do you think you fit into it?

Hmmm…good questions. Chicago has an amazing music scene. 

Since I’ve focused my attention on presenting my music in a story-telling, multimedia format, I think it limits my opportunities to perform in many music venues. My music requires a listening audience and frankly I think “listening” venues are few and far between in Chicago. 

I mostly focus on colleges, universities, performance art venues and libraries to market my music. A cool thing that’s happening for "Mearra" is WYCC - Channel 20 public television station is going to air my release concert that I performed in March of this year. 

I’m hoping that this opportunity will expose "Mearra~Selkie From the Sea" to a broader audience! Keeping my fingers crossed.