Five Questions — LEAF preview

WNC-based roots/folk/jazz/gospel singer and composer Lizz Wright has released four solo albums and contributed to many more projects (more on that below). But she also took time out to attend culinary school and to blog about both her garden and her kitchen.

Find the full festival schedule here. LEAF runs Thursday, May 9-Sunday, May 12. Tickets are for sale (online or by phone at 686-8742) in advance only, through May 9. $184 adults/$153 kids ages 10-17 for Thursday-Sunday with camping. $159/$134 Friday-Sunday with camping. $106/$94 Friday-Sunday no camping. $47/$38 Friday evening or Sunday day only, no camping. $57/$50 Saturday only, no camping. Parking is $5 per vehicle with free shuttle.

Mountain Xpress: NPR called you “ever-evolving,” and your solo albums to date have covered a lot of ground, from jazz and folk to pop and gospel. Do you feel like that kind of evolution is who you are — your sound — or do you see you see yourself settling into one genre?
Lizz Wright: My relationship with music is a living thing, as well as the conversation with the audience. Evolution is how I know that they’re still thriving. Historically, the roots of gospel, folk, and jazz are deep and intersecting, and so I am but one of many artists who openly displays the familial relationships between these genres. I’ve found a way to explore the world and communicate with it through music. When I lose curiosity I’ll know that I’m not in love anymore.

Your voice is so rich and gorgeous and effortless. As a person who doesn’t having singing talent, I’ve often wondered how it feels to be able to do that. Does it feel natural and effortless and like you’re totally in your zone? Or are there challenges and struggles for you as a vocalist?
Thank you! Nice to hear that it appears effortless. Actually, it burns a lot of calories, and I have to eat before and after shows so that I don’t get loopy from low energy. Once, a man walked up to me somewhere in Germany after a show and said, “You must be on a strict diet and routine to be able to get all of that sound out. I bet you must eat far in advance of the show, for instance.” Laughing, I replied, ” Actually, I scarfed down a huge steak just minutes before the curtain, and it must’ve been a good one from what you’re telling me!” I’m classically trained and have found the power vocal and yogic breathing methods to be very similar in technique and effect. On a good night performing can feel much like an “open” meditation.

Even though you’ve found success with your albums, you took time off a couple of years ago to go to culinary school. Was it hard to take time away from music, and do you feel that those two passions — music and cooking — feed each other (no pun intended!)?
For the first 10 years of my career, I was a quiet cook, feeling guilty and conflicted about my passion for both forms.  Somehow, I outgrew the shame and allowed myself six months of focus at the Natural Gourmet Institute in N.Y. Now, I can recall that throughout my life, food and music have always been happening at once. From our traditional family gatherings to writing my best songs as a Jersey barista, the two expressions have almost always been seamless.
You’ve been a guest vocalist on a number of projects, working with artists like David Sanborn, Amos Lee, Jakob Dylan and Meshell Ndegecello. Who would you like to work with in the future — and why?
I have a dream to sing a song one day with Taj Mahal and his lovely daughter Deva. They both sing from deep places and feel like family when I’m around them. Also, I imagine Meshell and I will rendevous again soon. Toshi Reagon has also been one of my favorite collaborators over the years.

Tell us about your LEAF performance — anything special planned? Who’s in your band? Any guest musicians we should know about?
Asheville’s own Free Planet Radio is supporting me at LEAF! They’re world class, conscious and adventurous musicians. I’ve been in love with these blue hills since I played at the Orange Peel about six years ago. It’s a sweet, full circle moment to sing here now that I’ve been a resident long enough to feel like a part of it.


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About Alli Marshall
Alli Marshall has lived in Asheville for more than 20 years and loves live music, visual art, fiction and friendly dogs. She is the winner of the 2016 Thomas Wolfe Fiction Prize and the author of the novel "How to Talk to Rockstars," published by Logosophia Books. Follow me @alli_marshall

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