LIVE sessions & artists
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Stranger Fruit live sessions will be hosted by Debbie Golt and Marva Jackson Lord.
In fortnightly live sessions Stranger Fruit will invite a contemporary musician – Sharron McLeod (voice, flautist, keys, arranger, radio producer), Charlotte Keeffe (trumpet), RENU (composer, producer, percussionist, curator) and Roella Oloro (keys/sax) – to share personal reflections on an inspirational female figure from jazz and blues. The sessions will combine archives, dialogue and live improvised music to journey through the music and social interventions of Abbey Lincoln, Tiny Davis, Jeanne Lee and Esperanza Spalding.
The liberating power of jazz and blues women will be exposed as each session illuminates how they pioneered new musical styles that challenge race, gender and sexual norms. The audience, in conversation with the musicians, will explore these legacies for their relevance to challenging ongoing inequalities and obstacles to personal freedom.
There will be live canvas paintings by Clare Marshall providing visual narrations in each session.
Stranger Fruit sessions have been curated by Bilkis Malek with our tech guru Fez Miah!
Scroll down and click the toggle buttons below to read about the artists and their featured segments.
Live Session 1 – Reflections on Abbey Lincoln with Sharron Mcleod – Sat 26th Feb, 8pm
Sharron Mcleod reflects on the music and life of Abbey Lincoln recognised as one of the most arresting and uncompromising singers who was also a successful actor, civil rights activist and educator. Sharron presents music and themes centred around Abbey Lincoln’s emphasis on ‘having a point of view’. The session (re)connects us to the essence of jazz and blues as mediums to disrupt norms and empower marginalised voices.
Sharron’s insights are richly personal informed by her relationship as a student and friend of Abbey Lincoln.
Abbey Lincoln was born “Anna Marie Wooldridge” on August 6, 1930 in Chicago, Illinois, but was raised on a farm in Michigan. She began singing at age 14 with local bands in Kalamazoo, where she moved with her mother. By the early 1950s Lincoln had moved on to singing in Calirfonria and Honolulu. She recorded her first album, Abbey Lincoln’s Affair: A Story of a Girl in Love in 1956. In 1957 she moved to New York City where she met drummer and composer Max Roach while working at the Village Vanguard. They would later marry and create numerous compositions together throughout the following years. A talented writer, singer and actress, Lincoln became a leading voice of the civil rights movement, alongside Roach and Charles Mingus, Oscar Brown Jr., John Coltrane and others. She was a jazz singer who challenged social ills and pushed for change. In her own way, she became an activist as well as a performer.
Abbey Lincoln was heavily influenced by Billie Holiday. She collaborated with many musicians to create jazz music that spoke against the issues of the day. She touched listeners to this very day with songs that resonated with jazz audiences decades earlier, yet are still relevant. She’s an inspirational artist who is remembered for her talents, but also for the things she did off the stage that inspired others.
Abbey Lincoln passed away on August 14, 2010.
Canadian jazz singer Sharron McLeod, a favourite at Toronto’s prestigious annual Downtown Jazz Festival and has also been a consultant to it’s community outreach of the local jazz community. She released 4 singles 2021 to streaming platforms worldwide, two originals and two standards that can be found on the Stranger Fruit playlist.
She has shared the stage with many renowned musicians such as Jane Bunnett, Archie Alleyne, Frank Falco, Bill McBirnie, Jackie Richardson, Salome Bey, Yoron Israel, Jimmy
Lovelace, God Webster, Dwayne Burno, Rodney Kendrick, Elliott Levin, Tyler Mitchell, Mike
Gerber..and many more.
Trained as a classical flutist initially, Sharron’s focus naturally evolved to encompass jazz.
Her musical education began in elementary school with the recorder and then the flute and
trombone in high school. She eventually focused her studies at the Royal Conservatory of Toronto where she continued her classical studies with Douglas Stewart, flautist with the York Winds and the Canadian Opera Company.
As her interest in jazz grew she left the conservatory which didn’t have a jazz department at the time and started performing in a jazz duo with acoustic bass, while learning more about jazz on the stage and continuing private studies in voice, ear training and piano privately with Liz Naylor, Jay Clayton, Theodore Gentry and Ali Garrison, Art Levine and Don Naduriak. She also participated in the Jazz Workshop in Banff Alberta with Rufus Reid, Mark Ledford, Steve Coleman and Abraham Adzenyah.
As a broadcaster she has hosted her own jazz and open format programs, Face The Music and
Dat Dere (with Chloe Onari and Gary Topp) at ckln 88.1FM, Epistrophe at FLOW 93.5FM and has contributed as a freelance jazz columnist for CBC Toronto at Metro Morning and Here and Now, CBC’s Ontario Today and CBC’s flagship show Sounds Like Canada.
After moving from Toronto to Nice, France six years ago, Sharron sings and plays flute in the
Jazz à Valrose Atelier under the direction of Yann Fiser, in a duo with bassist Pascal Masson
and her ‘Fauxtet’ ensemble bringing her own unique sound to the riviera.
So what is a Fauxtet? Sharron explains, “The word Fauxtet is a play on words. New York drummer Ralph Peterson called his group a Fo’tet instead of a quartet, “Fo” being African American vernacular for “four”. It has an open sound that appeals to me, and sounds like the French word “faux”, so I replaced the Fo with Faux and created Fauxtet. “
“For me the Fauxtet opens up the meaning of the group on a few different levels. A fauxtet
could have four or more members in the group. It also means that our repertoire can expand to
include jazz arrangements of more contemporary songs from folk, pop and R&B in addition to originals and American Songbook standards. Like songs I grew up listening to”
“Sharron…found the perfect balance between past and future, switching without hesitation between songs that inspired recollection to far more celebratory pieces”
The Annex Gleaner, Toronto, ON
Live Session 2 – Reflections on Tiny Davis with Charlotte Keeffe – Sat 12th March, 8pm
with special guest Lara De Belder
Charlotte Keeffe brings to life the achievements of Ernestine ‘Tiny’ Carroll Davis once described as the “hottest female trumpeter in the universe”. Charlotte unpacks how Tiny and other female instrumentalists disrupted ideas of female physicality being unsuited to play the trumpet. On the lips of women the trumpet is transformed from an instrument of marching bands taking on a new fun persona at the centre of the Swing movement. Intertwined in this journey are stories that broke race and gender conventions – Tiny herself a member of the first all female inter-racial band ‘International Sweethearts of Rhythm’, and a hero of the gay rights movement.
Charlotte connects narratives of ‘freedom’ to jazz improvisation a feeling she translates to the audience inviting them to improvise with her – bring a pot, pan, paintbrush, or just be ready to tap or hum!
Ernestine (Tiny) Carroll Davis
Ernestine (Tiny) Carroll Davis was a trumpet player, vocalist and band leader who blazed a trail for other women in jazz. She was born in 1909 or 1910 in Memphis, Tennessee. She began playing trumpet at age thirteen and started playing with local bands. By the time she was 20 she had become the bandleader of her own group.
She joined the Harlem Play-Girls in 1935, leaving the group about a year later to give birth. In 1941 she joined famous touring group the International Sweethearts of Rhythm when they ended their ties with the school that founded them. The Sweethearts were unique, as they were the first racially integrated all female band featuring Latina, Asian, Caucasian, Black, Native American and Puerto Rican players. The Sweethearts became known as the greatest swing band bringing audiences to their feet, dancing to unique rhythms that male-white bands would later copy. The group toured in a bus named ‘Big Bertha’ which often doubled as their sleeping quarters especially in the South where Jim Crow Laws banned black and white people mixing. Sometimes white members of the band would wear dark make-up to avoid the band being arrested.
Tiny was adored by her contemporaries, like Louis Armstrong and Cab Calloway, among others, who would give anything to listen to her. Dedicated to her all-female band who often played opposite Armstrong and Fletcher Henderson and jammed with many jazz greats, Tiny said “I could have played with Count Basie, Cab Calloway—the greatest. But I loved them gals too much. They were some sweet gals.” (Wikipedia)
She formed her own all-female band which she called the Hell Divers, continuing the tradition of drawing admiration from other artists like Lionel Hampton, PeeWee Crayton’s Orchestra, Roy Milton and his Orchestra, Dinah Washington, and others. Tiny Davis and her Hell Divers ensemble recorded for Decca Records and toured through 1952, including in the Caribbean and Central America.
Tiny Davis and her partner Ruby Lucas owned Tiny and Ruby’s Gay Spot in Chicago during the 1950s.
Tiny Davis was active in performance into the 1980s.
Tiny Davis passed away on January 30, 1994
British trumpeter/flugelhorn player Charlotte Keeffe’s passion for free improvisation, jazz and experimental music making sees her performing regularly as a soloist and as part of a variety of different ensembles, including
her own Quartet. Charlotte Keeffe(‘s) Quartet (CKQ) features Ashley John Long on double bass, Ben Handysides on drums, Moss Freed on guitar and herself as composer and trumpeter/flugelhorn player. CKQ is currently touring the UK celebrating the release of Charlotte’s debut album, Right Here, Right
Now, on the Discus Music record label.
Right Here, Right Now features Charlotte’s improvised works for solo, duo, quartet and large ensemble. She is involved in several other Discus Music projects as a composer and performer, including Hi Res Heart and
Anthropology Band with; Jazz FM’s Gold Award winner Orphy Robinson MBE,
Chris Sharkey, Pat Thomas, Anton Hunter and Martin Archer. She is also part of Emily Suzanne Shapiro’s brain child, Lonely Impulse Collective, which sees her releasing improvised pieces of music every ten days, each piece is only available for 24 hrs.
Charlotte is very inspired by the way (live) painters explore colours and shapes in the moment on their canvases. She refers to her trumpet and flugelhorn as her ‘sound brushes’. Her music making has been featured on radio shows all around the world including BBC Radio 3, BBC Radio 6 and Jazz FM.
Charlotte plays in the London Improvisers Orchestra (LIO), she also leads LIO conductions and is a board member assisting the preparations for each monthly LIO concert. She can also be seen and heard as part of Moss Freed’s Union Division and Calum Gourlay’s Big Band. She also plays regularly with Alex Ward, Otto Willberg and Andrew Lisle, in Andrew’s trio and in Alex’s Item 4 and 10. She is also part of Birmingham-based Andrew Woodhead’s Pendulums, and plays alongside jazz stalwart Annie Whitehead in Ben Higham’s The Brass Monkeys and with jazz stars Jay Phelps and Rosie Turton in Dan Samsa’s Contours. Alya Al-Sultani’s upcoming opera, Two Sisters, sees Charlotte playing alongside the likes of Alice Zawadzki, Robert Mitchell and Dave Kane. She plays the role of Musician in Goblin Theatre’s production for children, The Legend of the Jazz Penguin. She is part of the Mopomoso (the UK’s longest running concert series dedicated to freely improvised music) team, programming its concert series at The Vortex, London, and the online show, Mopomoso TV, which launched in June 2020. She was the Assistant Musical Director of the London Gay Big Band in 2019, before focusing more on her own music making; exploring her
composed material with free improvisation.
Charlotte is a jazz and improvised music trumpet professor at the London Performing Academy of Music. She is also part of the Parliamentary Award Winning, Women in Jazz Media team, working alongside folks to create
gender and diversity equality within the music/jazz industry.
Her further credits include performing at the World Economic Forum to world leaders and celebrities, such as Sir David Attenborough as part of Marin Alsop’s Taki Concordia Orchestra. She has also accompanied the likes of Laura Mvula, Charlotte Church, Kate Nash and Liane Carroll as part of the Wilderness (Festival) Orchestra.
‘Fresh on the scene, trumpeter Charlotte Keeffe is a whirlwind of extended techniques and tactile puzzles, removing the mouthpiece to
elicit a windy howl, using her left hand as a mute in the bell of the horn and revelling in restless possibilities.’
– Daniel Spicer, JAZZWISE MAGAZINE
Live Session 3 – Reflections on Jeanne Lee with RENU – Sat 26th March, 8pm
with special guest dub poet Lillian Allen
RENU journey’s with Jeanne Lee who is described as one of the greatest jazz singers in the avant-garde tradition. In 2018 RENU was commissioned by Ausland Berlin to engage in a musical dialogue with Lee’s ground-breaking ‘Conspiracy’ album. Alongside playing music from the commission RENU aligns her own journey as an artist to Lee’s emphasis on ‘culture and tradition being key to human spirit and sustenance’ and Lee’s distinction between music as ‘pop entertainment’ and music as ‘creative agency for social change’. RENU’s reflections remind us that the patriarchal structures that have suppressed the role of women in the evolution of jazz and blues are no less significant today.
RENU shares her own quest for artistic freedom interweaving the principles of ‘Satchidananda’ into her music emphasising the spiritual over the material.
Jeanne Lee was born in Brooklyn, New York on 29 January 1939. She was a jazz singer, poet and composer who changed the face of American music. She also studied child psychology and dance and movement were interwoven into her multidisciplinary approach.
Best known for a wide range of vocal styles, Lee collaborated with numerous distinguished composers and jazz legends such as Cecil Taylor, Sun Ra, Gunther Schuller and Archie Shepp. Lee also wrote lyrics for jazz compositions by composer Carla Bley and pianist Ran Blake who she met at Bard College and collaborated with throughout her life. She was a passionate advocate for jazz education, and dedicated her life to teaching young people about this important genre of music.
Lee was an innovator who broke down barriers in the jazz world and helped to create a new sound that fused jazz with poetry, experimental and classical music. Her early work showed this distinctive fusion of styles when she sang on composer Ran Blake’s album The Newest Sound Around (1961) at a time when Abbey Lincoln was her main influence. In 1964, she released Conspiracy, which included innovative recordings of original songs written by herself alongside some pop covers including “Oh! Darling” from The Beatles White Album (1968).
In the late 1960s she fell in love with the vibraphonist Gunther Hampel whom she later married and collaborated on some 25 albums. For John Cage’s Apartment House 1776 composed for the US bicentennial in 1976 Jeanne Lee represented the African-American spiritual tradition.
Lee’s work with Gunther Schuller on the jazz-classical fusion album Crystal Silence (1972) is considered some of her most important work. The album was nominated for a Grammy Award and it helped to establish Lee as one of the leading jazz vocalists of her generation. In later years, she continued to record and tour extensively both in the United States and Europe.
Jeanne Lee passed away from cancer in the year 2000. She left behind an impressive legacy as a jazz singer, poet and composer who was truly one of the world’s greatest musical treasures!
RENU (Renu Hossain) is a queer London born, Bengali heritage, Berlin and London based artist. She is a composer, producer, percussionist (tabla, cajon, latin) and curator.
Originally a percussionist for – Grace Jones etc. Learning from percussion Masters in India, Brazil and Cuba, composing for theatre, film & dance. One EP and 5 albums later, she has now landed in an electronic realm. They Dance in the Dark was released 30th of SEP 2017 to critical acclaim.
Her album has been lionised by The Quietus, Art Forum Magazine (Top 10 album of the year), BBC Radio 6 & BBC Late Junction.For 20 years RENU has been studying percussion with Masters from India, Cuba, Spain & Brasil. RENU is a tabla disciple of Sri Chiranjit Mukherjee (senior disciple of Kumar Bose) following the classic way of learning – ‘Guru shisha parampara’ which translates to ‘Master student journey’.
She completed and curated a 3 day sold out music festival at Studio Я at Gorki Theatre, Berlin in 2019. 2022/3 brings in a plethora of new work – a syncretic pairing of percussion, electronica & experimental.
Links to performances via Instagram:
Live Session 4 – Reflections on Esperanza Spalding with Roella Oloro
Sat 9th April, 8pm
Roella Oloro shares a ‘real time’ insight as a current dual degree student of Harvard Professor Esperanza Spalding; a multi-instrumentalist recognised as one of the most significant jazz practitioners of today. One of Spalding’s most recent compositional conquests includes the opera Iphigenia – a collaboration between herself and Wayne Shorter. Playing music and drawing from Esperanza’s Formwellas from her album Songwrights Apothecary Lab – Roella draws attention to the role of black improvisational music and dance in the evolution of jazz. She also draws on her learning with Esperanza at Harvard and at the Berklee Institute of Jazz and Gender Justice where the focus is to highlight the intersectionality of race and gender in the fight for equity.
Roella invites us to feel the ‘real possibilities of freedom’ reflecting on her development as a jazz musician in a space where marginalised voices can feel empowered to speak.
Esperanza Emily Spalding is an innovative jazz bassist, singer, songwriter, and composer. She was born in Portland, Oregon on October 18th 1984. Esperanza began playing the violin at the age of four before switching to jazz bass at the age of twelve. A consummate multi-instrumental she also plays clarinet and saxophone.
She has become one of the most well-known and respected young jazz musicians in the world. In 2010, Esperanza became the first jazz artist to ever win a Grammy Award for Best New Artist.
Her musical style mixes jazz, pop, soul and funk elements together to create a unique sound that is different from any other jazz musician today. In 2006, she released her debut album, Junjo. She was nominated for four Grammy Awards including Best New Artist (and won two of them) – one being Record of the Year, after which Spalding’s third album, Chamber Music Society, re-entered the Billboard 200 at No. 34 and became the best-selling contemporary jazz album of the year.
Spalding was appointed a Professor of the Practice of Music at Harvard University in 2017 while still maintaining her creative practice. An open minded and skilled experimental creator, Spalding has collaborated with a vast range of jazz luminaries like Wayne Shorter, pop and rock icons like Janelle Monae and Tony Visconti, as well as classical music ensembles. She is without doubt one of the most significant jazz artists of her generation – a musician who has already begun to redefine jazz for a new era.
Roella Oloro is a British-born composer and multi-instrumentalist of Nigerian and Jamaican descent. Her grew up playing gospel music in the Pentecostal Church in south west England. This taught her to play by ear alongside formal training in classical piano, jazz clarinet and alto saxophone. She became inspired by jazz in her early teens after hearing the virtuosic brilliance of Oscar Peterson.
She first moved to London in 2017 to study at Trinity Laban and quickly got involved with London’s vibrant scene, performing at venues such as Ronnie’s Scotts and Pizza Express.
As a composer she has written for a variety of different ensembles, one of her first pieces for big band ,”Cruisin'” was played at the Royal Albert Hall.
In Summer 2018, she was offered a full scholarship to study at Berklee College of Music after attending the school’s 5- Week Performance Programme. After a rigorous fundraising campaign that raised £23,000 in 4 months, Roella was able to start studying at Berklee in September 2019. Whilst at Berklee she has received tutelage from exceptional professors such as NEA Jazz Master Terri Lyne-Carrington, Joanne Brackeen and Grammy nominated saxophonist Tia Fuller. Roella has received one to one lessons with, Melissa Aldana, Helen Sung, Camille Thurman, Rafael Zaldivar and many others. One of her most notable Berklee opportunities was performing with the Jazz and Gender Justice Institute on WGBH’s “Basic Black in Fall 2019.”
Youtube Link: original tune Banghadlia
Over the course of the pandemic, she was a BBC Young Musician 2020 Semi-finalist, a Jazz South UK grant recipient, appeared on Decca Records’, “Alone Together” Jazz piano album, on British TV as part of “Jazz 625, the British Jazz Explosion” and released her first single entitled “Sacrificial Lamb.”