As Americans look forward to firing up their barbecues this Saturday for Fourth of July, multi-lingual vocalist Lua Hadar and her cosmopolitan jazz ensemble Twist get ready to hit the stage for another kind of Independence Day. On July 11, 8 p.m., they’ll celebrate Bastille Day with Hadar’s encore performance of C’est Magnifique! at the Hotel Rex Union Square’s Society Cabaret. She’s also bringing special guest Dave Sturdevant, the ensemble’s twist on Toots Thielemans, to work his magic on harmonica and guitar.
Hadar first previewed C'est Magnifique! at Paris’s Swan Bar for a packed crowd before unveiling the internationally flavored show to American audiences on November 2013, right here at Society Cabaret. The French Music Hall show featuring songs by Cole Porter (“C’est Magnifique” comes from the 1953 musical Can-Can) and a host of French artists became so popular that it’s now a Society Cabaret tradition.
Expect to hear Hadar and her ensemble including bassist Dan Feiszli, pianist/musical director Jason Martineau, and drummer Kelly Park also do justice to French songs by Edith Piaf, Charles Trenet, Maxime LeForestier, and Serge Gainsbourg — all with that warm, personal touch unique to this artist.
Each time Hadar presents her show, it’s from the heart and unique, with a changing mix of guest artists. But then, it’s Lua Hadar and Twist, entertaining audiences all over in many different languages and many different styles since 2007. The ensemble received a nomination for the Independent Music Awards a few years ago for the 2013 live DVD release, Like A Bridge, which only captures a smidge of their spirit, energy, and love.
Earlier today, Lua Hadar got downright existential with AXS while getting jazzed about her upcoming Bastille Day celebration.
AXS: While everyone’s putting on a Fourth of July show, you’re doing a Bastille Day encore this year, what a twist! What are you most excited about?
Lua Hadar: I am excited whenever I get to perform with my band, because they are so talented, skilled, and supportive that I can focus on giving the audience a good time and singing my heart out. I’m extra excited this year to present our special guest, Dave Sturdevant, who will play both guitar and harmonica. I’m hoping to get a sound reminiscent of Belgian jazz harmonica virtuoso, Toots Thielemans. I think it is going to be a blast!
AXS: What draws you to world music, and what do you think you can uniquely bring to this genre with your cosmopolitan jazz ensemble?
LH: I’ve always been curious to learn about other cultures and study languages. It’s been a lifelong fascination. And while I revel in humanity’s wonderful differences, I have also come to realize that no matter what the language, the songs all talk about the human experience, which is common to us all. Unlike most world music ensembles, Twist does not focus on one particular variety of world music. We are sort of like a compilation CD, except that all those languages and grooves are done by Twist. No matter what the language and whether it is samba or swing, we are one world, one humanity. If I can bring out this one truth, then I will have done my job.
AXS: What can the audience expect from the July 11th Bastille Day encore — exciting music and lots of colorful stories, I imagine?
LH: We really like a party atmosphere for this show, so there will be a lot of swing, a lot of upbeat music, with some Piaf-style torch songs in the mix. I always like to lead the audience to the song, and especially if it is in another language, I like to prepare them for what they will hear, not by giving a translation, but by saying a few words or telling a little story. One year, I introduced Cole Porter’s “Give Him the Ooh-la-la” with the story of how, as a young adventurer in Europe, I let a French Marine talk me into getting off the train with him before my destination…
AXS: You previewed C’est Magnifique! in Paris at the Swan Bar before unveiling it in San Francisco on November 2013. What inspired this new show of yours that you’re bringing back?
LH: I love being part of a tradition. Each time we’ve performed C’est Magnifique! we’ve brought on a different sideman, a guest instrumentalist who brings a different color to the material. This of course affects the choice of songs we do, so as to best highlight our guest performer. This way, the show is unique each time, and audiences can make it a tradition for themselves, as well, like people come to see The Nutcracker every year. In Paris, I previewed the show with just piano and bass; then in San Francisco, we performed it first with accordion, then the next year with jazz violin. This year, our guest sideman plays harmonica and guitar; that change makes it fun for everybody.
AXS: Obviously the audiences loved it at Society Cabaret, because C’est Magnifique! is now a tradition there. How does it make you feel to have your ideas, music, and performance so embraced by an American audience?
LH: Well, wonderful, of course! The best times of my life are when I am performing with my band in front of an audience that “gets” me. Then I feel complete.
AXS: Do you often feel as if you originally came from another time and place, perhaps someone multi-cultural living near the banks of the Seine? What is your view on reincarnation and your place in this world?
LH: I really do think I was French in another life. French was the first language I studied in junior high school and I’ve always been drawn to French culture. The Middle Ages and The Renaissance are periods of history that are also fascinating to me. I like to think I was a troubadour or one of a band of traveling actors, going with a wagon from town square to town square, performing. These folks did not have a very easy life, and I’m totally romanticizing this, but it has been in my mind since I studied Theatre History in college.
AXS: How do you use music to convey to others in an audience setting who you are, what you believe, and what you love?
LH: What a beautiful question. This starts with the choice of material, and especially the lyrics. No matter what language they are in, if I don’t believe the lyrics, if they don’t touch me, if I can’t sing them from my heart, I don’t perform the song. I believe in the innate goodness of humanity, and I believe — in a broad sense — that anything that humanity has created can be changed. We need to remember that the fighting for power and territory that plagues our world has been created by humans, and can be changed by humans. The world was not created with countries and borders; humans created borders. We are all citizens of the world and we are all cousins. Humanity has forgotten this truth, but scientists in several fields can now tell us this is so. I have the chance to sing about this truth and to bring joy; to make audience members feel as one with each other, at least for that time sitting in the theater or club. This is what I love.