By Brent Thompson
The daughter of a minister and musical director, Lizz Wright has been immersed in music since her childhood. In a recording career spanning nearly 20 years, Wright has effectively blended jazz and gospel music into her own unique style. Recently, the vocalist and restaurateur launched a record label, Blues & Greens Records. On Sunday, October 23, Wright will perform in the Jemison Concert Hall of the Alys Stephens Center. Wright spoke with us by phone as she prepared for her upcoming tour.
Southern Stages: Lizz, thanks for your time. Where is your home base these days?
Lizz Wright: Chicago is my home base and I still have a spot in Asheville where I go sit by the creek. I actually have a little cafe [in Chicago] – we serve breakfast all day and we have salads. It’s called Carver 47 – It’s named after Dr. George Washington Carver and it’s got a focus on juices and smoothies and we also have a cafe garden. It’s a nice neighborhood spot.
Southern Stages: Between your singing career, your cafe and your record label, you seem to stay busy.
Wright: I love it! My father had a big garden and my grandfather is an amazing gardener. I come from a family of gardeners. We’ve always had a relationship with the land and I didn’t want to be the first generation that didn’t have that quality. Something about serving people makes me feel connected and inspired. It’s so much easier to sing when I have that in my life. I gave myself permission to have an unusual structure.
Southern Stages: On this upcoming tour that brings you to Birmingham, how long will you be on the road?
Wright: It’s going to keep me out for a while. I’ll be in Europe for three weeks, so I’ll be out until mid-November. It’s the longest run I’ve been able to put together since Covid happened. I’m very excited and singing feels like a long vacation.
Southern Stages: I’ve always heard that European audiences have a tremendous appreciation for American jazz music.
Wright: I think the charm of the American experience is easier to see if you’re not standing in the middle of the chaos. It’s much easier to see how beautiful it is. I find that the world at large is fascinated with the U.S. and how people deal with each other and how much we influence each other. Art seems to be a way for them to look deeply into that.
Southern Stages: With a large catalog of songs, how do you comprise your set lists these days?
Wright: That’s a great question. I’ve started listening to my music again lately and I am yearning to sing some things I haven’t sung in a long time, but also to test songs that I’m about to take into the studio. There are some songs from my twenties that no one’s heard in a while and the words mean something so different to me.
Southern Stages: I like to ask artists how old songs stay fresh to them, but you touched on that by saying the lyrics develop new meaning over time.
Wright: It’s better to sing songs that you need to sing because you’re going to meet them with a lot more appreciation and attention than something that’s programmed or predetermined.
Southern Stages: You mentioned testing songs on the road. If you will, talk about that process.
Wright: I like to bring them to the people first. If they’re alive between us, I can get to the right thing in the studio. It’s important that I don’t get something high-gloss in the studio that doesn’t carry with the people. If it as life on the road, it’ll be fine in the studio. Craig Street – one of my producers – taught me how to work backwards like that and it’s been an effective tool.
Lizz Wright will perform in the Jemison Concert Hall of the Alys Stephens Center on Sunday, October 23. Tickets to the 6 p.m. show are $39 and can be purchased at www.alysstephens.org.