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Sidney’s Mary Winspear swings open its doors for jazz singer Madeleine Peyroux

The U.S.-born singer who grew up in France will play two nights Nov. 11-12
American-born jazz singer Madeleine Peyroux will play two nights (Nov. 11-12) at Sidney’s Mary Winspear Centre. (Photo courtesy of Mary Winspear Centre)

Sidney’s Mary Winspear Centre is about to welcome for the first time in its history one of the leading voices of contemporary jazz, Madeleine Peyroux on Nov. 11. In fact, the occasion is so nice, she will do it twice, playing Sidney for a second night on Nov. 12.

Peyroux is not unfamiliar with Greater Victoria, having played the Victoria Jazz Festival at least half a dozen times by her own account. “I got kicked out of a bar there once,” she said. Peyroux for her part though cannot remember which bar and for which reasons. “It was near the theatre and I think what was happening, I was having an intense conversation with somebody in the band and the bouncer just didn’t like me. But I really didn’t like him either, so I might have said something to him. The bouncer was a really, really big, blonde, massive person and I don’t know what it was, but I guess he thought I was trying to argue or something and he just kicked me out.”

Peyroux arrives in Sidney with a global audience earned through her biography. Born in Athens, Ga., Peyroux spent part of her teenage years in Paris, where she eventually found herself performing as a street musician in following the footsteps of Edith Piaf whom Peyroux cited as an influence. This musical training ground on the other side of the Atlantic also places Peyroux on the long list of famous American-born jazz musicians dating back to the First World War who have turned the City of Lights into their home. While she did not have much time to spend in Paris during the recent European leg of her tour, it has become a part of her. “Paris is magical because of the people and the culture, so you just want to be part of it,” she said. “Just being there is huge.”

Peyroux also ranked her recent Paris show among her better concerts in Paris. “I was very proud of it. It was a moving experience, very intimate.” One of the reasons was being able to perform three songs in French, including her interpretation of the poem Liberte, which Paul Eluard had penned and distributed by airplane at great personal risk to himself during the Nazi occupation.

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While that poem has become a collective cultural landmark in France, it also has gained personal significance for Peyroux, who became aware of it after a close family friend had asked her to contribute a song to a documentary detailing the story of her son dealing with Duchenne muscular dystrophy. As luck would have it, she stayed and performed very close to that family, whom she was then able to visit for a few hours.

Peyroux’s interpretation of Eluard poetry speaks to her broad artistic sensibilities. The New Yorker has described her music as a “bewitching blend of Billie Holiday-esque sass and country-and-western spunk” and if Peyroux’s music ranges across genres, so do her choices of covers and collaborators. They include not only the canon of North American jazz and French-speaking Chanson, but also country standards, covers of Bob Dylan and the Beatles songs as well as works of lesser-known but highly influential musicians such as the late Rainer Ptacek.

Over the years, she has worked with former Rolling Stones bassist Bill Wyman, hip-hop artist Meshell Ndegeocello, and the late Cesaria Evora, the Queen of Morna, a melancholic music style that emerged from Cape Verde.

Like so many musicians, Peyroux is catching up on touring following the COVID-19 pandemic. During the European leg of her tour, Peyroux played not only France and Spain, but also the Netherlands, Belgium and the United Kingdom, where she and her bandmates had drinks in the Liverpool pub which John Lennon once cited as the only thing he missed about his old home.

“It is a very old building with a lot of very ornate dark wood and cigar-smoking-type rooms,” she said. “They had a rock-and-roll band playing there. Everybody we met was an absolute dream, jovial and it was not an exclusive feeling at all. It was a very special night.”

Peyroux hopes to deliver exactly that when she plays in Sidney, where she will play her Careless Love album in full, along with a half-a-dozen new songs, which she has not yet recorded. She may also take requests. “I’m just grateful to be playing live. It is such an important, intimate experience. I feel when a bunch of strangers get in a room together and enjoy something that is inspired and inspires them, it makes the world a better place every time.”

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Wolf Depner

About the Author: Wolf Depner

I joined the national team with Black Press Media in 2023 from the Peninsula News Review, where I had reported on Vancouver Island's Saanich Peninsula since 2019.
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