Dames of Jazz, Janis Siegel and Lauren Kinhan, recognized the need to create a place where vocalists could gather, perform, and celebrate the diversity of the singing arts. They started a curated monthly live salon called Vocal Mania in 2018, which became both a vibrant event for NYC music connoisseurs to attend and a coveted spot for singers to be featured.
Today, in our Covid-19 reality, sitting home and sitting still is not an option.. In partnership with Laurie Green, longtime road manager for The Manhattan Transfer, these forward-thinking women began to reimagine connection, collaboration, and community for stay-at-home musicians all over the world. Thus, Vocal Gumbo was born. Janis and Lauren, passionate home cooks as well as producers, pivoted to this new platform using their ‘go get it’ spirit and willingness to learn in broad daylight. The first show aired on May 9th and they have launched six fully-produced episodes since.
As they learned how to merge live streaming to include live performances, interviews, and pre-recorded videos, they have created a world class rich stew. The format presents artists from all over the world, including a show-stealing segment featuring young, up and coming artists. A typical episode includes one video each from Janis and Lauren and at least 1-2 collaborations with major artists and specially-selected guest performers. The sum of these parts is an exciting night of music and international communion. Featured artists have included Tierney Sutton, Kate McGarry, Jonatha Brooke, Boca di Banda, Sara Gazarek, Kenny Washington, Michael Mayo, Kaichiro Kitamura, Mika Shinno, Ann Hampton Callaway, Rajaton, and Nils Landgren, to name a few. These artists represent Spain, Brazil, Japan, Finland, Sweden, Singapore, and the U.S, truly creating a rich gumbo of music and soul on a worldwide scale when we all need it the most.
The Vocal Gumbo Happy Hour talk show is an offshoot of the music program, born out of what Janis and Lauren perceived as a need to create dialog between fellow musicians and leaders in the community during this flashpoint in time, particularly as Black Lives Matter took to the streets. The drive to make music is primal for most artists, but so, too, is the desire to share, connect, and learn, particularly as livelihoods for musicians crumble and disappear. Guests for this talk format have included Dianne Reeves, Dee Dee Bridgewater, Kurt Elling, Patti Austin, Ben Sidran, Mark Ruffin, Lea DeLaria, Christian McBride,and more. Important topics include BLM, the election and voting, Covid-19 and wearing a mask, depression, book releases, what the future might look like for touring musicians, college students grappling with returning to school and, of course, cooking!
In a remarkably short period of time Vocal Gumbo has provided a coveted opportunity for singers and instrumentalists to perform and share their talents, especially during the collaborative segment, which involves a vocal arrangement written and performed by Janis and Lauren merged with submitted performances from their guest artists and a video produced by the in-house creative team. These extraordinary pieces are one-of-a-kind and tailored to each artist, providing a thrilling time capsule for the world we live in and adding to the value Vocal Gumbo brings to the arts and our lives.
After each episode closes, the musicians and specially-invited guests are paid an honorarium and Vocal Gumbo donates 10% of the gross to selected organizations, including Meals on Wheels, Planned Parenthood, Jazz House for Kids, and more.
In the future, Vocal Gumbo endeavors to include an educational division offering both group and one-on-one master classes. And another division will allow for people to commission J+L to write and perform a vocal arrangement for their project or event.
The values and forces driving Vocal Gumbo include persistence, creativity, authenticity, activism, and diversity. Lauren, Janis, and Laurie expect the highest level of excellence from both themselves and their guests, which results in a unique and engrossing offering to audiences.
Vocal Gumbo is actively looking for sponsors and grants to help underwrite the music editing and mixing, the video production, the tailored, one of a kind vocal arrangements, and the pre production efforts that go into researching and exploring the world for artists to be featured. All sponsorships and grants will be put to good use in carrying through these ideals with care, creativity and passion.