Stepping out of the studio and taking our call, Lizz Wright takes a deep breath. She sounds hard at work — exhausted, but not a bit disheartened.
"It will hopefully be the first in a series of sacred records," Wright says of her new project, the follow-up to 2008's The Orchard. "But we are doing some things that wouldn't come to mind for a sacred record," she makes sure to add.
The sessions include a cover of Eric Clapton's "Presence of the Lord," for example, and a take on Hendrix's "In From the Storm." She laughs, excited by the thought of it. "I've got to use my imagination. I've got to be myself." This approach seems to sum up Wright: always inspired, individual, and growing with an abiding love for telling stories through song.
Wright, 30, is lauded as one of contemporary jazz's most promising voices. She's garnered acclaim at home and stunned audiences overseas.
Her three solo albums have covered more musical terrain than many could hope to in as many decades. She has contributed to compilations paying homage to Ella Fitzgerald and toured celebrating the work of Nina Simone and Billie Holiday.
But Wright only recently accepted music as her calling. "I was put on a path that I didn't chart out," she says. "It wasn't necessarily my choice to have a record deal and jump in."
Thankfully, these things have a way of working themselves out. "I just never felt that something that seems so automatic would be my life work," says Wright. "But this is how I've been blessed to share this time."
As part of the Wachovia Jazz Series, an audience at the Gaillard Auditorium will be lucky enough to experience her gift firsthand.
"The live experience is very important to me. It's about creating sanctuary in the concert hall," Wright says.
Raised in rural Hahira, Ga. (near Valdosta), she was exposed to blues, soul, and gospel music at an early age. She sang with her mother in the church choir where her father ministered. On top of her staggering talent is her heritage. "Now that I study music," "Wright explains, "I realize the richness of where I come from and how many pieces of American history were at my disposal."
"Music is my lifeblood," she continues. "It connects me to my ancestors. It's the only thing I know that dissolves the lines of time. Music can make something current, recalling the spirit of a time or a people. It's one of the greatest things humans have."
Wright, who seemed drained when we first called, now speaks lively in eloquent, poetic bursts. "To me, music is like a river; all-reconciling and reminding us how deeply connected we are."