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Spotlights

Lara Downes' Piano Expeditions

by Seth Colter Walls

Lara Downes' Piano Expeditions

About this playlist

San Francisco-born pianist Lara Downes, who is of Caribbean and Russian heritage, often describes herself as having led "a gypsy-like existence" (given her European touring and studies early in life). But she also has a clear affinity for Americana, too -- most recently put to use on her new album, A Billie Holiday Songbook. Click play on our attached mix, and you'll start with a classical piano arrangement of Lady Day's original tune "God Bless the Child."

From there, we move on to other American composers championed by Downes, including Lukas Foss ("For Lenny: Variation on New York, New York"), William Grant Still ("Africa: II. Land of Romance"), Charles Ives (the "Alcotts" section from the Second Piano Sonata) and Aaron Copland (the four-movement Four Piano Blues). In between those American classical works, you'll also hear additional arrangements of tunes that Holiday helped make famous, like "Willow Weep for Me" and "Strange Fruit." And we've even included Downes' performances of some bluesy, American-feeling pieces by composers like Kurt Weill and Darius Milhaud, too. Enjoy!

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