Music is the greatest expression of freedom and that theme carried through in every capacity of the evening. Free the Slaves organizer Sarah Gardner started the show with a brief introduction about how the organization changes the lives of people still living in slavery in this modern-day in age.
The charm and wit of the lovely Esperanza Spalding carried the remainder of the night. She explained to the guests that she was brought up on the notion that using art and talent is the best way influence humanity for the greater good. Her voice rang with a soft chaos and moved across her bass with the grace of a ballroom dancer. Comrade and internationally recognized jazz singer Gretchen Parlato was introduced to the stage and brought another level of dimension and emotion to the performance.
The first surprise for the evening came with the introduction of the legendary Paul Simon. Esperanza did her best to respect Paul’s wishes and not to overdo the introduction, but that was quite impossible. Her introduction was a little early as Paul wasn’t quite ready to appear on stage. She joked about how now would be an appropriate time to Tweet and text your friends about not coming to the show and missing a chance to see Paul Simon! When Paul walked on stage he got right down to business and plucked out the first few chords of Sound of Silence. A truly religious experience for anyone in the room that night and a perfect instrumental duet between her bass and his guitar.
Bobby McFerrin was next up on stage and joined Paul and Esperanza for an impromptu performance of Scarborough Fair, Freedom Jazz Dance and Peace. Bobby continued to perform with Esperanza and the rest of the Chamber Music Society band. Bobby’s demeanor and presence on stage was perfectly in tandem with Esperanza and it was apparent that his seniority didn’t get in the way of working with the new girl on the block.
The second surprise of the evening was a very coy anecdote from Esperanza about her attempts to get auction items for the evening. She referenced a “very special” person who she nervously approached and graciously asked for practically anything, even a dirty sock! The morning of the show in the midst of sound checks and meetings a small box was delivered to her. The contents included a yellow, dirty sock. It was later confirmed that the one and only Prince would be sending a guitar to auction. And because he’s Prince, he took a private Jet to New York City and sat in our VIP section and enjoyed a portion of the performance. Esperanza very graciously nodded to him and she introduced the guitar.
The night was incredibly successful for the Free the Slaves organization raising somewhere in the neighborhood of $45,000 for the cause. A true night for freedom and memorable musical performance by some incredibly generous names in music.
Special thank you to photographer Adriana Mateo to which these photos are credited.