Few words are more synonymous with Palm Springs than “summer” and “jazz”—so when “summer” and “jazz” come together in Palm Springs, it’s worth taking notice.
The Palm Springs Cultural Center’s new Summer Concert Series will feature two performances by Leanna and The Jazz Collective, on Friday, July 16 and Aug. 20.
Leanna Rodgers said the shows came to fruition after Cultural Center management reached out and said they wanted to add more music performances to the schedule.
“I was referred by a friend, and I’m really excited and honored that they called me, and that they trusted my friend’s word on it,” Rodgers said. “I think that goes to show that if you just keep plugging away at what you’re doing, things unfold in really amazing ways. So I gave the center our two booking packages—we have a duo, and we have a four-piece, five-piece, six-piece or seven-piece band.”
The group performing at the Cultural Center will be a six-piece, with Rodgers on vocals, Miguel Gomez on congas, Mark Massey on piano, Sam Montooth on bass, Ishmael Hunter on drums and Aaron Merc on saxophone.
“We didn’t even have a title for the event or anything, so I just thought we should call it the Summer Concert Series, and they were totally for it,” Rodgers said. “They’ve been so gracious with allowing me to bring in my own ideas to the event.”
While Rodgers’ shows have become fairly ubiquitous ever since the state began allowing live performances again, she said she had to reinvent herself artistically during the shutdowns.
“I was doing these large macramé tapestries, because we couldn’t do any music,” Rodgers said. “It was just another way of supporting our family, although it wasn’t even close to comparing financially. Miguel, my husband and conga player, was helping me, and that’s what we were doing. I was just looking for another creative outlet, and it took off. A lot of our friends, followers and fans ordered pieces, and then I started to get into the retail industry, and I sold a bunch of pieces to an interior designer in Northern California. They do staging for high-end homes, and my pieces were in their store.”
“I’ve put that on the backburner, because we’re working so much now with music that it doesn’t make sense to divide my energy and my time. After doing it for a year, it started to feel like work instead of art, and every single piece I was doing was custom-made, so it was taking a lot of energy. It was great, because it really saved us—but the music is full-time now.”
Given Rodgers’ busy events schedule, plus hours of practice and planning, I asked her if she ever felt like music was becoming more of a job.
“I don’t feel that way about music,” Rodgers said. “It’s always challenging and always changing, depending on the venue, the fans and the people who show up. It’s always keeping me on my toes in a good way, and it doesn’t become mundane. I never do the same set twice. I always change it up, so you never know what’s going to come each evening that we’re out. Some venues are more jazz- and bossa nova-centric, and then some crowds like dance music, so it just depends on the venue. That’s how it stays fresh and doesn’t feel like work.”
Having performances be completely different each night is as impressive as it is challenging. Yet on top of everything, Rodgers is a mother of three. How in the world does she do it all?
“I find time in pockets of our day,” Rodgers said. “Sometimes I’ll just change the setlist while we’re driving to the venue. Some days are busier than others, but I just found a good routine where I don’t stress about it. It can become stressful—like before a big show that I’m producing, like our Drag Pop production (at V Wine Lounge every first Thursday), and also this one, which we’re sort of co-producing with the Cultural Center—but I like to let the universe or God or whatever flow through the experience, so it never becomes too stressful.
“I’m very anal retentive when it comes to our shows, so I want to make sure everything is organized, from the back of the house all the way to the front. If I have too many hats on, that’s when it can become too much, but generally, when we’re doing our regular residencies during the week, I pretty much have that dialed in. I have all of our songs—all of our various genres from the 1930s on up to the 2000s—kind of organized, so I can go in and switch or move a song and bring something else in. There’s the old, old adage that if you find something you love to do, it doesn’t feel like work, and that’s kind of where I’m at in our career, which is amazing.”
While Rodgers has been busy, she’s still being COVID-conscious.
“I erred on the side of caution for quite a while when the restrictions were lifted and as the tiers changed color,” said Rodgers. “I didn’t give people hugs; I would keep my distance, and when we were onstage, people would keep their distance as well. I didn’t even really post any photos, because I know that, in the beginning, people were so sensitive. … We followed all the protocols and wore our masks until we got onstage and kept our distance from the audience.
“Miguel and I were both ready to return, and the shutdown really gave us an opportunity to hone in on certain things that we really didn’t have time to do before, like working on new songs, researching different genres and finding songs that fit my vocal range. There have been some songs that I didn’t think would work with my voice, and I have found a way to make them work.”
Rodgers said she’s excited to be playing with the members of The Jazz Collective, as a whole, for the first time.
“I’m playing with my cats from L.A., whom I’ve known for 30 years,” she said. “… This is just a dream come true for me to put this show together and to just have the artistic license to be able to create something so magical, and really bring straight-ahead jazz to Palm Springs in a new, fun way. I resonate with all the people who used to play here—Peggy Lee, Ella Fitzgerald, Billie Holiday, Sarah Vaughan, Nina Simone—so for me, this is really just bringing back that Palm Springs style when it comes to music, and I think that’s why the ticket sales are going so well.
“The goal for this show is to really take people on a journey from the 1930s to the 1970s. It’s going to be a multi-decade jazz experience with phenomenal musicians. It’s the first time that we’re all going to be playing together. I’ve played individually with all the cats at various times, but to put all of these professional musicians together is going to be something that the audience is going to take in and really experience.”
The Summer Concert Series with Leanna and The Jazz Collective takes place at 7 p.m., Friday, July 16 and Aug. 20, at the Palm Springs Cultural Center, 2300 E. Baristo Road, in Palm Springs. Tickets are $12 to $25. For tickets or more information, visit psculturalcenter.org. For more on Leanna Rodgers, visit leannalive.com.