A Word with Thana Alexa, Who Turned a Lost Tour Into 'Live From Our Living Rooms'

Apr 1, 2020

Thana Alexa had it all mapped out. 

Her new album, ONA, was set to launch her solo career to new heights. She was featured — with her husband, drummer Antonio Sánchez — on the cover of DownBeat magazine. Then the coronavirus put her nationwide tour on hold, along with countless other gigs around the world.

But out of that chaos came another opportunity: co-producing Live From Our Living Rooms, the world’s first fully livestreamed jazz festival.

Alexa, a vocalist and composer, obviously has the instincts of an improviser. When the disruptions began, she banded together with her fellow singer Sirintip, saxophonist Owen Broder, and cellist Elad Kabilio of MusicTalks.

“We were really just thinking of how to share creatively and raise money,” she says. “When Sirintip and Owen Broder and I started this whole idea, we had no idea that it was going to blow up into this actual thing.”

Live From Our Living Rooms runs through April 7. It kicks off today at 11:30am EST, with Becca Stevens performing a children’s program. Then come performances by Dave Liebman (3 p.m.), Julian Lage and Margaret Glaspy (7 p.m.), and Christian McBride and Melissa Walker (8 p.m.). Other confirmed artists include pianist Chick Corea, guitarist Bill Frisell, and saxophonist Joe Lovano. You’ll find listings for the shows in the Livestream Hub from WBGO.

Its primary goal, as an nonprofit organization, is to provide emergency relief grants to help freelance musicians get by during the COVID-19 crisis. They’ve already raised $9,000; all proceeds donated will go directly to the fund. Musicians seeking to apply can go here.

After we delve into the details of the festival, the second, longer portion of this program explores Alexa’s explosive new project ONA. It’s a release that embraces the #metoo movement, but it really marks Alexa’s rise as a powerful singer and composer.

The album pays homage to the fierce women who have guided her journey: her mother, a Croatian investment banker and philanthropist; and her grandmother, who Alexa says is “98 years old and is the most inspirational, unbelievable woman that I have ever met.” ONA features a sturdy core band of Matt Brewer (bass), Carmen Staaf (piano), and Antonio Sanchez (drums), along with guests like Becca Stevens (voice, ukulele), Stacey Ann Chinn (voice), and Regina Carter (violin), as well as a Balkan choir.

As part of the Live From Our Living Room Series, Thana Alexa and Antonio Sanchez will perform a duo on Tuesday, April 7 at 7 p.m. EST.

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