In November 2013, Ari Hest performed at the Highline Ballroom in New York, with Chrissi Poland opening. The two singer-songwriters, who knew each other from previous shows, did a few songs together, including an alternative holiday song they had written together about escaping to a place “where there’ll never be snow again.”
They added some lilting Brazilian jazz flavor to the song, called “Snow,” in order to “create something a little different than either one of us do in our solo music,” says Poland. “It went over really well. It kind of was the best song of the night, for both of us. We decided we were onto something special, so just kept going with it.”
Under the name Bluebirds of Paradise, Hest and Poland have released a six-song EP, In a Night (which includes “Snow”), and are also doing some shows. They presented a very enjoyable set at the Rockland-Bergen Music Festival in Tappan, N.Y., in late June, and are on the bill of the Black Potatoe Music Festival in Clinton this weekend. The festival, which began last night and continues through Sunday, will feature them on Saturday — in full band mode, with Will Lee on bass, Gary Schreiner on piano and Doug Yowell on drums — and Poland will also perform a solo set there tonight. (Hest, meanwhile, has free, outdoor shows of his own tonight in Belmar and Aug. 12 in Woodbridge.)
Poland, a Massachusetts native who now lives in Jersey City, says she first met Hest on a tour. “Within the first week of us knowing each other, we were playing music together and speaking about each other’s sets, and we just noticed we had a great vibe singing together,” she says.
Lee, best known as a member of the “Late Show with David Letterman” band and a co-founder of the Beatles cover band The Fab Faux, produced the EP.
“I’ve been lucky enough to know Will, and have had the chance to work with him for the past handful of years, and I’ve always, of course, respected him hugely and wanted to work with him as much as possible,” says Poland. “So when we started talking about making the record, I suggested that maybe this is something that Will would be interested in. I invited him to one of our shows … and he was on board right away, which was so exciting for us. And it just went from there.”
She says it’s hard to say, at this point, how much touring and recording she and Hest will do as Bluebirds of Paradise in the future.
“Ultimately, we’d love to have a label put it out. We’d like to have a booking agent who could open up doors for us in European markets, maybe, and markets in Japan. We feel this would go over really well there. We always have our eyes and ears open for that, and are hoping those opportunities come our way.
“But it’s so new right now. We’re just still trying to put the feelers out for how people are responding to it. It’s very nice to get noticed and get some attention for it, and we hope that it will keep expanding, and that radio stations will give it some spins. We’ll see where it takes us.”
She and Hest are not, she says, trying to become experts in Brazilian jazz. It’s not that kind of a project.
“We’re really more just fans of it. I come from a jazz background, a little bit. I went to a jazz school, so I had a bit of study, and I’ve always had an interest in it. And Ari has an incredible ability to grasp onto guitar rhythms.
“But we don’t really go off and listen to Brazilian music in order to pull from it, to put into our project. We just sort of use what’s already in our brains, and in our hearts, and let it be that kind of thing. We’re always careful to say that we’re inspired by the style, but not really trying to make it a Brazilian music project. It’s very much a pop project, with a sprinkling of this flavor on it.”