Saturday, October 28, 2017

Cookin' @ the O -- My Visit with Pippi Ardennia

Pippi Ardennia.
The say Ella Fitzgerald was the undisputed queen of jazz singing. An NPR story* described Fitzgerald in these terms: "Her youthful exuberance, pure sound and positive energy just make you feel good. Her incredible technical abilities were self-evident, but when she sang, she radiated a joy consistent with her own character both on and off the bandstand."

I'd like to suggest that having witnessed Pippi Ardennia's performances on three occasions, I'd be hard-pressed to find a better description of my experience than this one: "Her youthful exuberance, pure sound and positive energy just make you feel good. Her incredible technical abilities were self-evident, but when she sang, she radiated a joy consistent with her own character both on and off the bandstand." I'm dead serious when I say this, and if you don't believe me it's only because you haven't seen her perform.

Pippi Ardennia has been the centerpiece in a series of Northland performances at the Oldenburg House featuring a jazz/blues music in a dinner theater atmosphere. It's called Cooking at the O, and the next weekend of shows will be November 10 & 11. Earlier this fall I caught up with Pippi on a Saturday afternoon and gathered more insights about her life and career. Here are some of the notes from that exchange.

"I knew I was going to be a singer since I was five. My grandmother Lovella knew I was going to sing, and told my Mom while I was in my crib, 'If you don't have her sing for the Lord she is going to sing for the world.' I always feel like I'm singing for the Lord just singing. Like flowers, their beauty just is.... God's gift."

Pippi grew up in Woodlawn on the South Side of Chicago and began singing in nightclubs when she was 13. "My mother was really a big supporter. I was the oldest of 12 kids.... It was during the time when integration was happening, but people had a lot of pride living in their communities.

Pippi with fan, Billy Peterson on bass.
"I lived in Chicago till 2005 when I came to the Twin Cities. Moved to Eden Prairie, driven by a need to do the music. I just needed to be away from Chicago's rat race and focus on the music I was feeling inside of me," Pippi said. Her sister had a house, but had relocated to Atlanta. Pippi has family here in Minnesota, four brothers, one sister, her daughter and her dad, so she really wasn't far from a sense of home.

It was through Glenn Swanson that she came to perform in Carlton. "I got connected with Glenn after I spent several years in Eden Prairie writing music and creating the concept of PipJazz. I decided to stay here in the Twin Cities and chose St. Paul because I'm a city person.

I got involved with this family homeless shelter there, the Family Place and started a program called the Family Circle of Possibilities. While working with the families and children at the shelter I wanted to expose the children to Art. That's when I found a place with amazing art called Lift Kids. I went in and met Glenn."

During her first 3-4 months of talking with Glenn she noticed a piano and drums and asked what these were doing here. He said he plays drums. Pippi, who had a gig lined up at the library, asked Glenn to join her.

A St. Paul Cover Girl.
There was a jazz festival and he said he had the cats, meaning the Petersons. (Three generations of multi-faceted musicians.) "I introduced a friend of mine to Glenn and he said we should go into the studio and record. Glenn produced it, and we made amazing music on this CD. It was an incredible time... 2011. Before the opening of Pip Jazz Glenn's father had passed away. Glenn was so excited to share with his dad what they were doing, and this happened." Two weeks later Pippi's mom passed. "Then we opened at the Landmark in St. Paul. It was a tough time but we plowed through."

"That year was the time Glenn had the idea to make this place (Oldenburg House) into a bed and breakfast. The band all came up and knew that was something that was supposed to be... because of the magic on these grounds and the love in this house, in this little town of Carlton.... something that should be shared."

"I’ve realized if you choose not to be your true self there will be a least a thousand people who won't be inspired to become their true selves. We inspire each other to be our best selves by living our dreams!” Music is my breath and sharing songs is my love gift to the world!”

* * * *

Learn more about the Oldenburg House here.
Purchase Tickets for Cookin' at the O in the Carlton Room.

* Jazz Profiles: Ella Fitzgerald 

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