Much of what's new with the New Orleans saxophone player/singer/keyboard player is taking place on the inside instead of on the stages.

aurora nealand photo by greg miles for my spilt milk
Aurora Nealand, by Greg Miles

[Updated We’ll see only part of what Aurora Nealand can do during Jazz Fest. Her trad jazz talents earned her five slots during the two weekends, including Calvin Johnson's Native Son--stories of Sidney Bechet featuring Nealand and Brian "Breeze" Cayolle. That takes place Friday at 2:10 p.m. in the NOLA 300 Cultural Exchange Pavilion and again at 4:20 in the Economy Hall Tent. She'll also perform as Aurora Nealand and her Royal Roses Saturday at 3:05 in the Economy Hall Tent, then again at 4:30 on the Lagniappe Stage with the New Orleans Klezmer Allstars. On Sunday, she'll perform with the Panorama Jazz Band at 12:20 p.m. on the Jazz and Heritage Stage

To hear Nealand play her version of electronic music, you’ll have to go to Siberia Sunday to see her with the Monocle Ensemble, and she’ll play improvised and semi-composed music Tuesday at Three Keys in the Ace Hotel with Redrawblak Trio with Shannon Stewart, Wednesday at the Silky Satin Lounge with the James Singleton Quartet, and again Sunday, May 6 with the Redrawblak Trio at the Sidebar.

Obviously, she’s got a lot of different things going on, and when we asked about them, we found she has a lot on her mind.

What’s new for you right now?

I've been thinking about our changing relationship to technology: our emotional connection and co-dependence on technology, our changing physical body (and changing body language due to technology), and the shifting sense of public and private spaces. I've been thinking about Mathematics of Emotion. A lot of my recent compositions, writings and readings have been an exploration of this shift, and questioning dynamics of power, connection and vulnerability. 

On the other end of the spectrum, I've been experiencing a solid two years of intense heartbreak, loss, and in many ways, what feels like repeated failure. I've been hitting a lot of walls, only to find that some have been constructed by my own hands, some by others, and some exist just by virtue of how the world’s systems have been constructed. What's new, I suppose, is that I've become occasionally calmer in sitting and not struggling as much, in these places of pain. In some cases, I've learned, some of these walls can also be structures of shelter, if you let them. 

These lessons bring a desire for more intentional art, longer form creations, and a period of incubation/hibernation so that true new growth and transformation can occur. I think often about running away to live in a small cabin by the ocean, tend to a garden, read books, play Chopin, listen to records and host dance parties with a few neighbors at night.... maybe raise a goat... or a child... or at the least,.. make my own pickles. 

In the meantime, (while I wait for that magic grant, to appear and fund a long term incubation period for me, my goat and pickles), I've been enjoying some new projects. Saxodrone has been lovely: a collective of eight to 10 saxophonists who converge in various spaces to drone on one to four notes for a full hour.

I'm excited to be working in collaboration with Goat In the Road Theatre Company to create a staged piece of my original music at the CAC in the 2019 season. 

And this fall, I'll be working with Found Sound Nation to lead a one-month collaborative residency called One Beat : 25 musicians from 15 different countries come together for five weeks to create music, share and explore. It's pretty powerful and the closest thing I've seen to really effective cultural diplomacy.   

Your projects seem very different from each other from the audience’s side of the bandstand. What do you see as the unifying factor from your side of the stage?

Aside from the projects all co-existing in a similar space and time, I don't necessarily see a unifying factor... or rather, there is no intention to unify them. The projects are different intentionally so that they can be of service to different aspects of creation and expression. For me, no one band or project can be the all-in-one vehicle for every aspect of an artist’s interests. We have different projects so that we can better serve the music and the art in a genuine and sincere way. The aspects that I suppose unify them are that they are each an attempt at conveying something honest, genuine, and ideally they each provide a platform for risk-taking, growth and genuine connection.    

aurora nealand photo by greg miles for my spilt milkAurora Nealand, by Greg Miles

How important is theatricality to you?

Hmm. I don't know. Theatricality is not necessarily at the forefront of my mind. I guess one could say that intentionally striving to create an atmosphere where the music/art can best be heard or experienced is important to me. Serving the music and what it's trying to say is important to me. More and more often, I find myself growing weary of playing in loud bars or clubs, because I feel it can do a disservice to whatever the music is trying to say. 

By nature, I see "theatre" as merely a forum and intersecting point for sound, movement, language, space and intentionality to interact. And ideally we are able to sculpt, create and foster a space where the music can be communicated in it's most honest medium and form. So, in that sense, I suppose thinking about theatricality and presentation, creating the best space for an art piece to speak, is something that is important to me.   

Updated April 28, 7:15 a.m.

The original story was a Jazz Fest gig short. It omitted her gig with the Panorama Brass Band Sunday. The text has been updated to include it.