By Leslie Katz on March 18, 2018 12:01 am

Bay Area jazz and blues vocalist and teacher Kyra Gordon is focusing on two powerful artists who came to fame in the 1960s in her new show, “Loving Janis.”

Contrasting and complementary tunes — folk, rock and jazz — by Janis Ian and Janis Joplin comprise the live show, onstage at Ashkenaz in Berkeley on Friday. 

Describing Ian, perhaps best known for the hits “Society’s Child” and “At Seventeen,” Gordon says, ”All around, she’s what I strive to be… a great storyteller, in total command of the building blocks of a song.”

On the other hand, Joplin, she says, represents, “This freeing feeling, of throwing everything against the wall. … the ability to let go of trying to be somebody else’s idea of you.”


Gordon’s connection to Joplin goes back to her youth, during a spell in Los Angeles; as a teen, she was asked to try out for the part of Joplin for a Paramount Pictures film project called “Piece of My Heart” that never came to fruition. 

In 2017, she sang in a jazzy tribute to Joplin — accompanied by pianist Larry Steelman, bassist Paul Eastburn and drummer Bryan Bowman — at the California Jazz Conservatory in Berkeley. (The first vocalist to graduate from the school, Gordon continues to teach there today.) 

Wanting to expand on that endeavor, which was called “Turtle Blues,” Gordon came up with the idea of a “yin and yang” tribute in which she compared Joplin’s charisma and power with folk-singer-songwriter Ian’s masterful, poetic song craftsmanship. 

On Friday, Gordon’s band includes Steelman and Eastburn, as well as drummer Alan Hall and guitarist Matthew Charles Heulitt.

Rounding out the fun will be a liquid-projection light-show by Kitty Crowe, 70, whose work appeared at the 1966 Trips Festival, a concert at San Francisco’s Longshoremen’s Hall considered by some to be the beginning of the counterculture movement. 

Loving Janis
Where: Ashkenaz, 1317 San Pablo Ave., Berkeley
When: 8 p.m. March 23
Tickets: $17 to $20
Contact: www.ashkenaz.com