It’s common on a vacation — especially one that takes place in a locale exotic and new to the traveler — to want to take home a souvenir.
Lee Carroll and Connie Milligan wanted to do more than that during their travels. The couple wanted to bring home a living slice of the cultures they experienced.
“Connie and I have been lucky enough to travel and go places that many of my friends probably will never have a chance to visit,” said Carroll, a veteran Lexington musician who plays with numerous regional bands, including the Northside Shieks, C the Beat and the Ethos Jazz Quintet. “We’ve been to Africa and we’ve been to Cuba. We’ve been to a number of places in Europe. On those travels, we’ve met some very interesting people and had some really deep and wonderful experiences. Part of this project is to share some of that experience with the folks here at home.”
With that, the two set up the Green Room Exchange, a program that sponsors Lexington visits by various musicians, writers, and artists from other cultures. But it does so not as an exclusive enterprise. As a non-profit organization set up locally under LexArts, Green Room Exchange seeks to collaborate with other local organizations by expanding performance options and reducing travel and production costs.
This weekend’s Green Room offering is Cuban born vocalist Xiomara Laugart and her New York based pianist and son Axel Tosca Laugart. The musicians’ Lexington stay will include public performances presented in conjunction with downtown festivities for the Festival Latino de Lexington, Friday, night and the sophomore season-opener of the Origins Jazz Series, Saturday.
“We’re thrilled with the prospect of collaborating because Origins is getting a musician they wouldn’t normally have had contact with and getting the majority of their expenses covered,” Milligan said “It’s a win-win for both of us. Another thought is we can enhance other non profits that are doing similar things by sharing resources.”
Carroll added, “We reached out to FLACA (Foundation for Latin American and Latin Culture and Arts, which organizes Festival Latino) and said, ‘We’re going to have these folks here.’ Once again, we were able to offset the expense that FLACA would have to pay to have a band of this caliber because we’re going to be having them in town already. So that was another win-win situation.”
The Saturday performances also reach out to a third local arts group, the Lexington Chamber Orchestra. The shows at Tee Dee’s will be divided between Cuban songs accented by a string sextet and a jazz quartet under the direction of longtime Carroll pal Jonathan Ragonese from New York and a selection of more jazz-dominate tunes.
“Jonathan is how we communicated with Xiomara Laugart, because I knew he had worked with her. When we started putting this idea together, I called him and said, ‘Can you get Axel and Xiomara to come to Lexington? He said, ‘I don’t think that will be any problem.’ He had just been working with them and wrote a series of pieces with strings and a jazz quartet. So that started the ball rolling to where I thought, ‘Well, why can’t we do that here?’ That would be something really special, not just to have them come down and play salsa and jazz quartet stuff, but also incorporate members of the classical music community here in Lexington.
“Then we looked with great joy at what Origins has done. I mean, they had a tremendous first year. Look at the work they’ve done in this community. It took effort, but they had a vision and they’ve been able to collaborate with folks that can get behind them and support them to where they’ve been able to pull off really remarkable things. So when we thought we had a real shot at doing this, I reached out to the folks at Origins and said, ‘I think it would be ideal for us to collaborate.’
“That’s exactly what we envisioned,” Milligan said. “This is really about enhancing the community. We want to partner with as many other community groups as possible. There is a stunning level of diversity in Lexington, so our goal is to highlight all of it.”
IF YOU GO
Axel and Xiomara Laugart
Friday: 8 p.m., Robert F. Stephens Courthouse Plaza, 120 N Limestone, for the Festival Latino de Lexington and Green Room Exchange. Free. lexingtonky.gov/festival-latino-de-lexington.
Saturday: 7 and 9:15 p.m., Tee Dee’s Bluegrass Progressive Club, 266 E 2nd St. for the Origins Jazz Series and Green Room Exchange. $17.50 (each show), $30 (evening pass). originsjazz.org.