“(Hi, I’m Azaria! I’m here until February 2023 to help Olivia tell this story!)”
“Inspired by Hello From a Stranger” marks my fourth month working with Olivia on her “This is Where You Live – Songs Inspired in Spokane” project. Over those four months, I’ve learned that it doesn’t take much for creative people in Spokane – no matter their method of expression – to connect with one another.
Sometimes, those connections form through conversations about the highs and lows of creating. Sometimes they happen in performance settings, at a concert, theater or art gallery. And sometimes, artists come together over a hot stove, as is the case for Olivia and photographer Adam Schluter. But I’ll get to that in a minute.
During his four years in Mexico, Adam lived without a phone, meeting people and maintaining relationships organically. So when he moved to Coeur d’Alene, he, in his words, hit a wall.
“I was suicidal,” he said. “I was really depressed and I’d just gone through a break up, so I threw everything away and I booked a one-way ticket to Europe.”
In Europe, Adam decided to step out of his introverted comfort zone and speak to strangers in an attempt to “find [his] place in the world and show [himself] that [he] wasn’t as alone as [he] felt.”
Initially, the idea of approaching strangers and asking for a bit of conversation and to take their photo horrified Adam. He wrote a quick script he could open with – “I’m approaching strangers all over the world, but only when I see something beautiful, and in this moment, this is so beautiful. Do you mind if I took your photograph?” – but he quickly found that strangers didn’t respond to it and rejected him more than 95 percent of the time, by his estimate.
“They could feel my fear and when you approach a stranger in the street, anywhere in the world, you have a millisecond to convey to them that ‘I’m not selling you anything. I don’t want anything from you and also that you can trust me’,” he said. “You have a millisecond and that is conveyed without any words. That is an intuitive conveyance that they can trust you.”
So Adam switched tactics and decided to use his vulnerability to his advantage. He realized people read that openness as authenticity and began to trust him, allowing themselves to be vulnerable too.
Fourteen countries and two and a half months later, Adam returned to Coeur d’Alene feeling confident in his ability to be vulnerable with strangers and create meaningful relationships. He started saying hello to the people he encountered and invited them to his home for Monday Night Dinner, which brings me back to connecting over a hot stove.
Olivia attended one of the first Monday Night Dinners and quickly saw that Adam needed a bit of help in the kitchen.
“I don’t have a fucking clue how to cook for anybody and she saw that and was like ‘Sweetheart, I got it’,” he said. “She came in the kitchen and helped me cook and we’re immediately friends right off the bat. She’s come to almost all the dinners ever since.”
To date, Adam has hosted 58 Monday Night Dinners, with attendance for the most recent one approaching 200 people. He has taken his Hello From a Stranger project to 21 countries and made more than 1,000 portraits. Adam has compiled some of those portraits into a book called “The World I See,” the proceeds from which help support the folks Adam photographs.
Adam gave a talk about the project at TEDxSpokane, and also spoke about it at on of Olivia’s Leadership Spokane classes.
“This whole project is me talking to myself, telling myself ‘You need to let people be closer to you’,” he said. “I found how to connect with strangers all over the world all the time. But the people that were closest to me in my life, I would not let them be close to me… Then the absolutely hardest thing I’ve ever done in my life was to come back to Coeur d’Alene and be like, ‘I’m going to let these people actually be close to me. I’m going to actually be close to them.’ All of this was me learning how to do that and it’s still terrifying, but it’s what we have to do.”
Guitarist Garrin Hertel, co-founder of Hot Club of Spokane, calls Adam’s project “compelling and courageous.” Having attended a few of Adam’s Monday Night Dinners, he was happy Olivia brought Hot Club in on the song celebrating his work.
Garrin and saxophonist Robert Folie founded Hot Club of Spokane in 2007 looking to honor guitarist Django Reinhardt, violinist Stéphane Grapelli and the jazz manouche music they popularized as part of their Quintette du Hot Club de France.
Along with the music of Reinhardt and Grapelli, Hot Club of Spokane also celebrates the work of Spokane jazz greats including Bing Crosby, Mildred Bailey and Al Rinker.
“Bing recorded, like, 2,000 songs, I think, so it’s actually pretty tough to avoid a Bing Crosby song,” Garrin said. “People don’t necessarily know that, and that’s part of the fun…Then Mildred is definitely way less famous than Bing, although I think that anyone who’s a regular that comes to our shows more than once or twice, they’re like, ‘Yeah, we get it. Stop telling us about Mildred. You tell us every time.’ I think people are really interested. And then Al Rinker, they just have no idea.”
Rinker, Garrin said, attended North Central High School, and wrote, for one, “Ev’rybody Wants to Be a Cat” for Disney’s “The Aristocats.”
“We’re not tribute artists like in Vegas, but we definitely celebrate their legacy and try to educate the audience and bring them in and localize this and create that connection…,” he said. “Spokane was a jazz city for sure.”
With so much attention spent honoring Reinhardt, Grapelli and those Spokane greats, Hot Club of Spokane doesn’t often get to perform original music, which made the band’s time in the studio that much more fun (albeit hot, according to Garrin. He and Robert would later leave the studio and return with ice cream for everyone).
Olivia and Hot Club of Spokane recorded “Inspired by Hello From a Stranger” at the Palimpsest Group with engineer Norman Robbins. Norman also performs in BaLonely, which released “Thank You, I’m Sorry” in June.
Garrin appreciated that, for the most part, the band was able to record together.
“I’m more concerned about how we perform together,” he said. “ ‘Let’s play well together in the same room, and if the sound quality isn’t perfect, I don’t care about that. What I want people to hear is how we sound together.”
Hot Club of Spokane features Dr. Steve Bauer, Olivia Brownlee, Mikaella Croskrey, Robert Folie, Olivia Tracy, and Garrin Hertel. The band performs from 7 to 9 p.m. every first Saturday of the month in the basement of Lucky You Lounge, 1801 W. Sunset Blvd. Garrin said the band is always open to performing at weddings, concerts and festivals.
Garrin (and many of the rest of the members of Hot Club) also performs with Zonky Jazz Band, which is currently working on a Mildred Bailey tribute album. Another spin-off group includes the Rockabilly Space Force, a 1950’s musical fantasia visiting Earth from Mars’ moon, Deimos, in the 2100’s.