OTTO Pizza’s Lady Zen Has What It Takes — And More

Lady Zen delivers some spoken word truth at the OTTO Pizza Christmas party in December 2011, which took place at the OTTO Pizza on Munjoy Hill.

The folks who work at OTTO Pizza are an eclectic bunch, no doubt, but it’s not often that one of our own gets a cover story in a well-read local mag.

Lady Zen, a jazz singer and poet who also happens to work at OTTO Pizza‘s Munjoy Hill shop at 225 Congress St., in Portland, Maine, got a helluva write-up this month in The Bollard, a monthly magazine in Portland that’s become a must-read for anyone who wants to keep up with the lowdown on what’s going on culturally in this town.

Not only did The Bollard’s publisher, Chris Busby, who wrote the piece himself, manage to convey a compelling account of her life story, he also delivered a convincing argument as to why her shows are quickly becoming can’t-miss events wherever she plays.

From The Bollard piece:

The most powerful voice in Portland belongs to a 40-year-old Brazilian Buddhist from the Bible Belt who makes her living slinging pizza. Her name is Alzenira Santos Amaral Quezada. You may know her as Lady Zen.

Lady Zen’s music mirrors her life: both have been all over the map. On the heels of a heartbreaking year, Lady Zen is poised to make her strongest music yet in 2012. She’s learning how to meld her influences into a sound that’s uniquely her own.

You’ve never heard anyone like Lady Zen around here. And you ain’t heard nothin’ yet.

Lady Zen, who works the OTTO Pizza kitchen on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, and also takes a turn hosting on Friday nights, has a couple of gigs coming up that promise to showcase different aspects of her amazing talent and engaging persona.

The first is set for Feb. 14, (Valentine’s Day, ya know) at The Big Easy, where she’ll recreate Erykah Badu‘s phenomenal record, “Baduizm,” in its entirety — for the first set. In the second set, she and her band will present a complement of her original tunes, which she said she’s reworking specifically for this performance.

“We’re rearranging the songs to reflect the feel of Erykah Badu’s album, so the show will flow,” Lady Zen said. “This isn’t going to be some sit-down jazz thing, it’s going to be a get-up-and-shake-your-booty kind of thing.”

The second gig on the horizon represents something else entirely — exactly what, however, remains to be seen: Lady Zen will be participating in the Space Gallery’s 48-hour Music Festival, with a show set for Saturday, Feb. 18.

What, you make ask, is the 48-hour Music Festival? Let’s let the folks from the Space Gallery answer that one. From the Space Gallery’s webpage:

Thirty adventurous artists from different Portland bands of all genres agree to step out of their comfort zones and be randomly shuffled into 6 supergroups, announced on Thursday afternoon. No members of these newly formed bands are allowed to have previous musical history with one another. From there, each band has exactly 48 hours to construct and practice a 25 minute set of material, culminating in the Saturday performance.

So, mark the dates down in your datebooks, folks, and try to hit at least one or both, if at possible.

And if you find yourself on Munjoy Hill sometime, stop in at OTTO Pizza, grab a slice and a refreshing beverage, and introduce yourself to Lady Zen — and maybe you’ll be able to say you knew her when …

In the meantime, you can check out a couple of tunes from her recent gig at the Big Easy at The Bollard’s website, or you can go straight to the source at her own website.

Yeah, That Was Jonathan Richman Playing at OTTO Pizza the Other Night …

Jonathan Richman entertains the crowd at Portland, Maine's Space Gallery with songs from his latest release, "O Moon."

Ask the folks who live and work in and around Portland, Maine, and they’ll tell you that the city’s burgeoning arts scene plays a large role in what makes Portland such a cool little town. Of course, there are many other reasons, but the astonishing variety of artists, musicians, actors, writers, poets and playwrites who call Portland home, or pass through as they’re doing shows here, produce an aura of creative possibility that has become part of the fabric of life in the greater Portland area.

And OTTO Pizza‘s Arts District Shop at 576 Congress Street is right in the heart of the action — and because of that, every once in a while, something happens that allows us to transcend the rhythm of our day-in, day-out lives, step back and wonder at the beauty of it all.

Which is exactly what happened the recently when Jonathan Richman stopped in before his recent show at the Space Gallery. The show was part of his ongoing tour in support of his new record, “O Moon.”

Turns out that OTTO Pizza co-owner Mike Keon, as well as a couple of the members of the crew at the OTTO Pizza Arts District shop are big Jonathan Richman fans. The Space Gallery’s only a few doors down, so Mike had sent down a couple of pizzas so Jonathan wouldn’t have to take the stage hungry.

To show his thanks, Jonathan decided to stop in with his guitar, unannounced, and play a couple of tunes.

Seth Condon, the manager who was on that night, said he wasn’t exactly sure what was going on when Richman came in and started playing. He didn’t announce himself or say anything, Seth said, he just started playing, strolling through both OTTO and ENZO, the attached wine bar, before heading out the door and back down the street to the Space Gallery to do his show.

“I didn’t recognize any of the tunes he did,” Condon said, “but a couple of the customers knew exactly who he was when he started playing.”

Unfortunately, no one got so much as a photo of Jonathan during his visit to OTTO Pizza but the OTTO contingent that attended the show that night did get a couple of shots of him on stage at the Space Gallery.

And, for what it’s worth, if Jonathan Richman’s playing in your town, don’t miss it. He’s a great songwriter who puts on a fantastic show.