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Gypsy Soul: Home for the holidays, performs for WinterSpring

Gypsy Soul — singers and songwriters Cilette Swann and Roman Morykit — performs in large-capacity venues around U.S., and yet the duo takes time to play its music to raise thousands of dollars for regional and national nonprofits each year.

Based in Jacksonville since 2000, the duo’s lent its talents to benefits for WinterSpring, a grief and suicide-loss center; local nutrition, housing and senior programs at ACCESS; grassroots peace and social justice movement Code Pink; and Peace House, a nonprofit that promotes nonviolent conflict resolution.

“Roman and I have experienced personal grief through the loss of our parents,” Swann says during a telephone interview. “We understand the need for support for others who are grieving. The holidays are not always fluffy for everyone, so we strive to create an annual event that is welcoming, loving and a fun environment for audience members.”

Gypsy Soul’s 18th annual holiday benefit for WinterSpring is at 7:30 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 22, at the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship Hall, 87 Fourth St., Ashland. Tickets are $25 and can be purchased at gypsysoul.com or at Music Coop, 268 E. Main St. Call 541-482-3115 to reach the music store.

Gypsy Soul donates 30 percent of each ticket sold, along with proceeds from a raffle and the sales of refreshments, to WinterSpring.

Called “A Gift Within the Song,” the concert features innovative arrangements of traditional holiday songs performed in Gypsy Soul’s eclectic and acoustic rock and blues style. The “gift” is the arrangements within the arrangements that unveil snippets of other popular songs within the holiday tunes.

“We’ll do ‘Joy to the World,’ ‘Amazing Grace,’ ‘The Little Drummer Boy,’ ‘The First Noel,’ and others at the show,” Morykit says. “All of the songs will include surprises.”

The duo’s music is a blend of styles, some folk, some jazz, a lot of blues influences, mixed with Swann’s versatile vocals.

“Our sound has many colors and nuances,” Morykit says. “We don’t stick to one genre in the same way that a painter doesn’t stick to only primary colors.”

Swann is able to change her evocative vocals to serve many different styles of music, while multi-instrumentalist Morykit plays guitar, fretless bass, Dobro and piano. He’s also the duo’s producer.

The two met in Edinburgh, Scotland, where the Canadian-born Swann was living. Morykit was living in London, working as a session musician and recording with an emerging band called Raising Cain for A&M Records. When the record fell through because of a change in the label’s ownership, Morykit joined his brother in Scotland, who wanted him to hear a new singer he’d been working with.

That singer turned out to be Swann, and the two got on rather well. They stayed in Edinburgh for a while, honing their craft together as a new band and writing songs for what would become their debut album, “Test of Time.” Meanwhile, the duo played shows here and there around Europe.

After a serendipitous meeting with the wife of an entertainment attorney in Scotland, they decided to immigrate to the U.S., landing on the West Coast. With the help of their new friends, the duo’s music was featured in television shows “90210,” “Roswell,” “Felicity,” “Providence” and the daytime soap opera “One Life to Live,” among others, along with a couple of feature films: “Quicksand,” with Michael Keaton and Michael Caine, in 2003, and “After Sex”, with Mila Kunis and Mark Blucas, in 2007.

“Our song, ‘Talk to Me,’ was used in a pivotal scene that had no dialogue, but told the story with the lyric of the tune,” Morykit says. “I think they used about 2 1/2 minutes of it.”

Gypsy Soul came into its own in Los Angeles, and Swann and Morykit began to tour.

“But L.A. got old after a while,” Swann says. “There’s not a big middle class there. You’re either a struggling artist or a millionaire moviemaker.”

“Cilette’s mother was living in Ashland,” says Morykit. “On a Christmas visit, we realized we could buy a home here for what we paid in rent in L.A.”

Gypsy Soul is on its way back to Jacksonville after five months on the road.

“We’ve been at home 17 days during the last five months,” Swann says. “It’s been a blast, but it’s time.”

On this last leg of its tour, Gypsy Soul played the Mile Hi Center in Denver, Colorado, in front of about 2,000 people. The concert was streamed live globally.

“It was a full production,” Swann says. “We had to rehearse with a full band and learn where and when to stand at our cues. But I think it’s the smaller shows that are more challenging because the spaces are so intimate.

“We are fortunate in our choices at the beginning of our career,” she says. “Our motivation was not stardom but a connection with people who appreciate our music. It’s served us well. We have longtime fans and friends who continue to support us on our tours. Many of them have become friends, produce events for us, hire us for their corporate parties, and let us stay with them when we’re on the road. It makes for a rich and enjoyable experience touring together.”

Gypsy Soul plans a new album of original material to be released in 2020, and the duo will be recording some of its Christmas music, adding additional tunes, for release in the fall of 2019.

Cilette Swann and Roman Morykit bring together rich, evocative folk, jazz and blues sounds as Gypsy Soul. DeGabriele Photography