The Next Important Jazz Singer

A Brief Interview with Sara Gazarek

In a community teaming with startlingly gifted young singers, Sara Gazarek is a stand out. On her fourth album and debut for the Palmetto label, “Blossom & Bee,” Gazarek and her band have crafted a program of emotionally expansive standards, inspired contemporary fare, and uncommonly memorable originals, prompting the LA Times to predict that “..she may well turn out to be the next important jazz singer.”

BL: What do you have planned for your debut week at Birdland (It was February 10th through 14th, 2015 — ed.)?

SG: We’re so thrilled to be returning to our NYC home at Birdland, and this time for our first 5 night run! Our friends and fans in New York have probably noticed that our music is heavily steeped in the jazz tradition, but we also love great songs which could span the Great American Songbook through to more contemporary standards.

We always enjoy playing through some of our favorite Sara Gazarek Band staples (like our medley of “Blackbird/Bye Bye Blackbird,” Billy Joel’s “And So It Goes,” and “You Are My Sunshine”) but we’re particularly excited to share some brand new arrangements of songs by Duke Ellington, Nick Drake and Laura Mvula. We’re also really looking forward to sharing some new original music as well.

Sara Gazarek performs “Blossom & Bee”

BL: Who are The Sara Gazarek Band?

“There’s a trust and a joy that we all share.”

SG: The band (Josh Nelson, piano; Matt Aronoff, bass; Zach Harmon, drums) and I have been on the road together for a little while, and it’s so exciting to see where the music goes on any given night. There’s a trust and a joy that we all share, we have a great time on and off stage. We also have a lot of dear friends in the NYC area, so you never know who might come through and join us for a tune or two!

BL: What is the concept behind your new album?

SG: Josh and I have been making music together for 10 years and recently went into the studio to record a duo record. The musical growth that we’ve experienced together over that period has been incredibly formative, and has opened up a whole new realm of vulnerability, trust and intuitive flexibility. We’ll be sharing a bit of the music from that project as well, it’s incredibly special and we’re excited at the opportunity to give our NYC friends and fans an exclusive sneak peek into the new music.

BL: You’re based in southern California but you’ve started appearing in New York more regularly over the last couple of years. Have you noticed differences between the west coast & east coast jazz scenes?

SG: I’m not sure how to answer this, and I’m not sure if I’m qualified to! I know I love the music of some of my Los Angeles friends (Josh Nelson, Anthony Wilson, John Clayton, Ambrose Akinmusire), and I love the music of some of my NYC friends (Sachal Vasandani, Gretchen Parlato, Ben Wendel, Cyrille Aimee) but all I really hear is sincerity pulsing through it all. Sure, there are different influences and inspirations to factor in, but you’d find that in any musician anywhere. I think scene and location continue to play less and less a part into music making these days, with information and creative output so readily available to all of us, all over the world. While NYC is putting out progressive stuff, so is LA, New Orleans, Seattle, etc, and what I find I’m drawn to is usually the music that is sincere and honest, apart from locale or reputation.

BL: Your vocal style is hard to encapsulate because it has many facets. You choose a lot of diverse, interesting, even surprising material and seem to inhabit all of it effortlessly. I’m wondering if naming “favorites” would give us some insight. Who are three of your favorite vocalists and how have they influenced or inspired you?

SG: Although my top choices could change on any given day, I’m happy to give it my best shot… At the moment I’m incredibly taken with the vocal artistry of Irene Kral. Her instrument is absolutely stunning, and to me she epitomizes the balance between control and sincere expression. Her duet record with Alan Broadbent (Where Is Love?) is a huge inspiration to me.

Irene Kral & Alan Broadbent: “When I Look in Your Eyes.”

I’ve also always really loved the music of Kurt Elling and recently had a first hand look into his process, which only deepened my respect for him and his instrument and music. Every note feels so intentional and confident, powerful and beautiful. His version of Paul Simon’s American Tune makes me cry every time I hear it.

Kurt Elling sings Paul Simon’s “American Tune.”

Ella Fitzgerald will always been in any top list of mine, she is the queen and will always remain the reason why I fell in love with this music. My junior year of high school I discovered Ella & Basie! and memorized every single song and lick — she was my very first “teacher” and I have her to thank for all of eternity for sharing her palpable joy and love of this art form.

Ella & Basie: “Shiny Stockings.”

BL: And what about three favorite songs?

SG: I’m usually drawn to great lyrics and a story that I can personally breath life into. It’s important to me that I feel a strong connection to the universal truth of a song, and usually my favorites vary from night to night depending on my experiences at the moment. Today my favorite songs are Laura Mvula’s “Make Me Lovely,” Nick Drake’s “River Man” and the great jazz standard “You Don’t Know What Love is.”

Laura Mvula: “Make Me Lovely.”

BL: What do you do when you’re not performing?

SG: I love drawing and watercolor painting (some are displayed on my instagram page!), gardening, and anything cat related. Teaching at USC is also a big passion of mine, and I spend a lot of time when we’re off the road working with my kids there. It’s such a wonderful learning experience for me to get to brainstorm ways to problem solve with them, they’re pure inspiration!

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