An Interview With Jazz Singer-Songwriter, SARA GAZAREK on Touring Japan, Her Favorite Performances and More!
Posted On 16 Sep 2015
Tag: After You've Gone, Alan Hampton, All Access, All Access Music Group, Artist Interview, Blackbird, Blossom & Bee, Bobby McFerrin, Bonnie Rait, Bye Bye Blackbird, Cheek to Cheek, Cleo Laine, Diana Krall, Disney Hall, Ella Fitzgerald, Frank Sinatra, Fred Hersch, Harry Nilsson, I Can't Make You Love Me, Irene Kral, Jazz, Josh Nelson, Keith Jarrett, Kurt Elling, LA Times, Lady Gaga, Laura Mvula, Michael Buble, New West Guitar Group, Paul Simon, Sara Gazarek, Sarah Vaughn, Spring Can Really Hang You Up The Most, Tierney Sutton, Tony Bennet, University of Southern California
Championed by some of music’s most celebrated figures, Sara Gazarek has emerged as a strikingly original artist with limitless potential. With three highly acclaimed CD’s under her belt at the young age of 30, Sara has been hailed by the LA Times as “the next important jazz singer”. She continues to seamlessly combine the intimacy of singer-songwriter stylings with the musical and improvisational elements of jazz.
Blessed with a gorgeous, translucent voice, excellent pitch, and supple sense of time, Gazarek is steeped in the jazz tradition, but is not afraid to embrace the music that moves her generation. Her newest album, “Blossom & Bee” was released to rave reviews. When she isn’t working on new material or touring the globe, Sara is also on the faculty at the University of Southern California, leading the award-winning vocal jazz ensemble there and teaching privately.
To learn more about this incredibly talented artist, check out the following interview:
Thank you so much for your time today! What do you have on tap the rest of the day besides this interview?
I’m here in Denver with a soundcheck and performance a little later tonight. I’ll be here in the hotel for the next few hours taking care of some business, but hoping to take a break for a walk around town and maybe singing through a few songs on my ukulele.
I absolutely loved your performance at the Disney Hall a few weekends ago! Your version of “I Can’t Make You Love Me” was stunning! So, what did you think of the overall show? With your large catalog of music, how did you select what songs to perform that night?
Thank you! We had a wonderful time as well — a stunning venue with a great crowd, benefiting one of our favorite jazz radio stations in the country. We were honored to be a part of the evening! It was fun to choose which songs we thought would work well for that venue and performance. We selected some crowd favorites (our medley of Blackbird/Bye Bye Blackbird) and loved debuting some new ones (“I Can’t Make You Love Me”). It’s important in a short set like that one to create a mood but be sure we’re all on a journey together. We had a lot of fun, but there were also few places where it felt like we all were able to exhale together.
What was it like performing in Japan? How does jazz music in general go over there? I have heard from other jazz musicians that they do better overseas then here in the US. Is that your impression as well? What has been some of your favorite shows to perform at? What do you think makes an ideal venue for a jazz performance?
Performing in Japan is always a very special experience. We’ve been there 13 times in the last ten years, and our fans are most often incredibly kind and enthusiastic. We’re grateful to have a continuously supportive fan base there — speaking with folks after the shows, sharing stories, looking at photos, it’s all part of a very special experience, and varies widely from country to country. Our favorite shows are usually the ones where the energy between the performers and the audience is interchangeable and electric. That can happen in a large Performing Arts Center, and a smaller jazz club. It just depends on where we’re all willing to let the music take us.
Growing up, did you always want to be a performer? Were you always around jazz music in particular? What do you think it was that first drew you to jazz music?
I’ve always loved the arts and grew up studying dance, theater, music, painting, etc, but didn’t know what I wanted to do with that passion until much later. I initially thought theater and musical theater might be a good fit, but I was never really excited by the characters, blocking, and repetition. Jazz wasn’t big in our house growing up (although I remember my mother listening to Cleo Laine and Tony Bennett on the weekends), so when I fell into it in high school, I fell in love pretty fast and hard. I remember being really taken by the improvisatory nature of the music, how fun and complex it seemed to be, and of course the sincerity. I hadn’t encountered another artistic genre that allowed and encouraged the artist to be so very much themselves. I’ve always loved that about jazz.
What musicians have consistently inspired you? Who would you love to work in the future? Besides jazz musicians, what other artists are impressing you these days?
I continue to be utterly inspired by the greats — Ella Fitzgerald, Frank Sinatra, Sarah Vaughan, Irene Kral… But there of course are contemporary musicians who I’d love to work with and am inspired by as well! Kurt Elling, Fred Hersch, Diana Krall, Keith Jarrett, Bobby McFerrin, just to name a few. And outside of the jazz genre, these days I’m really digging Harry Nilsson, Laura Mvula, Paul Simon, and Alan Hampton.
You’ve performed in a duo, a four piece and a large 18+ band setting, do you have a preference? What are the challenges and benefits of doing each?
The energy in a big band or orchestra is totally palpable and thrilling, but I have to say the flexibility and vulnerability of performing in a duo is really very special. Especially with the long term relationship and trust that I’m so grateful to have cultivated with my long time collaborator, Josh Nelson. We breathe together, can anticipate where the other wants to go, there are nuances in my voice and his that get lost in a larger group. It’s a really magical experience!
From album to album, how do you think your sound is changing? Are you continuously attempting new things with your music?
Absolutely. Growth is unavoidable, so I hope my sound has become a little less careful, more refined and honest. As I continue to push myself to develop more vocabulary and more comfort in my instrument, it’s only natural that it might creep into the sound. I hope it does! But the work is never ending, and I only anticipate the music will continue to change as we do.
Josh and I have been making music together for 11 years, so the connection we feel is incredibly special to us. We’ve toured the world, arranged, written original music, and ultimately grew up together musically. We wanted to document the relationship with repertoire that meant a lot to us, either new music for this collaboration, or reworking some of our old favorites. We finished recording a few months ago, and can’t wait to share the project with the world!
Do you find that more younger people are listening to jazz music today? I have to think it’s because of younger artists like you are performing it. Right? Where do you see jazz music going in the future?
I think with high profile artists like Tony Bennett/Lady Gaga, Michael Buble and Diana Krall, jazz is absolutely being brought to a younger audience. My hope is that people hear Lady Gaga singing “Cheek to Cheek” and search for other versions or artists, and might stumble upon Ella Fitzgerald or Tierney Sutton. Exposure is never a bad thing, especially if it sparks a curiosity and leads more people to this beautiful art form.
I love standards and songs that I can connect to personally. It’s always more fun if there’s a story that I can breathe into the experience. At the moment, I love singing “Spring Can Really Hang You Up the Most” and “After You’ve Gone”. But every day brings a new favorite song!
How do you balance being a busy performing artist and a professor at University of Southern California?
I value both equally — it’s thrilling to have the opportunity to spend time with young artists just beginning to hone their craft. We problem solve together, and sometimes I feel like I might be learning more than they are! But it’s a special experience, and is important to me to carve time out to be with my students. It can be tough when touring picks up, but it’s all part of the same puzzle.
Where can fans see you perform next?
I’m excited to be performing a few shows this month with the New West Guitar Group. We’ll be up and down the West Coast. More dates and tours can be found on my site: www.saragazarek.com/tour