An Interview with Sara Gazarek
By Casey Pukl
Jazz vocalist, Sara Gazarek, is in a word, stunning. Her delivery is about as heartfelt as it can get, and her voice is that of a best friend who can sing her tail off. Every word she sings feels honest, and she instantly wraps you up in her journey.
As it turns out, this is exactly Gazarek’s goal. Her first two records proved that not only was she a gifted vocalist deeply steeped in the jazz tradition, but that she could keep it contemporary. Her latest record, Blossom & Bee, showcases what Gazarek has been up to since 2007. Read on to find out what inspired her latest record, what she loves most about lyric writing, and just what she’s most looking forward to about returning to Anthology!
CP: Tell me a little bit about your latest record, Blossom & Bee!
SG: Sure! My last record came out in 2007, which was a while ago. So, a number of people have asked why it’s been so long since they heard from me, and it was really important to me to not just run right back into the studio, but to take the time to cultivate the vision and confidence in the sound that we wanted to create with this record.
It was important to us to make a record that captured the joy and the humor and the excitement of our live performances, so that’s really the inspiration behind the album. We grabbed some of the tunes from our live set that we had been creating over the last five years that really moved our audiences. A lot of the arrangements have been created and cultivated over the years, and they’ve really grown into what you hear on the album.
When we were looking at the list of five or six tunes that we knew absolutely had to be on the record, a couple of them had one common theme to them. They had been brought to us inadvertently by Blossom Dearie. I’m a big fan of hers, as most jazz musicians who know of her are. There’s just this beautiful simplicity to her music. She’s super funny and confident, and there’s always this unwavering musicality that’s simmering at the bottom of every tune she does. So I’ve always loved her music, and we know that a lot of the tunes we decided to do were discovered by her music. I wouldn’t go as far as to say that this is a tribute record because it really was intended to capture what we like to give audiences in our live performances, which we hadn’t done yet. But we also would be kidding ourselves if we didn’t acknowledge that the music was inspired by her legacy as well.
CP: You’ve always performed a mix of standards and your own original material over the years. Are you now leaning more towards writing your own stuff?
SG: You know, on the first couple of records, there were a few tunes that Josh had written. The first record he had two original compositions and I had one that I had written with my bass player. Then on the second studio album, Josh had three tunes, and I had one where I had helped with the lyrics. But over the years, as I’ve become more confident in my musicality and preferences and stuff, I’ve definitely discovered a real love of lyric writing.
There are two tunes that made the cut on this latest record. There’s one that I wrote with the producer, Larry Goldings, which turned out to be the title track, “Blossom & Bee”, and then the other tune Josh and I wrote together called, “Fly Away Birdie”.
CP: Have you always written your own music, or has that developed later in your musical evolution?
SG: I think it was more about finding the confidence and my own voice, and that took a while for me to find. I’ve always loved writing, but I didn’t always have the strength to put my own opinions, thoughts, and feelings down on paper. In the grand scheme of the 12 years we’ve been making music together, I’ve come to it recently. It feels like I’ve been doing it for a while longer just because I love doing it so much.
CP: Do you play any instruments?
SG: I would never subject my audience to me playing any of the instruments I kind of play [laughs]. I kind of play piano, but it’s not something I would ever do in front of anyone who didn’t love me already.
CP: [Laughs] I get that. You’ve got functional piano skills to get around and do what you have to!
SG: Exactly. When I teach, I can play piano to accompany my students and myself, but I would never do it at a show.
CP: What do you have planned for this show coming up on Thursday?
SG: We’re definitely going to be featuring music from the new CD for sure. I definitely feel like it’s our strongest music to date. I feel really passionate about it, and of course audiences respond to what an artist feels really passionately about. I would say that for the most part it’s really emotionally driven. There’s a real purpose behind each of the songs and a deep desire to share it with the audience and to bring them on board the journey we’ve decided to share with them.
We also have a lot of tunes in our book that have just become standards in our repertoire. We have some strong material from the first and second album, definitely some from the new record, but old stuff as well.
CP: What are you most looking forward to about returning to Anthology?
SG: I just remember being so taken with the venue and the beauty of the house itself. I remember walking out onto the stage at sound check and thinking that it was the most beautiful club I’d ever been to. Playing in such a house was so inspiring. I also recall that the crowd in San Diego was really hip. Talking to the people after the show, I remember them really being on board with what we had presented them, and they really picked up on the subtle nuances. They picked up on things that a lot of people don’t normally catch. It was just a really great crowd, and I appreciated that the audience was hip enough to catch on and dig.
CP: Totally— I feel like San Diego is home to a lot of music geeks [laughs]. I couldn’t really be more excited about that.
SG: [Laughs] Totally! I’m from Seattle and I live in LA, and I really feel like San Diego is a mix of those two places. It’s a forward thinking city with down to earth, chill, educated people. It’s the best of both worlds. I’m excited to return.
Special thanks to Sara for her time! Be sure to come on down and let her take you on a musical journey this Thursday night!