Jazz interview with jazz singer Kathy Sanborn. An interview by email in writing.
JazzBluesNews.Space: – First let’s start with where you grew up, and what got you interested in music?
Kathy Sanborn: – I grew up in Los Angeles, and from an early age, wanted to be a performer. At first, I wanted to be a ballet dancer, and I took years of lessons. Ultimately, though, I turned my attention to music, and sang in school choirs, performed in musicals, and just enveloped myself in the entire creative world. It’s hard to say exactly what moved me to get into music. It was just in my genes, I guess.
JBN.S: – What got you interested in picking up the jazz vocal? What teacher or teachers helped you progress to the level of playing you have today? What made you choose the jazz vocal?
KS: – Actually, I am a composer as well as a jazz singer. I write all the music and lyrics for every song I perform. I am a huge believer in creating music, and not just replicating what has already been done. If you take a look at Miles Davis, for example, he refused to stay the same over time, and continually worked at transforming his sound to keep pace with music evolution.
My instruments are piano and keyboards, and I had good training. At the university level, I became enamored of jazz and its history. As I look back, jazz has always been there in my life. Even my father, an amateur sax player, loved big band music, and played it all the time as I was growing up. My mother was a great music lover and amateur singer, so every album she played exposed me to various types of jazz, from Brazilian to modern instrumental jazz.
JBN.S: – How did your sound evolve over time? What did you do to find and develop your sound?
KS: – Because I create my own music, my style is all my own, and has clearly evolved over time. From my first album, Peaceful Sounds (2008) to my latest, Recollecting You (2017), my style has changed with each and every album. The album I am most proud of is my latest album, because it captures my writing and vocal style in the very best way possible. I have my producer, Keerthy Narayanan, to thank for the beautiful production work on Recollecting You, and musicians Vito Gregoli, Ciro Hurtado, Rocio Marron, Wayne Ricci, Aman Almeida, and Abhinav Khanna sparkled on the album.
JBN.S: – What practice routine or exercise have you developed to maintain and improve your current musical ability especially pertaining to rhythm?
KS: – I use no special practice routine at all. In fact, after I finish an album, I like to take some time to clear my head before attempting to compose new music. I compare the creative process to squeezing all the juice out of an orange; I am pretty exhausted after each album, and need to recharge.
JBN.S: – Which harmonies and harmonic patterns do you prefer now?
KS: – With every new album comes innovation. What worked for Recollecting You may not work for the next album. It’s all about the song, and what it needs to make it sound just right. The song is king. I tend to change my voice to suit the story I am telling with each song, too. It’s not about vocal gymnastics or showing off what I can do with my voice; it’s about presenting a song in the best possible way. And sometimes that means singing quietly, with softness, to deliver the right message.
JBN.S: – What do you love most about your new album 2017:<Recollecting You>, how it was formed and what you are working on today. This year your fans like we can wait for a new album?
KS: – My latest album, Recollecting You, is a thoughtful album that took almost two years to complete. My producer, India-based Keerthy Narayanan, and I worked as a team to create ten musical gems that we are very proud of. I already mentioned the stellar musicians on the album, who made the music shine. The mastering engineer, Bharath BJ, did a remarkable job as well. We couldn’t be more pleased with the results. “Falling,” a single from the album, won for Best Jazz Song in the Clouzine International Music Awards in 2017, and we were thrilled. Recollecting You garnered a lot of national and international radio airplay as well, so we are grateful that the album has caught the attention of listeners around the world.
JBN.S: – Which are the best jazz albums for you this 2017 year?
KS: – I am usually so busy creating jazz music that I don’t often have the time to listen to other musicians as much as I’d like. One new project by a talented colleague of mine, Matthew Shell, is First Light, an excellent album that is fresh and exciting.
JBN.S: – Please any memories from gigs, jams, open acts and studio sessions which you’d like to share with us?
KS: – My latest album, Recollecting You, features musicians from all over the world. The studio sessions resulted in heartfelt and consummate performances from master musicians such as Latin Grammy nominee guitarist Ciro Hurtado, versatile guitar player Vito Gregoli, and esteemed violinist Rocio Marron. Our trumpet player, Wayne Ricci, has appeared on each of my albums. Ricci has been called a “reborn Chet Baker,” which is such a phenomenal compliment. Chet Baker is one of my favorite trumpeters of the past, and of any era, for that matter.
JBN.S: – Many aspiring musicians are always looking for advice when navigating thru the music business. Is there any piece of advice you can offer to aspiring students or even your peers that you believe will help them succeed and stay positive in this business?
KS: – In a word: persistence. Nothing can stop the person who refuses to give up. Even when you go through a period of doubt or confusion, the act of being persistent will keep you moving forward in your career. Never quit. Your success can be just around the corner, and if you give up too soon, you will never know what you could have accomplished.
JBN.S: – Аnd furthermore, can jazz be a business today or someday?
KS: – Jazz is already a business. It is incorporated into the music business, which is ever-changing and evolving. We may not like the direction music is heading – for example, free streaming – but jazz musicians will always create, because the music is in our souls.
JBN.S: – Which collaboration have been the most important experiences for you?
KS: – In 2015, I was fortunate enough to collaborate with Grammy-winning producer, Ricky Kej, for my Lights of Laniakea album. That project combined jazz elements with new age arrangements, resulting in a very interesting and uplifting work. One of the songs from that album, “Fantasy,” ended up winning a 2015 American Songwriting Award. Of course, the collaboration with mega-talented Keerthy Narayanan on Recollecting You has to be my most important and rewarding partnership. He is an amazing musician and producer, and has grown to be a good friend.
JBN.S: – How can we get young people interested in jazz when most of the standard tunes are half a century old?
KS: – Your question contains the answer. Create new music! That is what I do, and instead of regurgitating old standards, we need to keep the jazz genre alive by releasing fresh music for new generations. Write new standards, and stop relying on old music to pave the way for any positive changes in jazz. There is an important place in jazz for the old songs that have touched listeners for decades, but if we wish to reach new and broader markets, we need to move forward – and not exist solely in the past. Miles Davis, if he were here today, would be shocked that jazz music has not moved further ahead by now.
JBN.S: – John Coltrane said that music was his spirit. How do you understand the spirit and the meaning of life?
KS: – I think Coltrane had it right. As jazz musicians, we create from inside the depths of our souls. We create music out of nothing, which is a miraculous skill that I am thankful for each and every day. Each person on the earth is born with a mission and a purpose, I believe, and musicians must not hide their gifts but expose them to the light. The listeners all around the world benefit from our doing so.
JBN.S: – What are your expectations of the future? What brings you fear or anxiety?
KS: – The music industry has been changing rapidly over the past several years, and these changes are causing concerns for me and my peers. Free streaming on Spotify and YouTube plus cheap streaming via Amazon and other platforms are creating pay issues for musicians everywhere. Because no one has to buy albums anymore – they can stream them or download them for free – music sales have dropped and musicians get paid pennies on the dollar if they get paid at all for their work. This is not right. The result soon will be that musicians will not be able to create great music because the return on investment simply will not be there.
JBN.S: – If you could change one thing in the musical world and it would become a reality, what would that be?
KS: – Get rid of the free streaming platforms. Musicians often have to spend at least 20K for an album, from start to finish, and the free streaming sites have destroyed remuneration for artists. If you want to hear excellent music, you should be willing to pay for it.
JBN.S: – What’s the next musical frontier for you?
KS: – My next project will be a very cutting-edge jazz album, with fresh sounds and upbeat tunes. I am very excited to begin recording it. Of course, I will be composing all of the songs, as usual. I am very dedicated to moving jazz ahead into the 21st century by creating original music.
JBN.S: – Are there any similarities between jazz and world music, including folk music?
KS: – Yes, world music often incorporates a lot of jazz elements, and folk music sometimes does, too. You will find jazz in just about every type of music, even pop. Without jazz, music would be a very dull thing, indeed.
JBN.S: – Who do you find yourself listening to these days?
KS: – When I work on a new album, I don’t listen to anyone else because I don’t want to pick up ideas from other artists. So maybe once a year, I will listen to a bunch of jazz artists in a flurry of activity, and then nothing more until the next year.
JBN.S: – Let’s take a trip with a time machine, so where and why would you really wanna go?
KS: – Probably the 1940s and 50s, in New York City, along 52nd street. I wrote the song, “Blues for Breakfast,” about such an era, where all the famous players of those days would perform to happy crowds. Jazz was popular, the players made a living, and life was exciting for musicians.
What a show. Let’s meet on 52nd Street Cats all aglow Waitin’ for downbeat Gimme jazz for supper And some blues for breakfast Jazz for supper Nothin’ but the best © Kathy Sanborn from the song, “Blues for Breakfast”.
JBN.S: – So far, I ask, please your question to me …
KS: – Why do you love jazz, Simon?
JBN.S – SS: – Because jazz is a life that always develops and it imbues different styles of music.
Interview by Simon Sargsyan