Sara Serpa: A Musical Journey
Vocalist and composer Sara Serpa is one of the most original and innovative musicians to emerge since the turn of the century. She has already made an indelible mark on the modern music scene in the span of a mere four years. Her unique style of vocalese allows her to utilize the full range of her exquisite and clear voice with the agility of an instrumentalist and stand out of the crowd as a sublime interpreter and a bold improviser. Her original pieces, meanwhile, reflect an imaginative approach to composition that matches her spontaneous creativity. Her critically acclaimed debut, Praia (Inner Circle, 2008), showcased her band-leading abilities as she headed a sextet of superlatively talented players, including the inimitable saxophonist Greg Osby.
A native of Lisbon, Portugal, Serpa studied classical piano and voice as a teenager. While in college, pursuing a degree in social work, she was drawn to jazz and augmented her musical education at the school affiliated with Lisbon's Hot Club Jazz. After graduation, she moved to Boston and enrolled first at Boston's Berklee College of Music and then the New England Conservatory, earning a Master's degree in jazz performance in 2008. Almost immediately Afterwards, she moved to New York and fast established herself as one of the freshest and most versatile performers in jazz.
Her adventurous yet disciplined approach to music brought about her career's meteoric rise. Her second album, Camera Obscura (Inner Circle, 2010), a collaborative effort with her mentor and friend, pianist Ran Blake is a haunting and sparse expression of complex musical ideas with often a cinematic flair. An avid bibliophile Serpa drew inspiration from her favorite literary works for her third release as a leader, Mobile (Inner Circle, 2011). The dynamic, sophisticated and memorable record lead to her gracing the cover of the Spring 2012 issue of Jazziz magazine.
Her latest, Aurora (Clean Feed, 2012), is her second session with Blake, a set of live duets recorded in Lisbon.
All About Jazz: Aurora is a sparse and hauntingly beautiful work and your second collaboration with Ran Blake; can you tell us about this live date in Lisbon?
Sara Serpa: Thank you, it makes me happy that you like it and enjoyed listening to it. This was the second time Ran came to Lisbon to perform, and it was a great experience, since we had an amazing hall and piano to record the album. We decided to do it in two sessions; one was the day before the concert, and then the concert itself. The day of the concert was an extremely sad day, as it was the day we heard of Bernardo Sassetti's tragic death. Bernardo was an incredible Portuguese pianist and he wrote the liner notes for our first album, Camera Obscura. We were very emotional on that day.
SS: The mentorship evolved into a great friendship. Ran is one of my best friends, and one of the most generous musicians I have ever met. Also, he is a musician that loves singers. It's always unpredictable to sing with him, and I do enjoy those moments of not knowing what will happen and going with the flow. I feel it's very important to learn with our elders. The way they perceive, listen and learned music is really different and deep. Ran Blake has incredible ears and that's the most important thing he tries to pass on to his studentsteach your ear, learn music by ear, listen above all.
AAJ: On both your studio recording with Blake, Camera Obscura and the live Aurora you cover an elegantly broad variety of standards and originals. How did you choose those particular songs?
SS: The choice of standards has been a bit accidental, but always follows our taste. Either these are songs that Ran loves and suggests we play, songs that I love or songs that we both love.
AAJ: What was the difference for you between the two recordings? How did each setting affect your spontaneous creativity?
SS: The first album was a big adventure for me. I had been singing with Ran in his private studio for a year, and we had built a repertoire, but going into a recording session studio was kind of crystallizing that moment. There wasn't much pressure, it was more like let's see what comes out. We did in two days, rarely did more than a take on each song, and it was recorded with very minimal equipment. Still, it sounds great, due to the work of Pete Rende, who mixed it and really understood the sound we were looking for. Aurora was more planned, as we were preparing a concert as well. We also played along with three movies scenes, and that was completely improvised (Dr. Mabuse is one example of it). We decided also that each one should prepare a solo piece. But having an audience definitely changes the moment, is gives you more adrenaline. I felt like I was sharing our duo bareness with a very big hall, full of people.