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While most girls were interested in playing with dolls at the tender age of eight, Sharel
Cassity (pronounced sha-REL) was begging for a saxophone. Thankfully, she
an old Conn alto for Christmas the following year, and as the saying goes, the rest is
history, because clearly she is developing into one of the most vibrant jazz
to come along in quite sometime.
As a child, Cassity traveled extensively and eventually settled in the Oklahoma City area for the majority of her adolescent years. It was in that city's diversity--it's Jazz history, Native American culture (a part of her lineage), nature and environment--that formed indelible influences on the young musician. Her parents also inspired the music within, as she recalls her father playing jazz and classical repertoire on his Hammond B3 organ, piano, or trumpet; and her mother filling the house with the sounds of Aretha Franklin, Stevie Wonder, Tina Turner, Michael Jackson and other pop artists.
Torn between jazz and classical music in high school, her decision was solidified when a friend gave her a mix tape of Count Basie's Freckle Face, Miles' E.S.P, and Cannonball Adderley's--At the Lighthouse--and as Cassity states, I knew I had to play this music. After attending the University of Central Oklahoma's Jazz program on full scholarship, she performed in the small but musically rich Oklahoma jazz scene before relocating to New York City in 1999.
After living two years in New York, Cassity earned a Scholarship to the New School of Jazz and Contemporary Music to complete her BA. It was there that she she studied with saxophonist Vincent Herring, Steve Wilson and Jimmy Greene as well as receiving inspiration from fellow classmates and alumni such as brothers Marcus & E.J Strickland, and Robert Glasper, who were all in attendance at the New School around the same time period.
In 2005 Cassity was awarded a full scholarship to the Juilliard Institute for Jazz Studies and completed her MA under the direction of Victor Goines. It was there that she formed strong relationships with fellow classmates (Michael Dease, Tom Barber, and Alum Adam Birnbaum) who also appeared on her first solo album, Just for You (DW Records, 2008).
Dedicated to playing jazz with the highest level of creativity and execution possible, Cassity articulates her mission statement: My art is an improvised form of music that is steeped in the tradition of blues, swing, bebop and post bop; I am interested in using that history to help reflect the sound of my generation and the time we are living. I hope that I can be a positive example and make a lasting contribution to this great art form.
These contributions continue to materialize in a growing number of rewarding experiences: the DIVA Jazz Orchestra, Jimmy Heath's Big Band, Roy Hargrove Big Band, Dizzy Gillespie All Star Sextet and All Star Big Band; small group group work with Harry Whitaker, Ingrid Jensen, Mark Whitfield, and Michael Dease; recordings which include Jason Hainsworth Jazz Orchestra, Kaleidoscope (DW Records), Adam Birnbaum, Travels (Smalls, 2008), Fat Cat Big Band, Angels Praying for Freedom (Smalls, 2009) and Snow Road, by Tom Barber's Janus Block (DCleff Records, 2009).
Cassity's sophomore release, Relentless (Jazz Legacy Productions), is a testament to her abilities as a performer, writer, and leader, featuring rising jazz luminaries--Jeremy Pelt (trumpet), Michael Dease (trombone), Orrin Evans (piano), Dwayne Burno (bass), and E.J. Strickland (drums). It is a shining example of her poise, song-bird lyricism, and purpose.