Dragana has a last name, of course. But we folks in the States have trouble with a pile of consonants, so she is simply “Dragana,” a unique name for a unique singer. This lovely and talented young lady was born in Belgrade (former Yugoslavia) and her interest in music was realized at the early age of four. When she was eight her family moved to Novi Sad, where she studied music at the University of Art. Dragana graduated and received her Degree in Composition in 1993. She moved to the United States in 1994, arriving with only a single suitcase and broken English. Shortly after arriving, Dragana attended the Musician’s Vocal Institute of Technology in Hollywood and won the “Outstanding Vocalist” award. That original suitcase probably has a few cousins by now, the English is near perfect and Dragana is performing with various well-known jazz musicians in the Los Angeles areaincluding pianists Howlett “Smitty” Smith and Daniel May, who is also a noted music producer and composer. He, in fact, co-produced and plays piano on I Still Feel You, Dragana’s excellent debut recording.
I Still Feel You is a very personal, compelling and beautiful statement of Dragana’s journey from a child to a woman. The overall feeling of this CD is sadness, from Daniel May’s heartbreaking song, “One More Day, One More Night,” about a homeless man waking from his “newspaper bed” to Dragana’s “Endless Tears” (“lonely nights and empty roads are here again.”) Of her eight originals the strongest is probably the title song, “I Still Feel You,” which, somewhat surprisingly, is not about a long lost lover, but about her father, whom Dragana lost at too young an age. It is a poignant and most loving remembrance. Mention should be made of Howlett Smith’s song, “Discover Me”. Although this song is not new (“Smitty” has been singing it for decades), it could have been written for Dragana and perfectly fits the sad theme of her debut CD. As far as I know, this is the only recorded version of Smitty’s exceptional ballad. The sadness of Dragana’s songs is not only the woe of “girl losing boy” but also larger issues, such as autumnal reflections on misunderstandings, and the small shifts that separate people or the unexpected epiphanies that make you aware that you don’t know yourself, much less others or the world around you.
The musicians are stellar and give Dragana wonderful support. As mentioned, Daniel May is on piano, Gary Gibbons is at the drum set and Dan’s brother, Benjamin, is at the upright bass. This trio appears regularly at the Loew’s Santa Monica Beach hotel and thus works as a tight unit, knowing how to stimulate and coax the best music from each other.
Dragana is not just a dilettante who has simply thrown together a few originals because it is expected. She is, in fact, an accomplished writer with an excellent sense of prosody. As singer/trumpeter Anna Callahan has noted, “Dragana’s songwriting (and singing) are haunting and her own joie de vivre mingle with an eastern-European sadness that she cannot deny. You won’t find a singer/songwriter with more candor. Her debut is a wonderful album that is straight from the heart.” I agree and recommend Dragana’s I Still Feel You.
Track Listing: 1. Dance
2. Never Late
3. Discover Me
4. One More Day, One More Night
5. What Do You Do
7. Rainy Days
8. Endless Tears
9. Rano je za tugu
10. Demons from the Past
11. I Still Feel You
Personnel: Dragana, vocals
Daniel May, piano
Benjamin May, bass
Gary Gibbons, drums
I love jazz because next to my kids, it's the love of my life.
I was first exposed to jazz by Joe Rico from a tiny station in Niagara Falls in 1954 when I was 13.
The best show I ever attended was Maynard Ferguson who blew the roof off Massey Hall in the late 50s.
My advice to new listeners is to listen to everything you can and then listen again.