Take Five With Sarah DeLeo

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Meet Sarah DeLeo:

Jazz vocalist Sarah DeLeo takes the best from the masters and combines it with her own signature style to produce a sound that is both timeless and fresh.

One hears her singing and is swept away to another time, and yet her powerful presence as a musical storyteller is thoroughly in the here and now: No matter the song, she delivers each lyric in such a personal way that the listener feels as if they are hearing their own stories. Her tireless exploration of many different styles of music yields fascinating results when it comes to song choices and arrangements, and her inventive melodic improvisation makes every restatement of a tune's melody thoroughly engaging—nothing's ever the same twice.

In October 2005 Sarah released her debut CD, The Nearness of You, which garnered critical acclaim and introduced Sarah's work to both national and international audiences. Her follow up to that release is 2009's I'm In Heaven Tonight, another inspired collection of songs that combines the old and the new.



Your sound and approach to music: I view my work as a reconciliation between the rock, R&B, and pop genres, which have been mainstream music during my lifetime, and a calling to sing standards and a propensity towards jazz. The singers who influenced me the most when I was younger were pretty high energy—Judy Garland, Barbra Streisand, Ella Fitzgerald, Aretha Franklin—but my singing tends to be mellow, because that's how I am.

I approach every tune the same way, regardless of its originating genre. I break down each song harmonically and rhythmically. I also speak the lyrics. I once read an interview of Cassandra Wilson, in which she described her approach to music as a "jazz approach." I thought that term was an apt way to describe what I do as well.

Road story: Your best or worst experience: Last year, I got a call to do an event on Make Music New York day for NYC Councilmember, Gale Brewer. I accepted, but I really had no idea how this event would go. It was going to be held at an outdoor garden, and there was no alternate location in case of bad weather. For most of the week prior, the forecast called for rain. I was assured that there would be an electrical outlet for our equipment, but I wasn't necessarily convinced.

We showed up at the gig and what ended up surprising me the most was the audience. I generally sing for people in their mid-20s to mid-60s, usually trending younger—40s and under. As a result, when I'm singing, I'm not only entertaining people, but also educating them, since most people my age are not too familiar with standards or jazz. By contrast, the median age at this Make Music New York gig was about 65 with a number of people in wheelchairs. If I had known what kind of audience they expected, I probably would have put together a set of more traditional standards. However, I didn't, so I just did the set I had prepared—the kind of set I would normally do. I did the White Stripes tune, the somewhat non- traditional arrangements of standards that I do, and some standards and blues, which I consider more obscure.

It got a great response. People were singing along, not to the White Stripes tune obviously, but definitely to the standards and even the songs I thought were more obscure. (The guitarist on the gig, Chris Bergson, was throwing in all these rock licks; I was giggling to myself throughout).

One lady came up to me after the gig and told me how much I reminded her of Lee Wiley. I was so flattered. It has always been important for me to sing to people my own age for a number of reasons, but I never realized how much harder it was on me until then. Singing to an older audience familiar with the material was so much easier. I didn't have to educate anyone; I could just entertain. It was a very enjoyable experience, which was both relaxing and energizing at the same time! I had no idea how this gig was going to turn out, but in the end it was a lot of fun!

Also, the weather turned out beautiful and thankfully there was electricity and an adequate PA setup. What a relief!

The first Jazz album I bought was: I bought these on the same trip to the mall:

Janis Siegel, At Home;

Modern Jazz Quartet, Blues on Bach.


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