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Thana Alexa: Singer And Instrument

R.J. DeLuke By

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Music started tugging at the sleeve at the age of three for Thana Alexa, a New York based singer who began making music there as a violinist, moved to Croatia where she discovered jazz, and returned as a singer poised to sweep into a successful career.

It started with the piano—kind of. Her tinkering with a toy piano so impressed her mother that she nearly started her career as a budding pianist. Instead, she gravitated to violin, at which she later excelled. Now, via Croatia and the New School for Jazz in New York City, she has released her first album, Ode To Heroes (Jazz Village) on which she displays her vocal chops and songwriting skills while paying tribute to important people in her life—musicians and family. Guests include Antonio Sanchez and Donny McCaslin. She's also been making big waves at gigs in New York and hopes to spread her wings beyond the Big Apple.

Hers is the career that almost wasn't. She didn't envision music as a full-time proposition and was studying psychology at Northeastern University in Boston. But in the end, it seemed inevitable. Fate had something else in store.

It was at age three that she disappeared during a birthday party, being found eventually by her mother in the basement of the house. Alexa had wandered there and discovered a small keyboard. "I was sort of plucking out these nursery rhymes, these tunes that I had heard," she recalls. Her mother "freaked out. She said, 'We have to do something about this. This is very rare.'"

The plan was to approach a nearby music school. The school didn't take kids under six, but her mom was determined the talent had to be nurtured. A meeting was set up. "So we went for this meeting and sat down with the dean of the conservatory. They brought in their piano teacher and a piano. But actually I had my little toy piano on my lap. I carried it to the meeting with me," says Alexa. "I got so scared I wouldn't play." Despite urging from her mother, the girl wouldn't budge. "I got cold feet. When I realized the meeting was coming to a close—everyone was saying, 'Now you know why we don't take children under the age of six. Maybe you can some back when she's a little older.' When I realized in my child's mind that this meeting was over, I guess I played something. I don't know what I played, But I played a little something."

"Then they said, 'Maybe we can set you up with some lessons.' And out of the blue I said, 'I don't want to play piano. I want to play the violin.' My mom didn't even know that I knew what a violin was. They brought in a violin teacher who unpacked the violin. I remember the teacher opening the green case and opening up the violin. And I said, 'Yes. I want that.'"

Alexa was too small for the instrument. The teachers suggested she return in a year if there was still interest.

"I don't remember this, but my mother swears that almost to the day, she was cooking in the kitchen and I came down and said, 'Mom, I'm ready to play the violin.' She had completely forgotten about it. But that's how it started. I started on one of those little violins and progressively kept playing."

Alexa played violin seriously for 13 years. She could sing, but thought violin the calling, perhaps even being a concert violinist. She was in the first chair of youth orchestras and traveled out of town for concerts. Then after she completed elementary school, her family moved to Croatia. "The reason I say I'm from Croatia is because my formative years were spent there. I feel like a developed a lot more there than I did here. In Croatia, in trying to learn the language her only connection back to English, in a sense, was when she sang. "That's how that took the place of violin in a little way. I just ran with it. Somehow, jazz and blues and soul were the genres that resonated with me. I started taking voice lessons at the Rock Academy in Zagreb, Croatia. I started doing performances. Sooner or later it became time to apply for colleges in the States."

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