Thursday, January 17, 2008
Raised in Northern California and based in Nashville, singer Rebecca Sayre is a little bit country, and a little bit jazzy. A Music City veteran who slowly migrated from twang to swing, Sayre has emerged in recent years as deft investigator of the American Songbook who knows how to turn a tune into a compelling story.
Sayre makes her debut at the Jazz and Blues Company on Saturday with bassist Charlie Chadwick, best known as a member of Gypsy jazz guitarist John Jorgenson’s band, and the great Nashville jazz pianist Beegie Adair, a musician’s musician who is widely esteemed by her peers.
Growing up in an equestrian environment in the Santa Cruz Mountain town of Saratoga, Sayre naturally soaked up country music from stars such as Conway Twitty, Don Williams and Loretta Lynn as well as Western swing institutions like Asleep at the Wheel and Dan Hicks and His Hot Licks. After graduating from high school, the aspiring young songwriter gravitated to Nashville.
“This is a town where people move to pursue their dream of music,” Sayre says. “Some people might find that in New York or Los Angeles, but Nashville feels like a small community. These are the best musicians in the world, and it’s kind of a well-kept secret. A lot of people get road gigs and then come back home and play jazz gigs here.”
While it might seem strange that Sayre found her inner chanteuse in Nashville, the city boasts a dazzling array of musicians including many well versed in the ways of jazz. When a slick pop sensibility pushed country’s old guard off the airwaves in the late 1980s, Sayre started delving into jazz.
“I wanted to branch out,” she says. “I started studying at the Nashville Jazz Workshop, listening to Ella and Chris Connor, Charlie Parker and Bill Evans.”
It was at the Nashville Jazz Workshop that Sayre met Beegie Adair, and the pianist encouraged her to pursue a solo career. As Sayre built up her repertoire and her jazz chops, Adair became a regular accompanist. And when Sayre recorded her debut album, 2003’s lustrous This Is Always, Adair, who’s also a skilled jazz singer, provided expert support.
Sayre is not the kind of jazz singer who radically reharmonizes a song and turns it into a guessing game for the audience. When she launches into a standard by Gershwin, Arlen or Porter, she gives the composer his due, interpreting around the edges with her subtle phrasing. She’s also a songwriter who is getting ready to release an album of original material that draws inspiration from the Grand Ole Opry as much as Tin Pan Alley.
It’s unfortunate that jazz and country music are often portrayed in polar terms. The former is often identified as black, urban and sophisticated while the latter is pigeonholed as white, rural and uncomplicated. But the truth is far more complicated. The best musicians find inspiration wherever their ears take them, and over the decades numerous jazz and country players have played together and listened closely to each other. Sayre is just a recent example of an artist unconcerned by musical stereotypes.
“The reason why country and jazz are linked is they are honest American music forms,” Sayre says. “Charlie Parker would put nickels into the juke box to listen to Hank Williams. It’s the storytelling. I love country music, and that’s one of the elements I pull from when I’m writing.”
REBECCA SAYRE performs 7:30 pm Saturday at the Jazz & Blues Company, San Carlos and Eighth, Carmel. Tickets are $40, 624-6432, thejazzandbluescompany.com.