Sachal Vasandani: ‘I don’t have a fogey bone in my body’
The Indian-American jazz singer says his newly released fourth album, Slow Motion Miracles, is his biggest music milestone
A young musician who presents jazz mostly in its unadulterated form [read no electronica overdose] is susceptible to losing the interest of potential fans under 40, or 60 even. But singer Sachal Vasandani doesn’t seem to mind the risk, and he is quick to tell you that he is anything but old-fashioned. Says the 37-year-old singer, “I don’t have a fogey bone in my body, except the kneecap on my right leg. I’m youth till I die, folks.”
An Indian-American who grew up in Chicago, Vasandani found early success when he was named the Jazz Vocalist of the Year by Down Beat magazine in 1999. As a child, he listened to a wide variety of music including Hindustani classical. It helped, of course, that he had jazz-lovers for parents and lived in a city famous for its vibrant jazz bars. Slow Motion Miracles is his latest album, which he considered his biggest music milestone. “It’s vulnerable and uplifting and big,” he says.
His previous albums – Hi-Fly, 2011; We Move, 2009 and Eyes Wide Open; 2007 – had featured a mix of his favourite jazz standards and pop covers along with a few originals. The new 10-track collection, on the other hand, is a meet-and-greet between jazz and its distant, motley family, like electronica, Afrobeat, pop and hip-hop. Its emotional landscape touches the themes of abandonment, self-doubt, and coming to terms with change that has not been good.
What is most remarkable about Vasandani’s music is his uncomplicated vocal style, which reminds the listener that expressions of pain, angst and loss are perhaps most impactful when you don’t make a big fuss about those emotions. Says the singer and composer, “A lot of these songs got their start in wanting to document some of my shenanigans at home in New York or on the road. (I) made some discoveries about how to love and live fully in the moment,” says the singer-composer.
The singer says that getting “way into the music I hear and especially the music I make – this is what keeps me going, and young and silly.” On Slow Motion Miracles, he has indeed gone way into the music he loves. And at times, with musicians he loves. On the soothing “Afternoon sun,” you can hear Grammy Award-nominated young pianist Taylor Eigsti lending his charm. Vasandani jokes about how he pitched the song to Eigsti: “Can you imagine saying to him – ‘I’m thinking about staring out at the end of the earth at this part…Got anything?’ And watch and listen as he conjures up the perfect tapestry on the organ in that exact moment.” The upbeat and fresh, “Marie” is a co-composition with friend and songwriter David Brophy.
The album has been produced by noted trumpeter and Grammy recipient, Michael Leonhart, who has worked with the likes of Steely Dan and Bobby McFerrin. “One fun thing in the recording session was bringing Normyn, Michael’s dog, to the studio when we were recording bass and drums. That was the first time I’d ever been around a dog at the studio, but she’d been there many times…she was a laugh and helped to lighten the whole vibe,” he remembers. Leonhart also co-wrote the buoyant “Cover the water,” the song that fetched Vasandani the most heart-warming comment he’s got from a fan on the new record. “I received this tweet yesterday: “Cover The Water gives me life,” he shares.
Vasandani is not new to the Indian music scene; he performed here in 2013. Does he plan to return soon? “I can’t wait to get to India. The last time I was there the audiences in Mumbai and Delhi and Pune were so warm and receptive. And we had great food and none of my band got sick, and I saw some family and we had a ball.” Meanwhile, he is also thinking about making a plan for giving shape to all kinds of ideas that are still in his head. “Different styles: big band, duos, me and a guitar on a beach somewhere, soundscapes that no one’s ever heard and only live in dreams.”