Sad news everyone: Sara Gazarek played the Birdland Theater last night and you guys missed seeing her in action. Great news everyone: Sara Gazarek will be playing the Birdland Theater for the next two nights and you still have time to see her in action. And, before you read another word, click Lord so that, after finishing this review, you can get your reservation to one of her remaining four shows in New York City this month, unless you want to take it on faith and just get the reservation right now. Because what this reporter saw last night at Birdland was worth going out for, and no mistake.
In the name of full transparency, it should be said that I don’t know Sara Gazarek. We have never met, we have had no contact of any kind, and this write-up comes from a place of pure objectivity. Without using the flowery language for which I have come to be known, without engaging in any kind of hyperbole, I can say with full conviction that the chance to see Sara Gazarek live should not be missed. Here is a performer so unique, so gifted, that it takes your breath away. During her set last night with an incredible band made up of Julian Shore on piano, Alex Boneham on bass, and Jonathan Pinson on drums, Ms. Gazarek presented a program of jazz music that blew this writer’s mind. Often, a jazz set can tend toward the laid-back, the easy-going, the smooth and silky (and this concert has all those elements at some point in the proceedings) but there is an additional element to what Gazarek and co. are producing in their show. It’s an undefinable quality that seems to originate with Gazarek’s personal aesthetic, one made up of a winning combination of cheek, chill, and confidence… and an absolute dedication to the music. Possessing of a sublimely pretty voice and an extensive musical vocabulary, Sara Gazarek could sing, simply, songs like “Tea for Two” and “I’ve Got it Bad and That Ain’t Good” in a straightforward manner that still stays in the jazz lane, but instead Sara makes choices that take the performances into places ethereal and exquisite. Playing her voice box like an organ in the finest church of all time, Sara Gazarek combines her technique and artistry into jazz stylings unlike any this music lover has ever heard. Whether scat singing, vocalizing, or just humming along with the band, the music Ms. Gazarek provides is crystal-clear beauty personified, and it’s being performed in ways you never even dreamed possible. Singing songs made famous by Sarah Vaughan, Nancy Wilson and Frank Sinatra, one can’t help but think that she SHOULD be singing this music, she SHOULD be following the lead of these legendary artists, she SHOULD be included on the same lists as they , so original and gifted is Sara Gazarek.
And then you add the personality.
Sara Gazarek isn’t a grandstand-y kind of person. She appears on the stage like your groovy neighbor down the street, your easy-going mate from yoga class, or the most popular teacher at the school your child attends. With playful chit-chat, Sara talks about life, her work, her personal life, and her bandmates, joshing, giggling, and sharing sincere stories about the music that inspires her… and then she becomes this sort of rock-and- roll singer getting down in the jazz genre. Cracking wise about her ex, about her skill with the Portuguese language, and about longevity in the business, Gazarek inspires laughter and good will … but she doesn’t feel compelled to talk, which is one of the most admirable qualities that jazz singer’s possession. They are there for the music, they are there for the art, they are there for the storytelling – there is no obligation to talk; so, when an artist like Sara Gazarek does say something, it is because she has something to say. She also has an appreciation for her colleagues that she puts right out into the spotlight, stopping to listen to their solos, dancing a little, getting lost in the music and the moment – it’s a joy to watch her palpable admiration for her extraordinary (underline it: extraordinary) colleagues. It’s a joy to see and, especially, to hear, particularly on evening highlights like a medley of songs centering around birds and a Stu-Hu-Hu-ning Portuguese number about a duck and a swan. Actually, the entire program is pretty stunning, but not in a showy kind of way that some nightclub performers lean into. Calm and cool Gazarek is refreshingly present as a person, which allows her to throw all her might into the music, and that is what is at the core of her show of exceptional quality. Speaking as plainly and directly as I possibly can: you have two nights and four performances to see Sara in action.
The Sara Gazarek band is Julian Shore on piano, Alex Boneham on bass, and Jonathan Pinson on drums.
Sara Gazarek in the Theater plays Birdland Theater tonight (March 11) and tomorrow night (March 12) at 7 pm and 9:30 pm. For information and tickets visit the Birdland website HERE.
Sara Gazarek has a website HERE.
Sara Gazarek gets a five out of five microphones rating for performing her entire show without the use of a lyric sheet, tablet, or music stand.
Photos by Stephen Mosher