Her Own Song
Sasha Dobson forges her own musical path.
Thursday, August 2, 2007
Sasha Dobson may be the product of Bay Area jazz royalty, but she’s not looking to take over the jazz throne.
As the daughter of vocalist Gale Dobson and the late, revered pianist Smith Dobson, the Santa Cruz-raised singer has been busy blazing her own trail.
She first gained attention in New York City as an adventurous improviser at Small’s, the West Village jazz spot that served as an incubator for many of the brightest young talents of the 1990s. But over the past five years, Dobson has expanded her musical circle to include songwriters Richard Julian and Jesse Harris, whose tunes have been covered by Madeleine Peyroux and Norah Jones (including the Grammy-winning hit “Don’t Know Why” from Jones’ hugely popular 2002 album >>Come Away With Me).
Last year, Dobson released >>Modern Romance on Harris’ Secret Sun label, a bossa nova-tinged collection of spare but sinuous songs, most of which she wrote in collaboration with Harris or Julian. As she’s ventured down the singer/songwriter path, Northern California audiences have seen her only in brief glimpses, like last year at the Monterey Jazz Festival, and last month as part of SFJAZZ’s Spring Season.
“I feel good about what I’m doing, staying away from classifying my music,” says Dobson, 28, who performs at the Jazz & Blues Company on Saturday with bassist John Shifflett, guitarist Jeff Buenz, and special guests Richard Julian on vocals and guitar and Gail Dobson on percussion and vocals. “I’ve been getting mixed vibes, even from my own family. People have a hard time with change. I’m trying to go where my muse takes me, even if it means going against expectations.”
The guitar is playing an increasingly important role in her music as she’s worked to develop her skills at accompanying herself: a sign both of her dogged insistence on musical independence and of her indelible ties to the jazz tradition.
“The more I play guitar and write my own music, the more I go back to my jazz roots,” she says from her apartment in Brooklyn. “Growing up with my dad, I got a big head about accompanying. It’s sort of a lost art, being this selfless bodhisattva musician. I want to be self-sufficient. I like the idea of writing my own music, and becoming part of the rhythm section.”
As she talks about her new projects, she leaves no doubt that as an artist she is a work in progress. Even as she plunges deeper into her own sound, she circles back to the American Songbook. For instance, she recently recorded the standard “My Man” for a Billie Holiday tribute album, a CD that will be distributed by Starbucks. For inspiration, she casts her net widely to include the great roots folk singer Odetta, Madeleine Peyroux and the incalculably rich Brazilian songbook.
Until she moved to New York in 1997 at the age of 17, Dobson was a familiar presence on the Bay Area jazz scene. She started performing as a child with the Dobson family band, joining her parents and her older brother, drummer/vibraphonist Smith Dobson V. “I know how lucky I was to be born into this strangely wonderful musical family,” Dobson says. “It comes with a lot of responsibility.”
SASHA DOBSON performs 7:30pm Saturday at The Jazz & Blues Company, in The Eastwood Building, San Carlos and Fifth Street, Carmel. $40. 624-6432 or thejazzandbluescompany.com