Thursday, June 20, 2013

Interview with Sachal Vasandani

Sachal Vasandani will perform with the Iowa Jazz Orchestra on July 5, the first day of the 2013 Iowa City Jazz Festival. KCCK's Gordon Paulsen interviewed him about the show and his career.

You can hear Sachal's music regularly on KCCK at Or, for a consistent dose of music from artists appearing at the Jazz Festival, check out the Iowa City Jazz Fest channel at It's a 24-7 music feed of jazz fest artists. Interviews with Sachal and the other headliners air regularly on the Jazz Fest Channel, and transcripts will also be posted here.

I’m Gordon Paulson and on the phone with me is vocalist, song writer, composer, sometime arranger: Sachal Vasandani, who is performing on the opening night of the Iowa City Jazz Festival, on Friday, July 5th performing with the Iowa Jazz Orchestra at 8 pm on the mainstage in downtown Iowa City. Let’s talk, about the way that you prepare for something like that as opposed to some of your studio and smaller venue performances. Do you do the big band thing very often?

SACHAL: Yeah, good question. Well, studio is always a different piece, but in terms of live experience, standing in front of a big band is a great thrill. I do do it, but I don’t do it as often as I would like to because I would like to be doing it all the time. It’s real fun. The challenges are many, but the joy is a lot. I mean, to be able to stand in front of a group and feel that sound propel you, it always makes me think of about what’s real important in the song what’s real important in my delivery. People who know my music and the way I perform with small groups know I’m into a philosophy of give-and-take and that allows for a lot of stretching. In a big band there’s no ton of pay, just eighteen people getting a great sound in an efficient way. As a singer I take part in that and I try to get inside that sound and make my voice soar on top of it. It’s a real cathartic type when you get it right.

How does the preparation for that work ahead of time? Because, you’re flying in probably the day of or the day before and there isn’t a lot of rehearsal time involved. So I assume that someone sent you the charts and are you providing any of your own arrangements?

SACHAL: Yeah, it’s funny, you’re catching us in the middle of the delivery right now. There’s going to be some more with the small group and that will be a nice break with the stuff from the big band. But the big band is doing, just what I said, finding the right songs or the best vehicle for me to really soar on. I think that with this particular big band, at their caliber, we can enjoy some of the repertoire that we’re familiar with and maybe even open it up in a really compelling way. I think we’re going to hear some good things. We’re still deciding on the final set list but in terms of the preparation, it’s getting inside that chart, feeling really comfortable with what my role is and then really just be as comfortable as possible because when you get on that stage you just want to be able to enjoy the ride. It is such as thrill to stand up with a big band behind you let them carry you to new heights. The more open I can be to that experience, the better.

That’s a very magical, musical experience.

SACHAL: You know it.

Briefly, about your discography, because we certainly have enjoyed the recordings that we have. Beginning with your debut with Mac Avenue from 2007, “Eyes Wide Open”. That must have been a real treat to have John Clayton, who is certainly one of the best, if not the best arranger out there right now.

SACHAL: Yeah, he is in my opinion. He hears music in a very advanced way. He can take really complex ideas and make them simple and he can take real simple ideas and make them meatier, give them some substance for a whole eighteen piece group to play and just add that richness. I think that is what makes him the best arranger, as a producer he is right up there, too. I think in addition to all that musicanship making a record sometimes is a sticky situation. Especially as a singer who maybe, wrote an old song, brought in his own arrangements, it’s his first debut record for a big bad label, and I’m a pretty down to earth guy but we have moments of confidence issues, or want to make sure that its right, and again, when you have someone on your side, who’s representing you on the other side of that booth, you want them to be a teammate, a real, true teammate in the most nurturing and collaborative way possible. John is like that, he’s a guy that I can trust as a mentor but he really puts on that teammate hat and treats me accordingly. That is something that is a special skill and not everybody has.

Wow, sounds like a real advocate for you, too.

SACHAL: Yeah, and I for him just because of that quality, first and foremost.

Then on to “We Move”, also from Mac Avenue, in 2009. And more recently “Hi-Fly” takes its title track from the great Randy Weston composition. Randy performed at the Iowa City Jazz Festival just a couple years back in 2011. That’s an interesting mix of selections on “Hi-Fly”, what was that selection process, was that all your own? How did that work?

SACHAL: Well, the Randy Weston thing, he’s a real terrific artist, Hi-Fly is a special song because of a lyric John wrote, I really wanted to include it because John Hendrix was going to be a participant on the record and so John and I sang that tune along with one more and I said, this is the spirit of the track, the spirit of performance as well as the likeness. It kind of lends itself to the title of the record.

I assume, that for your performance at the Iowa City Jazz Festival it will be a mixture of maybe tried and true standards that people may recognize and some newer material that, no doubt, you have composed. Is that right?

SACHAL: Yeah, it’s going to be a balance. Whittling down the repertoire to that which lends itself best to the big band. Some standards are definitely going to be included because that’s part of the repertoire for the big band, part of what makes big band seem so fun. But also some newer things that are representative of my records and honestly, if I can swing it, maybe something brand new. We shall see.

Okay. I think you anticipated my last question, if we would see something brand new at the festival. We’ll keep that open and maybe we’ll have a premiere here in Iowa City.

SACHAL: I hope so. We will see if we can get it together.

Sachal will be the headliner on the first day of the festival, Friday, July 5th, performing at 8 pm on the mainstage in downtown Iowa City. This will be your Iowa City Jazz Festival debut so we are certainly marking that occasion. That’s a bit of a milestone I suppose in your own career book, something to hang on to as well.

SACHAL: Yeah, I’m looking forward to it. It’s going to be a really warm and awesome experience.

It will be. Thank you so much for your time and we look forward to having you at the Iowa City Jazz Festival, again on Friday, July 5th, at 8 pm mainstage. And Sachal Vasandani with the Iowa Jazz Orchestra. Come on down to Iowa City and enjoy some music, and we hope you’ll have a lot of KCCK fans there enjoying your performance that night.

SACHAL: That would be great, thank you so much.

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