2015 has been a big year for vocalist Sachal Vasandani—he released his fourth album as a leader featuring all original compositions, Slow Motion Miracles, on Sony’s Okeh imprint and followed that release with extensive touring around the world. Back home in New York this month, Sachal has been focusing on a different project, celebrating the 100th birthday of Frank Sinatra. Earlier this month, Sachal performed this material at the Jazz Standard with a big band. But this Tuesday, December 22nd, he returns to The Jazz Gallery to perform more intimate versions of Sinatra’s classic repertoire, featuring an ace young trio of James Francies on piano, Harish Raghavan on bass, and Jeremy Dutton on drums.
We at Jazz Speaks caught up with Sachal by phone to hear about how he made his deftly-orchestrated new album, and how performing his own material live informs his approach to singing old standards.
The Jazz Gallery: Your latest album, Slow Motion Miracles (Okeh), is an amalgam of musical styles, including indie-hip-hop, pop, electronica, Afro-beat, and jazz. Could you talk a little bit about what inspired you to move into this new musical sound, a bit of a departure from a typical jazz record?
Sachal Vasandani: Sure, the inspiration just kind of came from allowing myself to lead with my pen. If I lead with my songwriting, then some different styles flow out, and they are a reflection of the styles that you mentioned, and more, you know? They are held together by melodies and lyrics that have a certain resonance at this time for me, so making a record that is led by that process is going to be a little bit different than one that is led by only my singing or only my interpreting other people’s music.
TJG: Do you want to share about your composition process? Do you have a specific way you go about writing your music? What does that look like for you?
SV: When I compose, I try to respond to inspiration from a few different sources. One is melodies that stick in my head, and come from nowhere, really, they just stay with me. Another is chords—chord progressions that I play that move in a certain way that just happen when I play the piano. Another is rhythm—they speak, they come into my head, that I want to respond to; and then another is lyric, different lyrical themes or ideas, often times just phrases or little words that stick in my head, or I repeat to myself, and I have a hard time getting away from them, although sometimes I want to, and so they come out in song. So I try to be ready for all those by kind of having the sheet music and a voice memo, and my logic on my computer and my piano handy, some combination of those handy so that I can flesh out ideas, and then the song is hatched you could say. Then I start a long editing process, and I take the best of all those songs, which is a lot, and then I cut stuff out, and maybe add a few little things here there everywhere, and those end up being the songs that end up on the record.
TJG: You’ve been touring internationally a lot lately. What has the experience of touring been like for you? What’s something that you may have learned from touring?
SV: It’s just been a lot of fun, and it’s been diverse in terms of not just the places you’ve mentioned, but the opportunities, you know? I experienced a lot of those places for the first time this year. I had never been to, for example, Brazil, Finland, or Korea before, so that was new and fun. I think what’s really nice is just sharing music with people and seeing people respond, especially when I sing my new songs, or seeing people listen, and I have to say it’s a pretty great feeling, it’s pretty simple.
TJG: Do you have a fun/funny story from the tour you could share?
SV: Well just a recent experience is I did a gig at Mezzrow in New York, with Taylor Eigsti the pianist, and he’s played my music for a really, really long time, and he always finds new tempos and new harmonic elements to introduce to my songs, so I was really happy, I was almost laughing—I mean I didn’t because I had to sing, I mean it’s not so much funny like ha-ha, it’s funny like, this man is amazing and he’s been in my group now for a few years and he’s always finding new ways to attack music that I’ve written. So there’s a song that I wrote from my first album, and Taylor plays it as a solo piece, and I said to the audience after, you know you got a guy building a mansion out of a composition that was basically built like a tin shack. So that’s how he played the song. It’s pretty awesome.