Music
9:54 am
Sat June 29, 2013

Sasha Dobson's Journey Out Of Jazz And Into Songwriting

Originally published on Sat June 29, 2013 12:44 pm

Smith Dobson was one of the most sought-after pianists of the Bay Area when he died in a car crash in 2001. He was part of a musical family — his wife, Gail, a jazz singer; his son a drummer. His daughter, Sasha Dobson, was a scat singer who followed the family's jazz muse until her dad's tragic death.

Then, Sasha picked up the guitar, started playing in her friend Norah Jones' band, and now she has her own solo career; Aquarius, her first album of original songs, has just been released. Click the audio link to hear her conversation with NPR's Lynn Neary, and read on for highlights, including some that didn't make the radio version.


Interview Highlights

On leaving jazz behind

"It's actually still pretty hard for me, because I get so much energy from that music, and I don't know how to be a part of both worlds. Especially these days, you really have to title yourself to move forward in your career. But I wish to do both forever. I still love that music; I still harbor a torch for that knowledge. I just don't quite know how to filter it into what I'm doing now. It's just not my way anymore, especially socially. Picking up the guitar really opened up my life socially in a totally different way."

On Puss n Boots, her country trio with Norah Jones

"We were just comrades, you know? Pals on the scene. We both lost touch for various reasons. And one day years later we ran into each other, and that was it. I mentioned that I was thinking about playing guitar, and she was like, 'Oh, my God, me too.' ... Most of the covers that I would offer up were old jazz numbers, and most of the covers that Norah would offer up were more like Hank Williams and so on. [Country music] was maybe something that we embraced first because it's simple in its chord structure; you can dive in. That's part of the reason I love guitar, is that I only needed to know a few chords."

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Transcript

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "BODY AND SOUL")

LYNN NEARY, HOST:

That's Smith Dobson playing "Body and Soul."

Dobson was one of the most sought-after pianists of the Bay Area when he died in a car crash in 2001. He was part of a musical family - his wife Gail, a jazz singer, his son, a drummer, his daughter, Sasha Dobson, was a scat singer. She was following the family's jazz muse until her dad's tragic death.

Then Sasha picked up the guitar and started playing in her friend Norah Jones' band. Now, she has her own solo career. "Aquarius," her first album of original songs, has just been released.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

SASHA DOBSON: (Singing) I've got to make it all right. And I'm trying to make it all right. I'll do what I'll do. I'll make it through. I'm trying to make it all right.

NEARY: Sasha Dobson joins us from our New York bureau. Welcome to the program, Sasha.

DOBSON: Hi. Thank you.

NEARY: Good to have you with us.

DOBSON: What an amazing introduction and surprise.

(LAUGHTER)

DOBSON: Holy moly. How great to hear that.

NEARY: Well, you know, you've called this album, in quote, "a documentation of the journey since my father died."

DOBSON: Right.

NEARY: What happened after your father died, and tell us about that journey.

DOBSON: I mean, it's been 12 years. I was thinking about it today. It's like, you know, the process of evolution, it's not simple when you're going through all the changes but, you know, it's taken some time to reach this place. It wasn't like one day I decided I'm not going to sing jazz anymore.

NEARY: Well, you were a scat singer, right?

DOBSON: I still am.

(LAUGHTER)

DOBSON: Most people don't know it but, you know, I was and I use that improvisational tool for songwriting for sure.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

DOBSON: (Singing) (Unintelligible)

NEARY: So, I could hear the scat singer in there.

DOBSON: You can? I love it.

(LAUGHTER)

DOBSON: That means a lot.

NEARY: Yeah, I can.

Well, how hard was it for you to leave jazz behind? Was it something you wanted to do or just something that your father just sort of thrust you into?

DOBSON: You know, it's actually still pretty hard for me because I get so much energy from that music and I don't know how to be a part of both worlds. You know, especially these days, you really have to like title yourself to move forward in your "career," quote, unquote, you know. But I wish to do both forever. I mean, I still love that music, I still harbor a torch for that knowledge. I just don't quite know how to filter it into what I'm doing now. It's just not my way anymore and especially socially. You know, picking up the guitar really opened up my life socially in a totally different way.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

DOBSON: (Singing) The day we met was the day you left. The day we met was the day you left for good.

I'm not prolific in that I just want to spew out a bunch of songs and words. It has to come from the heart and I have to want to sing it. And I have jazz ears and a harmonic mind, so it can't just be songs, it has to be something that inspires me to sing.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

DOBSON: You are like a melody, twists and turns through every key. Ah, ha, ah, ha, ah, ha, ah, ah.

NEARY: How did you start playing with Norah Jones? Did you know her or...

DOBSON: Nora and I knew each other, you know, I was singing jazz from the second I got here. I moved to New York when I was 17 and very headstrong. I had already spent years singing jazz with my parents. And Norah and I shared some of the same gigs, like, at the same clubs - jazz gigs - back in the day when we were 19. And this was before, you know, what happened to my dad. It was before her record came out, her first record. We were just comrades, you know, pals on the scene. And we both lost touch for various reasons. In one day, you know, years later, we ran into each other and that was it.

NEARY: I wanted to play a little bit of a duet...

DOBSON: Oh, sure.

NEARY: ...with you and Norah Jones. And this is from an album that Norah did with various artists.

DOBSON: Right.

NEARY: And this song called "Bull Rider." Let's listen to that.

DOBSON: OK.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "BULL RIDER")

DOBSON: (Singing) Well, first off, you gotta wanna get off bad enough to wanna get on in the first place.

NORA JONES: (Singing) And you better trust in your lady luck. Pray to God that she don't give up on you right now.

SASHA DOBSON AND NORA JONES: (Singing) Live fast, die young, bull rider, hey, hey.

NEARY: So you were just two country gals, huh?

DOBSON: Oh, my god.

(LAUGHTER)

DOBSON: It's funny, you know, when that came out just because I guess you could call us country gals, but boy, it's hilarious because it sure is a what I was raised singing, you know, or playing even. I mean, honestly, I think for me, country was maybe something that we embraced first because it's simple in its chord structure and, you know, you can dive in. That's part of the reason I love guitars, that I only guitar is that I only needed to know a chords.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

DOBSON: (Singing) I want the sunshine around me always, swimming to a simple life, like my days of California.

NEARY: So this album is called "Aquarius." Why?

DOBSON: Well, my dad was an Aquarius. You know, I grew up in California so I definitely had some of that like new-agey(ph) stuff lingering. But I'm not like an astrology freak. You know, I think of the Age of Aquarius - a time of people coming together and evolving into a different awareness. And certainly, going back to my own personal experience of knowing my dad for a short period of time, I just felt like it made sense to call the record that.

NEARY: Well, good luck with your future evolution.

DOBSON: Thanks, man.

(LAUGHTER)

NEARY: Sasha Dobson, her new CD is called "Aquarius."

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

DOBSON: (Singing) Oh, Oh, oh...

NEARY: This is WEEKEND EDITION FROM NPR News. I'm Lynn Neary. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.