Band of the Day

2013.09.09

Sasha Dobson

A singer-songwriter makes a departure from her jazz roots on her second studio album
So you roam, and you roam. You say that no place is your home. So I will roam too.
lyrics from Without You

A journey isn’t a journey if it doesn’t take us away from where we started. For Sasha Dobson, it all began in Santa Cruz, Calif., where she grew up in a family of jazz musicians – her father Smith Dobson was one of the Bay Area’s most influential and in-demand pianists, her mom a well-known singer, her brother an accomplished drummer. How she got from her hard-focused jazz roots to the theaters backing her friend Norah Jones, to a Brooklyn recording studio with guitarist/producer Joel Hamilton (Black Keys, Tom Waits, Sparklehorse) making her own singer-songwriter album, is the story of a journey, indeed. The album in question, Aquarius, is a clear departure from her jazz roots – an intensely personal disc about how far she’s come since shedding the coat of jazz she inherited from her parents. Considering the water imagery most frequently associated with the zodiac sign, Aquarius is a fitting title for Dobson’s second studio album. The spirit of this essential life force – water’s reflective, supportive, transformative power – has carried her throughout her career, the way the ocean carries a boat. Dobson moved to Brooklyn at 17 and quickly assimilated into the NYC jazz scene, developing a reputation as a standout scat singer, mastering the art of vocal improv and making strides toward her dream. But, every good New York story has a moment when everything changed. For Dobson, it was learning of the death of her father in a tragic car accident in 2001. Suddenly, her musical beacon dimmed and, as time wore on, she began to realize jazz was “something I’ll always love to do but it’s definitely in the past.” She picked up guitar and started toying with songwriting, playing in dive bars with her friend Norah before Jones inevitably invited her on the road. “That gig was a real transformation,” she says. “I had to rise to a certain level on guitar. I just had to. That was challenging. . . It was a challenge for my mind, because I was still struggling with my identity – can I do this? Now I realize this is my path.” It shows. From the grief of opening track “Couldn’t Let You Go” all the way through to “I Could Be Happy,” this is an album about diving deep into a sea of emotion and finding the strength to come back to the surface. Even Jones agrees, for all the strides Dobson has taken away from where she started in music, she’s landed exactly where she belongs as a singer-songwriter. "[She’s] truly one of my favorite NYC singers and songwriters. Sasha has completely and beautifully come into her own.” Part of Sasha coming into her own was finding her way to Hamilton as producer and collaborator. She credits him with the musical grace which opened her up to her own intuition, helping her fully realize her songs and turn Aquarius into such a cathartic journey. She also enlisted the help of long-time family friends – bassist Tony Scherr and drummer Kenny Wollesen – the latter borne of her father’s far-reaching influence, though both have been in Dobson’s world for years, watching her grow and evolve in her craft. Aquarius, she says, is “a documentation of the journey since my father died. It’s coming from a place of loss and learning. What I’ve learned from my journey of becoming a songwriter, no matter what it’s about, honesty is best. Aquarius is honest [and about] growth and reflection.” After all, no matter how far we get along any journey, it’s always good to keep an eye on where we began, so we can see how far we’ve come.