Spotlight On…Sachal Vasandani

Sachal Vasandani and I go back a long way: he’s one of the very first singers I met when I came to New York over fifteen years ago. My friend V. took me to the Zinc Bar, way back when it was on Houston Street, where Sachal held a weekly gig. I was immediately impressed by Sachal’s obvious reverence for the vocal jazz tradition as well as his fearlessness and creativity as a contemporary artist: Sachal sang standards with a deep sense of swing and history, but he was equally at ease performing singer-songwriter covers and his own original songs.

I was even more impressed by Sachal’s friendliness that evening—he invited me to sit in and we have been pals ever since. When I was getting ready to make my first album, Sachal and I met for coffee and talked about the challenges of making a living as a singer and the pros and cons of crowdfunding. He made astute observations about the changing nature of the music business and gave wise counsel. These days, Sachal continues to maintain a busy touring and recording schedule, and he’s also the coordinator of jazz vocal studies at Temple University.

Despite living nearby one another in Brooklyn, Sachal and I don’t see each other often enough, so it’s a treat to get to pick his brain a little bit, albeit in the virtual realm. Thank you, Sachal!

Who would you say is your biggest musical influence? Why and how does s/he inspire you?
[It’s] hard to put down to one, but at this moment it’s probably Milton Nascimento. The combination of the voice, the spirit—so much light—the connection to social, grassroots movements throughout his recording history—that connection to something bigger. I crave that. Plus, there is so much groove underlying his music. His collaborators, from Lo Borges to Wayne Shorter, are some of the most creative on the planet.

Can you describe your practice routine? What are your biggest priorities when you practice?
Mostly technique. I want my voice to do whatever is in my head at the moment, and that requires more technical control.

If you had a time machine and could travel back in time to when you were first starting out, what advice would you give yourself about singing, life, and/or the music business in general?
Your musical path is your own, and it may or may not mesh well with the music business; make no false assumptions.

We live in a DIY-era: in addition to performing and recording our music, we ALSO handle social media, book gigs, and perhaps juggle “side gigs” to keep the bills paid. In the face of all these obligations, time management can be hugely challenging. What are some of your favorite techniques for keeping everything in balance?
When we impose commerce on our music—that is, we rely on ourselves for all the promotional elements—the music does get altered. You could argue it gets compromised—maybe it grows in a new way.  But I’m trying to get back to the root feeling I’ve always had with music, now more than ever.

Stronger winds are wailing outside my door—they are imposing their will on so many others and so many people are hurting as a result. I’m so fortunate to have my own, unshakeable relationship with music and I’m so thankful.

Fun fact:
Ha, what weird habit don’t I have…well, I love to listen to people, hear their stories, their passions, what makes them tick. It inspires me to hear what inspires people—maybe it’s music, maybe not. I get that from my mom. She’s one of the best listeners in the whole world.

Sachal is headlining a centennial celebration of Nat King Cole at Jazz at Lincoln Center on December 14 and 15. Backed by a band of some of the finest instrumentalists around, he’ll be singing new arrangements by the great John Clayton. You can find Sachal’s recordings and keep up with all his news at sachalvasandani.com

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