Sage Bava, Your Next Great Musical Find, On Reconnecting To Home, Jazz And More
Some people speak music fluently. It is an integral part of the way they communicate with others and with the world, using it to share their thoughts and emotions in a way words cannot. You can hear it in their live shows or, in the case of the gifted Sage Bava, the intricacies of their musical arrangements. They just comprehend music in a way very few can (which is why, as a youth, Bava was invited to perform with Les Paul and different orchestras and won multiple songwriting awards).
Take the stunning “Manchild,” premiering here in honor of International Jazz Day tomorrow (Sunday, April 30). As Bava points out, “Manchild,” which she wrote and produced, as well as directed the artsy video, is not strictly a traditional jazz song.
However, the gorgeous, ambient journey the song takes listeners on is heavily influenced by the jazz and Great American Songbook music she grew up loving as a child in Rochester, NY, thanks in part to her father, a touring jazz musician for much of his life.
After several musical detours, Bava is incredibly excited to finally embrace her love of jazz. “Manchild” will be featured on an upcoming three-song EP, which also includes covers of the standards “Someone To Watch Over Me” and “Misty,” which she does exceptionally live.
Those detours have also proven to be very fruitful I found in speaking with Bava. While jazz is her first love, she is also pursuing her prolific and deep artistic vision in an upcoming pop/R&B project, All Ze Mind Allows.
I have said before in writing about Bava (who, like so many musicians, from ASAP Rocky and Perry Farrell to Alanis Morissette and Courtney Love, I have been fortunate to get know personally after becoming a fan of their music), she is a true artist, one whose vision reminds me of Fiona Apple, P.J. Harvey, Tom Waits and others who gleefully follow their own path. And while those aren’t always the easiest careers in the cookie-cutter music industry, they are, without question, the most rewarding, and more importantly, the most enduring for both fans and the artist alike. I would stake my reputation that Bava will still be making music professionally 20 years from now.
So, if like me, you are drawn to thought-provoking artists that challenge, excite and push your musical boundaries, meet your next great musical find — Sage Bava.
Steve Baltin: I love the arrangement of the song. It’s so intricate and it kind of goes everywhere in a good way. When you go back and listen to it, are there things you hear in there from other arrangements that kind of influenced you subconsciously?
Sage Bava: It’s funny, the song has taken quite a few different arrangements. And the one that I landed on that I just came up within the week we recorded it. It was inspired by some old recording I was listening to and the want to have this interplay between the drums and the piano. To me, the drums represent the man, this kind of tribal beat underneath, and the piano is the feminine inter-playing gracefully dancing on the beat. I’ve been really inspired by listening to old recordings from people like Erroll Garner and [Duke] Ellington, and the beauty of what live playing with great musicians can bring to recording. It all came together really fast with these ideas and the great players I had. Ryan Barski on drums, Rob Varon on guitar and Lochlan Boebel on upright bass. All from my hometown in Rochester.
Baltin: You’re releasing the song for International Jazz Day, which is April 30, as Herbie Hancock pointed out. Who would be your dream combo to play with for International Jazz Day?
Bava: That’s kind of an impossible question, because I always find it such a blessing to sing with really amazing musicians, and there’s so many of them. And to get to the level where you can have that communication of instruments, where it’s not about the music anymore, it’s about conversing, then it’s just a whole other level. And I’ve been so blessed to know and play with so many incredible musicians. Since I grew up in Rochester, I did a lot with Eastman School of music and our amazing jazz fest. It was cathartic to create this within my community after moving away from home many years ago.
Baltin: Is there a favorite jazz show you’ve ever seen, or one that stands out to you?
Bava: Well, I feel really lucky that I grew up on jazz. My father was a touring pianist before meeting my mom and starting a family farm. But we used to go to a lot of shows, like seeing Paul Winter play, going to the Rochester Jazz Fest every year and then as an adult living in NY, London and Spain. Maybe it’s because jazz is the music that I grew up on, I departed from it when I hit my teens, and now I’m coming back home to that music and realizing how tied I feel to it. After moving back to the States in September, spending a lot of time in the West Village, going to jazz clubs, I can’t say that there’s one concert within jazz that takes the cake. It’s more so the community of musicians and how my friends that I see in New York are the ones that I see in L.A., are the ones that are all over Europe. It’s just like this global community of people that is quite a tight knit group.
Baltin: “Manchild” is not a traditional jazz song. Obviously, there’s this cool arrangement that we talked about. In the same way that Joni Mitchell was a folk artist who then became a jazz artist you have studied and played in a number of different styles? Do you now hear how those worlds have come together in your music and you’re able to merge them into something that is distinctly you?
Bava: Well, I was reading about International Jazz Day today, and I loved learning that jazz literally means spirit. And I think it’s funny to try and even define what jazz is, because when people talk about jazz, it’s often muddled with The Great American Songbook, which is very much a genre of its own, but they exist within the same circles. So yes, I would not say “Manchild” is a jazz song. It has those elements sprinkled in. I think the music that I like to create is so eclectic and across the board. There are some categories, you could say, but I always like to keep it open.
Baltin: Does that musical style reflect your personality being eclectic?
Bava: I like to think I am a strange one. I grew up in nature on a farm in kind of a bizarre way and I’m grateful for that. I’ve agot to live in a lot of different countries and it’s been this search of trying to discover what is the truth underneath everything could be. And it’s funny, I don’t think I actually really saw it until this year when I moved back to my hometown for a little bit and all of that searching of the world and of answers from outside, I then knew that I would really only find them inside.
Baltin: So, what are the answers you found? And more importantly, how do you manifest that in your music?
Bava:I think it’s about learning how to listen to your own voice and then learning how to translate it. And by your own voice I mean the truth that lays under the ego, which is what interconnects everyone. There’s a big difference between listening to your feelings and discerning why you’re feeling those feelings. And I think for a long time, I was kind of stuck in this veil of living in the world of others rather than living in my own world. And it took a little bit, and it’s still taking time like everyone, to break through the veils. But I know like everyone does, when you feel connected to what you’re doing, it’s going to be way more resonant to yourself and to all those who listen.
Baltin: Do you feel like “Manchild” brings you closer to that? And with the pop stuff coming out soon as well that you are starting to get closer to bridging those truths together with who you are now?
Bava: Yeah. And I think it’s also equally important to keep in mind not just who you are as the artist, but what ideas and energies you want to align yourself with. There’s so many possibilities within who you are, of what to showcase within that. ‘Cause I think we’re all infinite and there’s some things that will ring more true than others and those are the things you should go with. And I think “Manchild” really rang true because it’s a very honest song, with a lot of complicated contradictory feelings. I really value the fact that music is oftentimes not a solo endeavor, physically or energetically. So I was messing around on the piano of my friend Jarrett Wetherell who loved the melody and chimed in with different lyric ideas and stanzas. Originally I wasn’t going to finish the song or work on it that much ’cause I thought it was strange, me singing about a “Manchild.” But to be confirmed that something rang true and to be shepherded in that way is beautiful.
Baltin: How are you learning to tune into your voice?
Bava: I think it’s a very personal and intimate endeavor to create with yourself or with someone else. And something that I’ve been discovering is there’s this knowing in truth that I have when I’m speaking or singing within a specific resonance or when I do this growl thing. [laughter]
Baltin: What do you mean growl thing?
Bava: I discovered when I was living in Brooklyn, New York that a really good way to turn on my lioness/powerful-being self when I needed it, was to do this low growl. And it’s interesting how that translates to some studies being done about the voice and your connection to your own resonance and frequency. How it is one of the most powerful ways to combat derealization and get yourself in your body. That’s what I mean by growl.
Baltin: How is the growl reconciled with the other sides of your personality, which is very caring and kind, having grown up on an animal rescue?
Bava: I have a very poignant story with the power of how your voice reflects your spirit. And I’ve gone through losing my voice entirely in a kind of spiritual, psychological way to being so in my voice that I felt like there was this snake in my tummy singing through my throat – and it was the most powerful thing I’ve ever felt in my life. So I’m a big believer in the fact that our sound that resonates through every cell in our body is one of the most powerful tools that we have in how we feel, how we are, and how we project our egos upon the world. I’ve gone through the evolution almost three times of losing my voice and gaining my voice and losing it again. Not really – just the connection to it. I’m learning to tell stories through the lens of what I want to project onto the world. And that is just energy that you are throwing out, which will be received and given back.
Baltin: It can manifest in multiple different ways. What would you have liked to have shared with the world in six months time?
Bava: Well, I’m really happy that I’m re-finding my voice within jazz and Great American Songbook because this is the music that I really love. Keeping these songs alive is so very important and I love being a part of the cause. So I’m excited to share a project that is this music and continue to play live and collaborate with amazing musicians in that style. And then also continue with my more pop/R&B/world project that is a little bit more of an art collection of my becoming and moving through things such as the derealization, depersonalization and essentially the mind f**ks of growing up and dealing with PTSD. I love creating in general so I’m also turning some of these thoughts into a poetry collection because when I was in that height of that confusion, there wasn’t a lot of information that I found of why I was going through those feelings that I know will be helpful to others experiencing similar things. So to write a really honest recollection I’m hoping will be helpful to people that experience this, which is actually a lot.
Baltin: When will people hear the rest of the jazz project and what else is on there?
Bava: It’s a three-song jazz project, which I’m hoping will be an EP teaser to a larger project, which would be an album of original songs in this style and some of my favorite standards. But the first two that I’ve picked for this is “Someone To Watch Over Me” and “Misty.”
Baltin: Why those two? What do those songs mean to you?
Bava: I thought that they complimented “Manchild” quite well because they’re all about the mysticism of falling in love. For me they’re very similar songs and they’re definitely of another time but there’s so much truth and humanity in them both that will be timeless forever.
Baltin: Let’s talk about the poetry book. What did you learn in the writing of that?
Bava: Well, I think perhaps the main takeaway that I received was, as your mind allows, we are so much a subject of our circumstances because of how it affects how we view the world. But if we can put ourselves in these situations that are different worlds, it’s really, we are only as our mind allows. And I’d like to remind myself that when I’m feeling stuck.
Baltin: What does your mind allow you?
Bava: I think there are two worlds. There’s the universe and then there’s man’s construct of reality. And within the universe that’s where truth resides as the higher consciousness. Herbie Hancock wisely pointed out this morning that there’s medicine in the poison.So there’s not at all good and bad, it’s just shadow and light. And what I believe is art is the river within the universe that the crazy people stick their head into and come back with the music. So within that, what my mind allows for it’s a constant daily battle of breaking out of what I think I know and what others tell me to be, to see that it’s all just someone else’s words. And everyone has value. Doesn’t matter if you’re the king of the world, you have equal value to all within the universe.
Baltin: You mentioned Herbie a few times. When you think of who it is that you want to become as an artist, are there people that really stand out to you most in terms of the way that they, not just musically, but the way that they’re able to carry themselves and think and sort of the good that they bring towards you?
Bava: There are a lot of people that I know that I really admire, like Samora Pinderhughes and Raina Sokolov Gonzalez, who I feel are just so tapped into what we’re really doing here. I think that’s the beauty of music. It is, in its essence, a reflection of spirit. So anyone that is devout in their worship of music, either consciously or unconsciously in my opinion, is aligned with these ideas. Why do people love music so much? Why do we do it? And Herbie put it simply, it makes people happy. So we continue to share it around.
Baltin: Let’s take it back to “Manchild.” When you do that song, when you hear it, what does it make you feel?
Bava: It makes me feel clean.And not in a way that we think of clean. It makes me feel like I’m covered in dirt and I’m rolling around in the mud, [laughter] that kind of clean and to that I mean it just makes me feel connected to everything and like I am a small piece in this wonderful womb of Mother Earth. It’s a story that’s very personal to me. It makes me feel all of these dark, warm, almost pulsating feelings, which I wanted to reflect in the video. I directed the video and Kyle Bower shot it in about two hours, with a piano, some drums and some black carpet. Very low key, dark and mysteriously. At times paying homage to one of my favorite artists, Fiona Apple. I edited and colored and had a lot of fun with it.
Baltin: If you could tour with anybody, who would you tour with?
Bava: There are so many incredible musicians that I would love to tour with, Lianne La Havas or Corinne Bailey Rae or of course Melody Gardot, Norah Jones would be a dream. There’s so many artists combing the old with this new original sound like Jensen Mcrae, Adam Melchor, Gabrielle Cavassa, Julius Rodriguez, Baby Rose, Snarky Puppy and Tony Desare. I’d love to play Rochester Jazz Fest, Montreal Jazz Fest, BottleRock and New Orleans Jazz Fest and so many other places come to mind.