Sachal Vasandani: A 'Nice Indian Kid' Learns To Sing Jazz The young vocalist says his musical family and upbringing in Chicago helped cement his passion.
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Sachal Vasandani: A 'Nice Indian Kid' Learns To Sing Jazz

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Sachal Vasandani: A 'Nice Indian Kid' Learns To Sing Jazz

Sachal Vasandani: A 'Nice Indian Kid' Learns To Sing Jazz

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From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.


And I'm Michele Norris.

Every now and again, you hear a special voice that just makes you sit up and take notice.

(Soundbite of song, "The Very Thought of You")

Mr. SACHAL VASANDANI (Singer): (Singing) The very thought of you and I forget to do the little ordinary things that everyone ought to do.

NORRIS: And as you listen, you can't help but imagine yourself at a supper club, gimlet on the table, candlelight and the one you love nuzzled right next to you. Sachal Vasandani has that voice, and this classic is from his latest CD called "Hi-Fly."

Vasandani plays tribute to jazz greats such as George Gershwin and Jon Hendricks, and he showcases some of his own music on the CD. And he joins us now from California. Welcome to the program.

Mr. VASANDANI: Thank you.

NORRIS: You've described yourself as a nice Indian kid from Chicago. How did you come to jazz?

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. VASANDANI: I was really taken by the spirit of jazz. From a very young age, I was just attracted to the freedom and the music.

NORRIS: And when you were listening to jazz, what were you listening to? What were they playing at home?

Mr. VASANDANI: Dad was playing Duke Ellington. He's playing Keith Jarrett. Not a lot of singers at the time. You know, he had, you know, your "Sgt. Pepper's," your "Thriller."

NORRIS: Dad had "Thriller?"

Mr. VASANDANI: Yeah. I have a cool dad.

NORRIS: Wow. Dad was kind of hip.

Mr. VASANDANI: The other day, I was in Chicago. My dad was trying to talk me into listening to this Laurie Anderson record. And my mom had the new TV on the Radio in the car. So, yeah, I got some cool parents that like a lot of cool music.

NORRIS: Mom listening to TV on the Radio? Wow.

Mr. VASANDANI: Yeah, you know, I'm just - I'm really...

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. VASANDANI: ...kind of blessed to have these cool parents.

NORRIS: Now, you've interesting grandparents. Also, your grandfather was also a singer, a singer of classical Indian music. What are your memories of him? And did you two ever sing together?

Mr. VASANDANI: We didn't sing together, which is very unfortunate, but my memories of him was there's always music playing in his house in New Delhi. Music wasn't in the background. It was there for everybody in the home to revel in and to really enjoy, and for him to tell you why you should be enjoying it, but that's unique about my grandfather's spirit. He was a taskmaster about everything, and I loved it.

NORRIS: Did that help you...


NORRIS: ...master the craft of jazz?

Mr. VASANDANI: I think so. You know, I have the same kind of respect for Hindustani or Carnatic classical music as I do for jazz and the discipline to improvise and to really be free and tell a story.

(Soundbite of song, "Babes Blues")

Mr. VASANDANI: (Singing) I love the feel of us together. I hope you stay and stay forever. I never can say goodbye.

NORRIS: There seems to be great reverence for the form and a joy in each and every song, a lot of emotion and playfulness, and you hear that especially in the songs where you're performing with the legendary Jon Hendricks. He performs on two songs on this album. Tell me what it's like working with him and how the two of you wound up hooking up.

Mr. VASANDANI: You know, Jon Hendricks has had this effect over all the singers in jazz, and certainly, we have a profound respect even before meeting him for all that he's contributed as a singer, as a lyricist, as an innovator.

And reverence is the right word. And so when I met him in 2008, I was just in awe, first, to meet him just as a fan, and then that someone who was, I believe, at that time 86, and I had just - actually just come back from India, where my grandfather was passing away, actually, and he was 86. So there was a very spiritually connected moment for me from the get-go with Jon, and to see something I didn't necessarily know about him until I got in the studio with him, which is how much joy and lightheartedness he brings to every experience.

(Soundbite of song, "One Mint Julep")

Mr. JON HENDRICKS (Singer): (Singing) I didn't know just what I was doing. I have to marry or face ruin. A mint julep. A mint julep.

NORRIS: Take us into the studio. What was it like performing this song with him?

Mr. VASANDANI: You know, it was just so fantastic. And every time I hear this track, I laugh because I think about Jon just across the booth from me and seeing him over the stand and seeing him just like - sing this hilarious song with even more funniness than I could ever imagine and just seeing I got this master standing across from me just having a ball, so I just started to laugh during the song while I was supposed to be singing. And thank goodness, the tape was rolling, you know, because we ended up using it.

(Soundbite of song, "One Mint Julep")

Mr. VASANDANI: (Singing) A mint julep.

Mr. HENDRICKS: (Singing) Yeah (unintelligible).

Mr. VASANDANI: (Singing) One mint julep was the cause of it all, was the cause of it all.

NORRIS: You know, it had the energy of a live performance. It felt like you were inside a jazz club. And you're from Chicago, and there's some great jazz clubs in Chicago. I mean, spectacular, fantastic, some of the best in the country.

Do you have to spend time in the clubs if you want to be a jazz master? Do you need to be not just in the classroom or in your studio mastering your technique? Is it important to actually be where jazz lives?

Mr. VASANDANI: Boy, how can I say this clear enough? Yes.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. VASANDANI: Unequivocally. To really see how people play and play all night and live on the bandstand and live in real life, there's just no substitute for experiencing it in the clubs. And I would say that's for audiences, too, you know? Records are wonderful, and I support them fully, but there's no substitute for live jazz.

NORRIS: I want to ask you about - it's the third song on this CD. It's called "I See Your Face Before Me." It's not one of the songs that you wrote, but it is a classically romantic song. It's in the tradition of Frank Sinatra singing "The Way You Look Tonight."

(Soundbite of song, "I See Your Face Before Me")

Mr. VASANDANI: (Singing) I see your face before me. Crowding my every dream, there is your face before me. You are my only theme.

NORRIS: When was the first time you heard this song?

Mr. VASANDANI: The first time I heard this song was a few years ago. Pretty recently, actually, and it was Sinatra that sang it. And like my favorite of Sinatra songs, it immediately conjured up images. Images that were very personal of the person I love or just maybe wanting to be in love, you know, so I could have that feeling. And when I was in the studio, that was what I was just trying to channel is singing to that person or to that face and, you know, it's still a moving song for me to share for that reason.

(Soundbite of song, "I See Your Face Before Me")

Mr. VASANDANI: (Singing) Would that my love could haunt you so, knowing I want you so.

It's been so rewarding so far to be singing these songs that, boy, I have just been thinking about sharing them so much.

NORRIS: It has been wonderful to talk to you. I only wish that we were in the audience.

(Soundbite of laughter)

NORRIS: We could hear a little bit more.

Sachal Vasandani, all the best to you.

Mr. VASANDANI: Thanks.

NORRIS: Sachal Vasandani, his new album is called "Hi-Fly."

(Soundbite of music)

Mr. VASANDANI: (Singing) Dressed in blue, sunlight passes through you. Forgot my name, I could never blame you.

NORRIS: You're listening to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News.

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