Sasha Dobson's Journey Out Of Jazz And Into Songwriting The singer's father, Smith Dobson, was one of the most sought-after pianists in the Bay Area when he died in a car crash in 2001. Sasha Dobson, who had been a scat singer, responded to the tragedy by picking up a guitar.
NPR logo

Sasha Dobson's Journey Out Of Jazz And Into Songwriting

  • Download
  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript
Sasha Dobson's Journey Out Of Jazz And Into Songwriting

Sasha Dobson's Journey Out Of Jazz And Into Songwriting

  • Download
  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript



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.


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.


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.


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


DOBSON: (Singing) (Unintelligible)

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

DOBSON: You can? I love it.


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.


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.


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: (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.


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.


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.


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


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


Copyright © 2013 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.