Two and a half years ago, singer/pianist Sarah McKenzie took part in the Umbria Jazz Festival competition: she was awarded a rare full Scholarship to attend the iconic Berklee College of Music.
18 months later she graduated with a Diploma in Jazz Performance and was immediately snapped up by Jean-Philippe Allard, managing director of the impulse! label.
At this time, she’s already released two EPs and one album: Don’t Tempt Me (2011), Close Your Eyes (2012) and We Could Be Lovers (2015).
I caught up with her behind the scenes at the Bergen Nattjazz festival.
You’re a relatively young, white woman. Jazz is a genre which doesn’t seem to attract many performers like yourself. What made you want to play jazz?
Sarah: I put on a jazz record, and I thought, “Wow, this is really me, I dunno why, but I really like it.” And I started transcribing solos from an early age, just cos I wanted to play along to the band, because they sounded so great. So … I dunno, it was fun, you know, and I wanted to be a part of it.
Will you continue staying in the genre, or do you see yourself branching out in the future?
It’s hard to stay the same, but at the same time I love jazz! I hope to develop my musical sensibilities over time.
How did you like today’s gig?
I loved it! The audience in Bergen really loves jazz! Who could have known?
Do you want to return to Bergen?
Absolutely! I was just out on the pier looking out at the ocean, and I love it here! I generally regret having to travel immediately. Tomorrow, for instance, I’ll have to get up at 5:30 in the morning. Not a day goes by when I didn’t wish I could stay for a week in a place.
You recently released your first album, and are already touring the world – what do you think are the reasons behind your success?
Woah! A lot of hard work, a great team, a great management – generally a combination of those things. A lot of passion for what I do.
I was very impressed with your playing – were you a prodigy growing up?
Absolutely not! I just loved the music, and I’ve been working hard at it ever since.
Do you still play to practice, or do you do it mostly as a job and/or recreation these days?
I work really hard at it. Sometimes it’s really trying, if you can’t get things to work. I practice all the time.
What’s it like traveling the world with three guys in a band? Are you good friends?
Generally, the feeling is one of family. Of course, it’s impossible not to get tired from time to time, but we all feel like one big family most of the time.
Your voice is really beautiful. Do you do anything to take care of it?
I have to work very hard at it (singing), and I warm up for 45 minutes every day. The voice is like a muscle, I have to exersize it all the time.
Does it get worn out on tour?
Generally, it’s kept up very nicely, actually!
Anything you’d like to say to your Norwegian fans?
I loved playing here, and I’ll see you next time!
Do you have a new album in the wings?
Yes, I spent two weeks in Paris playing and arranging new tunes, and … yeah. It’s my life. We’re recording in New York next week, actually. So that is a new one, to be coming very soon.
Sarah McKenzie has an extensive touring schedule, and will be coming to Norway again later this summer!