Kari-On Productions is proud to introduce
With her debut album Do Right released in May 2016, Sari Kessler is fast becoming a singular force in jazz, praised by critics for her recorded material and live performances alike. All About Jazz proclaimed her “a first-rate interpreter, (able) to tap into the marrow of a lyric and bring its essence to the foreground.” JazzTimes declared, “It is nearly impossible to say enough about Sari Kessler’s talent for and dedication to jazz vocals,” applauding Do Right as “a splendid example of what a debut album should and could be.”
To say that Sari Kessler has traveled a long way in her shoes is more than a metaphor. The New York-based jazz singer, songwriter, and arranger is also an avid runner, and it was only after finishing her first half-marathon that she knew anything was possible. Trading in her hard earned career as a clinical psychologist to be a full-time musician, Kessler has pursued jazz singing with like-minded persistence, achieving a deeply personal and soulful sound.
A compelling storyteller and tasteful improviser, Sari exudes warmth and a joyful spirit both on and off the stage. She says, “I know my stories and I know myself. Being an effective jazz singer means finding myself in the lyric and investing each word with meaning.” Looking at a list of Kessler’s influences—including Carmen McRae, Nina Simone, and Ray Charles—highlights a tradition of great storytellers, each of whom carved an unbeaten path across the landscape of the Great American Songbook. While Sari’s background in pop and soul gave her the foundation to use her voice as an expressive tool, it was Grammy-nominated singer and educator Kate McGarry who helped her investigate rhythmic and harmonic aspects of the jazz tradition in service of telling the story.
Kessler has shared the stage with the legendary talents of Houston Person, Gene Bertoncini, and Phoebe Snow. She has also recorded or performed with eminent jazzmen Howard Alden, Tootie Heath, Harvie S, John di Martino, and Freddie Bryant, among others. Kessler has appeared in the San Francisco Bay Area and at leading Manhattan venues such as Jazz at Kitano, 55 Bar, Somethin’ Jazz Club, and Zeb’s. In the Hamptons, she’s been featured at Shelter Island Jazzfest, LI Winterfest, and The Art of Song Parlor Jazz Concert Series. Sari’s wide-ranging resume also includes studio work, providing lead and background vocals for Miramax, public radio, and other corporate marketing ventures.
All of these experiences have nourished her appropriately titled debut, Do Right, an album that celebrates Kessler’s contemporary spirit while acknowledging the greats who inspire her.
Sari Kessler’s debut album, Do Right, might read like an admonition to some, but for her it’s an inner edict—a way of life for an artist who does right by herself and the traditions that inspire her. As Kessler notes, “The title grew directly out of the process of making the record, from a commitment to the interior lives of the songs.” It’s an approach fully embodied in her take on Walk On By. The desolate trumpet of Nadje Noordhuis, which introduces the tune, proves complementary to Kessler’s story-driven delivery and ensures listeners they’re in for an emotionally genuine experience. Arranged by innovative producer James Shipp, the track exemplifies his ability to masterfully meld tradition with contemporary sensibilities.
The New Orleans-flavored, second-line treatment of After You’ve Gone spotlights Kessler’s playful delivery and interaction with the band. Indeed, drummer Willard Dyson and guitarist Ron Affif play as much off Kessler as the other way around. Her bold reading of the classic Sunny, arranged by Randy Porter, brings the listener through changes of meter and key, revealing a singer who can be nothing but herself, reclaiming joy and optimism at every turn. Meanwhile Too Close For Comfort, despite its jovial exterior, is a cautionary tale of boundaries gone awry.
The songs on Do Right, chosen as carefully as her musicians, yield a few emotional wallops—most notably, The Gal From Joe’s. In Kessler’s sober reading of this rarely-heard Duke Ellington tune, she patiently wades through pianist John di Martino’s gri evous waters, affording insight into a painful past. Kessler’s original, My Empty Bed Blues, holds its own in the present set list. This narrative of longing and solitude, elevated by the authority of Houston Person’s iconic sound, is perhaps the most universal of the tracks.
Kessler delivers the well-traveled ballad,I Thought About You, with a uniquely contemplative reading that guides the listener on a journey of introspection. Accompanied only by piano, she navigates Moonglow with tasteful phrasing and ornamentation. Before that, we are treated to declamatory readings of Why Don’t You Do Right? and The Frim Fram Sauce, a novelty song that Kessler turns into a viable statement on knowing what you want and getting it. And in the end, that’s all you need.
- Walk On By (4:50)
- After You’ve Gone (4:44)
- Why Don’t You Do Right? (3:15)
- The Gal From Joe’s (4:08)
- Sunny (4:36)
- It’s A Wonderful World (3:39)
- I Thought About You (4:26)
- The Frim Fram Sauce (4:07)
- Feeling Good 4:59)
- My Empty Bed Blues (4:21)
- Too Close For Comfort (3:17)
- Moonglow (2:44)
Player and instrument:
Sari Kessler- vocals
John di Martino- piano
Ron Affif- guitar
Steve Whipple- bass
Willard Dyson- drums
James Shipp- percussion
Houston Person- tenor saxophone
Nadje Noordhuis (pronounced Nadia Nordhouse)
- trumpet and flugelhorn