St. Louis this winter already has seen the local debut of one of the most talked-about male singers in jazz when Gregory Porter came to town in January to perform at Jazz at the Bistro. Now, just a few weeks later are the first St. Louis gigs for the man who's probably been the other most talked-about male jazz singer of recent years besides Porter. That would be Sachal Vasandani, who will be here to perform next Wednesday, February 13 through Saturday, February 16 at the Bistro.
However, while both men have enjoyed significant success, they're very different stylistically. Porter, a big-voiced baritone heavily influenced by gospel and R&B, is like a jazz equivalent of Eddie Levert Sr. or Teddy Pendergrass, while Vasandani has a lighter vocal timbre, a propensity to croon, and diction that at times sounds like that of someone who's had training in musical theater.
In fact, Vasandani, now in his early thirties, grew up in Chicago and graduated from the University of Michigan, where he was named DownBeat magazine's Collegiate Jazz Vocalist of the Year in 1999.
Moving to New York, Vasandani signed with Mack Avenue Records in 2006 and released his debut album Eyes Wide Open the following year. In a review of the album, the Boston Globe said it was mature in sound and rich in texture but also possesses enough youthful angst in its lyrical themes to ward off the fogeyism that male vocalists so easily slip into before their time."
Vasandani's second album, 2009's We Move, was chosen as a New York Times Critic's Pick, prompting the Times' Nate Chinen to call him a jazz singer with good ideas, including some about what a jazz singer can be." In 2010, Vasandani was a Rising Star winner in the annual DownBeat poll, and the following year, he put out his third record on Mack Avenue, Hi-Fly, which also garnered positive reviews.
In addition to touring the USA, Europe and Asia as a headliner, Vasandani has worked with the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra with Wynton Marsalis; JalCO members Wycliffe Gordon, Sean Jones, and Eric Reed; and drummer/producer T.S. Monk; as well as doing some special joint performances with Jon Hendricks and touring Japan with Sheila Jordan.
Today's video clips show off Vasandani performing a variety of material, starting in the embedded window up above with Thelonious Monk's Monk's Dream," a song he recorded for his second album. This video was made in April 2011 in Pittsburgh, and features backing from pianist Jeb Patton, bassist David Wong and drummer Kendrick Scott.
The next two clips down below are from the same gig, and show Vasandani and the trio performing Nancy," a song long associated with Frank Sinatra, and a version of Amy Winehouse's Love Is A Losing Game." Below that, there's a video of Vasandani singing Afternoon Sun," recorded in March 2012 in Muri, Switzerland with pianist Laurent Coq and bassist Darryl Hall.
The fifth clip is from February 2012, and features Vasandani's version of the Paul Simon song Let Me Live in Your City." It was recorded in February 2012 with pianist Jez Graham during a vocal master class for the jazz society in Dunwoody, GA. The final clip is from one of those shows that Vasandani did with Jon Hendricks, and shows the two of them romping through In Walked Bud" in December 2012 at the Olympia in Paris.
For more about Sachal Vasandani, check out this NPR feature on him from 2011, and his episode of the network's Piano Jazz program in 2012. The singer also offers his impressions of some of his jazz singing predecessors and peers in a Before & After" listening test in the January 2013 issue of Jazz Times.