Sara Gazarek shows the fuss is deserved

Special to The Times

It’s been happening fast for jazz singer Sara Gazarek. Not long out of USC’s Thornton School of Music, she has released a much-praised album, “Yours,” she’s signed with the high-powered Stiletto Management agency and has been part of the Concord Jazz Festival tour with Diane Schuur, Karrin Allyson and Oleta Adams.

That’s pretty heady stuff for the Seattle-born musician, who is still on the sunny side of 25. But her performance at the Vic on Thursday night affirmed that her talents fully deserve the attention she’s been receiving, and that -- in a very crowded field -- she may well turn out to be the next important jazz singer.

Accompanied by pianist Josh Nelson, bassist Erik Kertes and drummer Matt Slocum, Gazarek sang a program reaching across a fascinatingly wide spectrum of sources. Each piece received unique treatment, evidenced by the groove- and riff-driven “You Are My Sunshine,” the bass and drum of “Leaving on a Jet Plane,” the brisk, up-tempo drive of “Too Darn Hot” and the lyrical intimacy of “So This Is Love” (from Disney’s “Cinderella”).


Her rendering of “I Got It Bad,” sung with a rarely heard verse, was a mesmerizing expression of feeling; the Beatles’ “Blackbird” blended smoothly with the ‘20s standard “Bye Bye Blackbird”; and the material was topped off with two gorgeous songs written by pianist Nelson -- “Yours” and “Without You.”

The combination of enthusiasm and inventiveness energizing the empathic interaction between Gazarek and the trio was among many impressive aspects of the performance.

Singing and playing music rooted in classic styles, they nonetheless brought youth, vitality and a stunning contemporary quality to everything they touched.

Jazz singing is, at best, an elusive art, subject to as many definitions as there are singers. And what was most fascinating about Gazarek’s performance was the way her singing bypassed those definitions to reach deeply into the heart of the music. Like her most illustrious predecessors, she demonstrated a remarkable capacity to transform everything she sang into the combination of unique personal expressiveness, rhythmic swing and inventive phrasing that is the heart of the jazz vocal art.