Artist Interview:
Sarah D’Angelo

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Benjamin Weatherston sat down with jazz vocalist Sarah D’Angelo at the Leon Loft to discuss life as a professional musician as well as the the local music scene.

Sarah D'Angelo

Jazz vocalist Sarah D’Angelo at the Leon Loft. Photo by Benjamin Weatherston


Ben: What genres of music do you sing?
Sarah: Anything that comes across my path! Gospel, jazz, top 40, rock, contemporary Christian, Oorchestra pops … I think that the only genre I wouldn’t attempt would be classical. There are far more qualified singers to do that than I. It takes years of training.

Ben: What was your training?
Sarah: My training is mostly classical and instrumental. I studied privately at a small music college through high school, then attended West Virginia University for my undergraduate in music ed and finished at the University of Michigan for my masters in clarinet performance. I just started training with a vocal coach within the last few years. The voice is an instrument that can’t be replaced if I damage it. So if I want to do this for the next couple of decades, I need to learn what the heck I’m doing!

Ben: Whom do you perform with?
Sarah: There are so many really great musicians that I have the privilege to perform with on a pretty regular basis. I sing with the Paul Keller Orchestra and many of his smaller ensembles (Paul Keller Ensemble, Trio and our At Sundown Quartet and Quintet), the Craig Strain Orchestra, the Kris Kurzawa trio, the Easy Street Jazz Band, and the Deadlies. And I also get to freelance with great musicians like Jake Reichbart, Mike Jellick, Glenn Tucker, Ralph Tope , Jerry McKenzie and lots of other local musicians.


Sarah D’Angelo. Photo by Benjamin Weatherston

Ben: What about studio recordings?
Sarah: I have done a mix of studio and live recordings over the past six to seven years. Sir Wick’s “An Interpretation of a Universal Language” (2008), “Portrait of Rafael” with Rafael Statin, PKO records “At Sundown”(2012) “Happiness” (2013), “Do Something” (2014) and we’re working on putting together a 25th anniversay CD for the big band this year.

Ben: What is it like as a full-time, professional musician?
Sarah: That’s a huge question. It has meant different things at different times in my life. Twenty years ago, as I was preparing for my profession (which I thought would be as an orchestral clarinetist) it meant hours and hours of dedicated practice and study a day. Ten years ago it meant dealing with the idea that I was a failure as a musician and working whatever jobs I could get that had anything to do with music. Now, it can be a mix of “living the dream,” which can mean singing to large and extremely appreciative audiences with incredible musicians making intellectually and emotionally stimulating music together! The other side of that coin is the hours spent “hustling” for small gigs that may or may not pan out, having a week of no work, and the gigs where no one shows up and the management sends you home early. Being a musician is different than what I see in many other professions. Many musicians don’t consider music simply a vocation, it’s who they are, … so our successes and failures can define who we are on a very basic level. The successes can be elating, and the failures can be paralyzing.

Ben: What do you think of Southeastern Michigan as a music scene?
Sarah: I love the scene here. I know guys who are going or want to go to L.A. or N.Y.C. as the next step in their musical career path. But I’m not of that mindset. I think that the music scene here is outstanding! There is such a rich, rich musical history in Detroit and not just in Motown or jazz. There are always places to hear good music and new artists/groups form all the time. Music is a part of the fabric of our area and it’s a vibrant community. I realize that it’s a very different scene than it was 20 or 30 years ago. I hear that the gigs are much more sparse than they have been, … but it’s still growing and changing and it’s very exciting to be a part of it.

Ben: What do you think of the live jazz scene?
Sarah: I think this area has an incredible jazz scene! There are guys here that have been playing for decades and are the giants of our local and the international scene. And there are many fresh young musicians who are eager to sit in and learn and take the new scene on by storm! It’s a great scene. I love being a part of it. I’m relatively new to it, so I may have stars in my eyes still, … but there are lots of good gigs and great musicians to be experienced. The flip side is that I don’t have to make a living doing this. My husband is a high school band director and my income as a freelance musician is not what will make or break the bank. So the jazz scene doesn’t have to feed my family; … if it did, that may color my opinion of the jazz scene a bit differently, I suppose. But I think it’s alive and kicking, for sure! I am constantly being inspired by new artists around town. Working with all of the incredible musicians that I have the privilege of playing with keeps it exciting and energizing for me as a musician.


Sarah D’Angelo. Photo by Benjamin Weatherston

Ben: What is the future for live music?
Sarah: I have no idea. There are a lot of opinions out there on this. I think it’s going to be fine. There will always be a place for live music. There will always be a community of people who see the value in it. The landscape of it will change, … but it has to. Music changes as humanity changes. What is popular now is virutally unrecognizable as compared to 300 years ago when people played string quartets in the their living rooms together for fun. But as long as there are people who want to play and those who want to listen, we’ll be okay. And I don’t see that fizzling out any time in the near or distant future.

Ben: Where do you want to go professionally?
Sarah: I don’t know. I’d spent years of my life preparing and planning for my professional career as a classical musician only to have to completely rearrange my mindset as a non-classical singer. I don’t like to waste a lot of time planning for where I want to be in 5 years as a musician. I don’t have grammy aspirations or the need to play large sold out venues to screaming fans. If I’m still playing the same clubs with great musicians twenty years from now, that’ll be great! If I’m traveling the world, touring with my bands, that’s good too. I’ve already had an extremely rewarding career full of pretty amazing things. I work with musicians that I respect and love deeply. The trappings of being a musician are the fluff. It’s good, but not the point for me. The whole reason I went in to music in the first place was an appreciation and love of music. As long as that remains the focal point of my professional life, I’ll stay the course.