Sara Gazarek: The Always Changing Story of Life
by Susan Frances
The story of life has been represented in books like John Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath. It’s been told about in the Bible and summarized by Confucius. It’s even been showcased in reality TV shows like The Housewives of Atlanta and other programs of its ilk. And, of course, it’s been depicted in songs, the medium that singer-songwriter Sara Gazarek has chosen to bare her soul and release pent-up feelings about her own always changing life.
She imparts, “I think it’s our duty as musicians and artists to shine a light on the human experience, no matter how bright, dark, happy, sad, easy, or challenging those experiences may be. This album encapsulates a particularly challenging part of my life — rooted in the dissolution of a marriage, new relationships, growth, solitude, and (as it often happens) healing and emergence. My only hope is that this album serves as a guide for anyone who finds themselves at the beginning of a challenging journey. If I can make it out the other side (bigger and brighter), anyone can.”
The title of her new release Thirsty Ghost reflects the challenging journey of life as she illuminates, “A Thirsty Ghost represents the feeling of wanting desperately to be satiated, but unable to process that which we’re thirsty for — until we embrace that whole hearted experience (the good AND the bad).”
She explains, “The album title is part of a lyric in the rubato verse/intro of the song ‘Distant Storm,’ [on the album] originally written by Brad Mehldau titled ‘When It Rains’.”
The song “Distant Storm” on the recording looks at the struggle to fulfill a desire but not knowing how to do so, and encountering wounds along the way. The human inclination leads one to venture along different paths to satisfy that yearning. A yearning that has often been portrayed in a variety of Broadway shows from Blood Brothers to Phantom of the Opera. The recurring theme of human yearning could be the single trait that sways audiences to make a correlation between the song “Distant Storm” and Broadway showtunes.
However, Garazek asserts, “I don’t get the Broadway musical feel with this one — all I hear is Brad Mehdau’s stunning and expansive soundscape, embraced by Jon Brion’s brilliant production.” She adds, “But this song does feel like a journey to me, which I suppose is how some, through composed pieces, tend feel. And that’s why I chose this song for this project — as well as the lyrical concept I wanted to express. I’m grateful he gave me permission to do so!”
She investigates deeper, “The lyric concept speaks to the realization that the brilliance of life will only be great when we are able to embrace the darkness as well. ” She quotes from “Distant Storm” to make her point, “‘The warmth of sunlight comes and goes, but beauty only grows, when it rains’.”
Known as a pop/rock vocalist, a jazz singer, even a blues crooner, but what Sara Garazek demonstrates on Thirsty Ghost is her R&B/soul chops, though she admits, “I’ve never been compared to an R&B artist before, so I’ll take that compliment and hang it on the wall. My approach to sound isn’t a conscious choice, but R&B is also an art form rooted in sincere expression, so I could see where there might be similarities.”
The R&B/soul timbres in her register shine on her remake of Dolly Parton’s hit song “Jolene.” For the track, she collaborated with Geoff Keezer, an esteemed pianist, composer, arranger, and producer.
“Geoff Keezer is one of the great arrangers of our time,” she applauds, “and I’ve always wanted to work with him. For this song/arrangement, I asked him to come up with something that represented the fury and fire that I experienced when I experienced my “Jolene” — I asked for a driving groove, something a bit slower than the original tempo but with a more intense subdivision. Something that would capture the feeling of being on the cusp of emotional eruption. I think he hit it on the head!”
Another collaboration featured on the recording unites keyboardist/organist Larry Goldings with Garazek on the original song “Gaslight District.” Audiences might recall the term gaslight from the 1944 film Gaslight, which starred Charles Boyer and Ingrid Bergman. The tale is about a murderer who manipulates his victim to doubt her memory, perception, and sanity.
She recalls, “I came to him with the lyrical concept and title of ‘Gaslight District,’ and I finished the lyrics once he had sent over the composition.” She tells fondly, “Larry Goldings produced a previous album of mine Blossom & Bee, and I thoroughly enjoyed our collaborative musical partnership. Writing with Larry is easy and incredibly rewarding.”
Fine-tuning the track is keyboardist/organist Stu Mindeman, whom Garazek praises, “The arrangement that Stu Mindeman came up with (with the horns orchestrated by Alan Ferber, and background vocals by Erin Bentlage) really took it to the searching, haunted place where it needed to reside.”
The inflections in Garazek’s voice are penetrating, emoting a vulnerability in her resonance that makes the listener stop, reflect, and relate to the lyrics. The track “Cocoon” is equally penetrative, though this time, her vocals are sparsely supported by a distant drumbeat. The tune is entirely dependent on her vocals to drive the melody, carry it, and shape it. She does so without flinching.
Garazek claims about the song, “I wanted to create a soundscape that felt similar to the vulnerability I felt when I was finally ready to fall in love again — there isn’t a net when we allow ourselves to wholeheartedly fall in love… But stepping into that vulnerability anyway, is what yields the kind of brilliant, life changing experiences we are all longing for. It was terrifying and beautiful, but so is love.”
Love is believed to touch the heart, which may explain why the cover art on Thirsty Ghost focuses the viewer’s attention on Garazek’s heart. She expresses, “The black and white photo is supposed to represent a dry, colorless existence — but the prism coming through and expanding from my chest (with my eyes looking towards it) represents finally embracing much needed change, growth, and full spectrum of emotion.”
She shares, “The cover art concept was something that came to me when thinking about where this album had come from and where I was headed. I had a strong vision, and was grateful for Julian Montague for his willingness to bring it to life.”
Sara Garazek has experienced her share of change but when asked if she feels her music has settled, she remarks, “I think, in an art form rooted in authenticity (such as jazz), continued change is inevitable. I’m not sure what the future holds, but I imagine I’ll continue to charge myself with the duty to be present and sincere, and to continue to push myself to grow as a human and an artist.”
Audiences can anticipate seeing Garazek perform live across the country to support her new recording. She describes about the difference between playing in the studio and performing live, “When recording in the studio, many musicians are aware that (while we may want to be as expressive, responsive, and in the moment as possible) it’s challenging to tap into that space when the idea of ‘forever’ is on the back burner. It’s possible to fix, tune, and tweak things.”
She briefly compacts, “A live performance is just a moment — there’s a confidence and a freedom in that.”
As the story of life moves along a constant state of flux, Sara Garazek’s own life experiences each fluctuation. Accepting the good and the bad moments, Garazek’s sense of confidence and freedom carries her through the crests and lulls, never missing a single moment of it all.
About Susan Frances:
Born in Brooklyn, New York and raised in eastern Long Island, I always enjoyed writing and made several contributions to my high school literary magazine, The Lion’s Pen. Influenced by writers of epic novels including Colleen McCullough and James Clavell, I gravitated to creative writing. After graduating from New York University with a BA in Liberal Arts, I tried my hand at conventional jobs but always returned to creative writing. Since 1998, I have been a freelance writer and have over three thousand articles to various e-zines including: Jazz Times, Blogcritics, Yahoo Voices, Goodreads.com, Authors and Books (books.wiseto.com), TheReadingRoom.com, Amazon.com, Epinions.com, Fictiondb.com, LibraryThing.com, BTS emag, BarnesandNoble.com, RomanticHistoricalReviews.com, AReCafe.com, Hybrid Magazine, and BookDepository.com. In 2013 and 2014, I was a judge in the Orange Rose Writing Competition sponsored by the Orange County chapter of the Romance Writers of America located in Brea, California.