The Eclectic Music of Sarah E. Charles

There is always room for new talent in the world of jazz so Sarah E. Charles is a welcome addition.  Sarah is a young talented jazz vocalist who has studied with and shared the stage with musicians like Jimmy Owens, Geri Allen, Dr. Billy Taylor, Sheila Jordan, Cecil Bridgewater, Reggie Workman, George Cables, Junior Mance, Richard Harper, Janet Lawson, and Carmen Lundy.  She is also the bandleader of the Sarah E. Charles Quartet.  Born in Springfield, Mass, Ms. Charles graduated with a BFA from the New School of Jazz and Music and has a BA from Eugene Lange College in New York.  A composer, she has performed at the Apollo Theatre, Dizzy’s Club Coca-Cola at Jazz at Lincoln Center, the Blue Note, Iridium, Smalls Jazz Club, Zinc Bar, and during the New York Couture Fashion Week.  She has performed at the Kennedy Center in Washington, DC and as a selected member of the 2009 Betty Carter Jazz Ahead Composers Residency, Gillette Stadium and the Northampton Center for the Arts.                                                                                                                     

Sarah began her odyssey into music at age 6.  “I studied at the Community Music Center in Springfield, Mass., starting at 6 years old.  I then went on to study classical piano.  I enjoyed the Children’s Choir and then joined the Church Choir at Our Lady of Hope.  When I turned 8 years old, I performed a solo at the Church.”  “My knowledge of music was basically what I heard on the radio in my family home.  My parents listened to Michael Jackson and Stevie Wonder, so I did too.  No one in my family had a jazz background prior to my taking an interest in it, so I kind of fell into jazz, because my school had a great vocal instructor who was also a local jazz artist.  She was the one who exposed me to jazz music at 11 years old.  Under her tutelage, I learned two jazz standards, “They Can’t Take that Away From Me,” and “Don’t Get Around Much Anymore.”  I practiced those songs until I was pretty familiar with them.  One day, my instructor asked me to go upstairs to sit in with a band and sing those tunes.  The director of the school was also there listening while I sang.  After I finished singing with the ensemble, the director informed me that I had just had an audition.  I guess because I was only 11 years old, they didn’t want to scare me, so didn’t tell me that they were actually auditioning me to sing with the ensemble” recalled Sarah.

Sarah is very eclectic in her musical tastes, style and performances, R&B, Soul, and even adds Haitian Folkloric music into her repertoire.

“In terms of how I envision jazz, I had to figure out what my sound as a vocalist and instrumentalist would be.  Jazz is a very improvisational music and that is what draws me to it.  Because it’s such an open form of music, I can be myself and make my own sound within it.  It’s also important that there be discussion about jazz as an intellectual form of music.  For many years, Classical music was seen within academia as an intellectual form, thus taken more seriously than jazz.  Gradually people began to realize what jazz musicians already knew, that there is richness and intellect to what jazz musicians are creating and performing.  There is a whole field of study and vocabulary that musicians have to learn in order to push the genre forward.  I think because its improvisational music, people oftentimes are unable to understand it” remarked the busy singer.

Sarah had a double major in college; psychology and music.  “I took sociology and urban study as my major.  Initially, I considered just doing a fine arts degree but decided I needed to be involved in a strong liberal arts and sociology program.  I was able to do this at the New School.  It was important to me to be a socially aware musician.  Music is often reflective of society at large and in politics whether in the USA or throughout the world.  As a musician, I am aware that I have a unique platform via the microphone and stage and that encompasses being socially responsible.  I have to respect that and take it seriously. My sociology background affects my music and has become the philosophy by which I live.  Just by the sheer nature of the music, one learns the jazz tradition is embedded within conversation.  If you are not really talking to the people on the bandstand with you, it’s hard to call the music jazz.  There is a conversational element in improvisational music which gives the instruments itself a voice,” explained Charles.

The Sarah E. Quartet includes Jessie Elder on piano, John Davis on drums and Burniss Earl Travis on bass.  The band has forged a strong bond.  “My quartet performed on my CD entitled “Red” and again, I tried to mix musical genres, so it has an alive feel and vibe.  These days when I play my music, I play my original music and various arrangements of music standards that I’ve chosen.   On Red, for example, I used a Carlos Jobim song, wherein I flipped the song around.  Jobim song was a mellow bosa nova but my interpretation of it was more aggressive than Jobim song would have been.  I made the chord changes reflective of me and my style. And I included 3 original pieces and two Haitian folkloric songs and an extended intro in Red.  It was received pretty well so I plan to do another CD at the end of this year and am already composing music for it” claims the talented performer.

For now, however, Sarah Charles’s current album “Red” can be obtained via CD Baby, Amazon,, and through varied musical sources.

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