Take Five With Ava Lemert
Ava Lemert is a Sacramento siren of soul. She is a passionate singer, songwriter, as well as an impressive saxophonist. Her original songs range from the richly arranged '70s soul-tinged "You Know You Got It," which feature her singing lead, harmonies, and layers of her alto and tenor saxophones, to her haunting, emotive and sexy instrumental "Rhodelea." Ava has the vocal and sax chops to make quite an impression on fans and critics alike.
Alto saxophone, tenor saxophone, vocal.
Teachers and/or influences?
Herb Hardesty, Stan Getz, King Curtis, Ben Webster, Lee Allen, Boots Randolph, Bill Justis, Ace Cannon, Gato Barbieri, Grover Washington, Jr., Branford Marsalis (tenor sax), Earl Bostic, Maceo Parker, David Sanborn, Candy Dulfer, Paul Desmond, Johnny Hodges (alto sax), Lisa Stansfield, Tina Turner, Sarah Vaughan, Gladys Knight, Mavis Staples, Dusty Springfield, Julie London, Peggy Lee, Alicia Keys, Taylor Dayne, Teena Marie, Dinah Washington, Dionne Warwick, The Beatles are my lifelong inspiration.
I knew I wanted to be a musician when...
I began making up songs and singing them around age three, nonsense stuff into my Dad's cassette recorder, I got my own at age seven and began making up whole "radio programs" with characters, commercials, DJs and thrashing on my toy drum set, and various home-made instruments. In high school I began putting my poems to melody and began layering sounds, (terrible sound quality).
Your sound and approach to music:
When inspiration first strikes, it is usually my best work! I am very spontaneous, and enjoy that aspect of the creation process the most. This might make others cringe but sometimes working out ideas tires me. I like that first "spark." Some of my "sparks" have been sitting around the garage on old 4-track cassettes waiting for me to finish the ideas. I like to listen, listen, and listen more.
I have never been a patient person when it comes to study, I like to jump right in. Sometimes that means I have to go back and start over, read, then come back with a more pragmatic approach! Collaboration has been a godsend to my music so far. I have realized that my songs can be amazing "butterflies" if I can take them to my friends who are objective and well-studied musicians and let the music grow with them. I also need to have more faith in my own vision for my songs sometimes. But I love to hear a song that I wrote given new life with beautiful instrumentation and additional chord structure. Like a diamond in the rough, how they shine when that "polish" is added!
Your teaching approach:
Listen to many kinds of music, especially many different instruments. If at all possible, learn several completely un-related instruments. Learn piano, I started on a monophonic instrument and still struggle with bass clef and reading piano music. I think if I had that basis, my musical progress would not have stopped after high school, forcing me to leave my music major in college.
Your dream band:
I love congas and Latin percussion, my dream band would have a drum kit, and probably two or three more percussionists. Gotta have a horn section! Rhodes piano is a must, it is my favorite keyboard sound in the world. Several bass types: fretless electric, upright and slappin' funk à la Bootsy! Guitar, of course, and a whole bunch of styles, like George Benson, Ernie Isley, and acoustic guitar. I also dream of a string section. Using as few instruments from a synth as possible, (money's no object here, right?).
Road story: Your best or worst experience:
Playing in the dark at a gig, in a walk way next to a soda machine that made more noise than I did!
I love to play at Eskaton because the residents ask for me, I have seen people who didn't know their name, suddenly burst into song along with me. Or, at Christmas, I did a show and a man and woman, both in wheel chairs came together and held hands the whole evening, the lifetime of love was right there before me not five feet away and I knew that my music and my voice had rekindled these feelings. It was the most incredibly moving experience I have had. My mother, God rest her soul, was smiling down upon it.
Your favorite recording in your discography and why?
"That 70's Girl" is the song that makes me feel so good, I think it truly reflects me. The song is fun, it is a nod to the soul and funk of the '70s when I was a child that first sparked this love of music-making, and I love how Cam Perridge on guitar and I "sing" along on our instruments at the end, a nice surprise. I love harmony and I love to use my saxophones as "extensions" of my own voice, this song has my tenor and alto saxophones harmonizing.
The first Jazz album I bought was:
Weather Report, Heavy Weather.
What do you think is the most important thing you are contributing musically?
My emotion, my soul and earthiness. I like to know that when people listen to my singing or to my saxophones it touches them. That means everything to me and lets me know my music is connecting on a personal level with listeners. I don't use the term "fan," I think of my listeners as friends. Friends know each others' ups and downs, their emotional needs and I try to use music to fulfill the voids that this digital world leaves us all. I'm a real person, this is my real voice and I think the genuine-quality of my music is the lasting impression I want to give.
Did you know...
That I hated the sound of my own voice so much, when I would play one of my own songs for family or friends, I'd leave the room!
CDs you are listening to now:
Los Straitjackets, The Velvet Touch of Los Straitjackets (YepRock);
David Bowie, Young Americans (RCA);
Lenny Kravitz, Are You Gonna Go My Way (Virgin);
David Sanborn, Here and Gone (Decca);
Fats Domino, Greatest Hits: Walking to New Orleans (Capitol/EMI).
Desert Island picks:
The Beatles, White Album (Apple Records);
The Beatles, Revolver (Capitol/EMI);
The Beatles, Abbey Road (Apple Records);
Stan Getz, Cool Velvet (Polygram);
Prince, Sign 'O' The Times (Paisley Park/Warner Bros).
How would you describe the state of jazz today?
A state of identity crisis, but hasn't it always been? As a contemporary artist, I feel pressure from both sides: pressure to be more of a backdrop or soundtrack, all smoothed out and very produced on one side. The other side is the traditional/purist side that doesn't observe fusion, contemporary or progressive music as jazz at all. Why can't jazz be a model of open-minded expression as I feel it is? There is a snobbery on one side and a pop image, slick side to jazz today and I'm not sure I feel that freedom of expression that turned me onto jazz as a fifteen year old jazz band student.
What are some of the essential requirements to keep jazz alive and growing?
The last statement above is a segue to this response: resist the temptation to over categorize music, my music doesn't fit into one category. Keep experimentation free and don't look down upon another person's sensibilities and style. For all we know, that kid who likes contemporary jazz might be the one kid in your class that keeps playing and let's music grow within because their first taste of jazz was easier to digest. Be open to other music forms, why can't jazz have a rock, pop or vocal. Fusion can mean many things to many people, be open and free to consider them in your library. Expose children to instruments other than those toys from Rock Band!
What is in the near future?
I have a CD signing tomorrow, a Valentine's Day show with my friends at Eskaton Gold River. More interviews are being scheduled on internet radio for March and April. The "big" thing coming up is my first morning television show appearance on Sacramento and Company, the Sacramento ABC affiliate station (KTXV news10.net) when I will be the musical guest! Something else that I am very honored and excited about is the chance to play and sing to the kids at Cambridge Heights Elementary School, I have been invited by their new music teacher, Mr. Parr, and I am so happy, I don't have details other than possibly a Beatles medley with the 5/6th graders and some fun stuff with the little ones! I might have to bring my homemade instruments I kept from childhood!
Beyond that, I have a few shows lined up at various retirement communities and at a few country clubs, but I'd like to try to have some public venue shows, anyone out there in Sacramento looking?
Mom, graphic designer, and volunteer at my son's elementary school. Last year I was an art docent, this year I am enjoying being a librarian!
If I weren't a jazz musician, I would be a:
Graphic designer, illustrator, but I always wonder what I could have done with my music if I had only been brave enough to try.
Courtesy of Ava Lemert.