Sari Schorr is a passionate blues singer who has been inducted into the New York Blues Hall of Fame. After hearing jazz greats Ella Fitzgerald and Billy Holiday as a young girl, Sari decided to start singing. She began to study and research these American legends. In the process, she found out about the great female blues singers from the 20's, such as: Bessie Smith, Mamie Smith, Ma Rainey, and others. It was these major blues artists that sent Sari off to the blues races. She honed her skills, practiced her craft, and paid her dues, by playing in New York City dive bars. It all eventually paid off as Sari Began to tour nationally and internationally with artists such as Popa Chubby and Joe Louis Walker. Equipped with a hot new band "The Engine Room", they are about to release their Debut album and perform at Carnegie Hall... at The Leadbelly Fest. I recently corresponded with Sari... who was in Europe... as she and her band put the finishing touches on their new album.
R.V.B. - How did you get interested in singing? Did you have a musical family?
S.S. - Here’s the lore: my mother would tell you that I was singing before I could walk. There was always music in the house – Ray Charles, Motown & Sinatra. My parents loved music, but neither were musicians. My father was a pilot in the Air Force, and my mother was a fashion model.
R.V.B. - Who were some of your early influences. How did you wind up in the blues genre?
S.S. - My early influences were Billie Holiday and Ella Fitzgerald. I listened to them endlessly, studying their every nuance and phrasing. I learned to sing trying to emulate them.Then I wanted to know who their influences were. This led me to the great female blues singers of the 20’s and 30’s. Bessie Smith, who Janis Joplin considered the world’s great blues singer, become one of my idols, along with Ma Rainey, who was considered the “Mother of the Blues” and the great Mamie Smith who had the distinction of being the first African-American woman to record a vocal blues recording in 1920. These women were pioneers at a time when racism, poverty, and abusive relationships were part of their daily lives.
I wanted to fall in line behind these impressive and powerful women who had to overcome so many obstacles to sing the blues.
R.V.B. - Did you have formal training? Were you involved with singing in school?
S.S. - I had classical voice training throughout high school and college. I was encouraged to pursue opera because of my 5-octave range and the volume of my voice. But, I was already very much committed to developing myself as a songwriter. I’m also not a very disciplined singer. I’m much more inspired by improvisation.
S.S. - One of the first original bands I was in came out of the South Bronx. Back then, I’d hear gunshots ring out between songs. I also did a lot of gigs on Manhattan’s Lower East Side at venues like CGBG’s and Arlene’s Grocery. When you first start out there are shows when your band outnumbers the audience. But, you give your all and never forget, that no matter what, it’s a privilege to make music.
R.V.B. - What was your turning point of becoming professional?
S.S. - The turning point was going into music full-time after college. I made some tough choices, most of which involved not taking jobs that were offering real money. I had to accept that going into music full-time meant I’d probably not get on my feet financially for a while – if ever.
My biggest career break was meeting the legendary producer Mike Vernon in Memphis in 2015. He has produced my new album which will be released on Manhaton Records in September 2016. I’m here in Spain mixing the last few tracks with Mike at Sputnik Recording Studio in Seville.
S.S. - Every show is something special because each show is as unique as the audience. We had a fantastic concert here last night in Seville. I’m just so moved by the power of music to transcend the barriers of language. You can feel so completely connected to people through music.
R.V.B. - Can you tell me how it was playing with Papa Chubby and Joe Louis Walker? (Popa)
S.S. - I’m fortunate to have worked with some great guitar players. I was living in Paris when I got the call from Joe Louis Walker to join his band. He saw me perform in NYC. Joe is a powerful guitarist with a great tone which makes him a singers’ guitarist. We had a great synergy and it was inspiring to play with him. Popa is an exciting guitar player to work with because there’s an unbridled passion to his playing. Popa and I have written together and I’ve recorded some vocals on one of his recent albums. We’re hoping to do some touring together later this year. Our respective agents are trying to coordinate schedules.
R.V.B. - How did you assemble your new band "The Engine Room"?
S.S. - I had performed with Innes Sibun (Robert Plant’s former guitarist) at the Iridium in NY and he just knocked me sideways. He was electrifying. When Mike Vernon and I were putting together our short list of musicians for the album sessionsI threw Innes’ name in immediately. I knew that he and Mike had done an album together. Innes was on tour in Germany but quickly got back to Mike saying that he had heard the demos and was very interested in playing on the album. The success of the recording sessions led to the decision to build The Engine Room band around Innes; a decision that has already been entirely vindicated. His enthusiasm, creativity and unbounded energy make him a force majeure.
S.S. - The majority of the songs on the new album are originals. I’ve collaborated with great writers from around the globe for this album including Mike Vernon and Quique Bonal in Spain, Henning Gehrke in Germany and Jimmy Yaeger and Dave Fields in the US. I’m honored to have Walter Trout as a guest artist on the album. We’ll be recording one of his songs as a duet. I’ve also covered a powerful Lead Belly song that I’ll be performing at Carnegie Hall.
R.V.B. - How do you enjoy playing in Europe. Do the audiences there react differently then the audiences in the US?
S.S. - There is a big market for blues in Europe. Many of the festivals are in the most picturesque locations and I’ve always loved working in Europe. But, I find there is just something very special about a blues audience, no matter where you are.
R.V.B. - Do you have a practice regime or a vocal coach?
S.S. - I don’t have a practice regime or vocal coach any longer. I try to work as often as possible to keep on top of my game. The truth is, I’m almost always thinking about music.
R.V.B. - How are you looking forward to playing Carnegie Hall?
S.S. - I think the Lead Belly Fest at Carnegie Hall will always be one of the most memorable shows of my career. It is such an honor to share the stage with Buddy Guy, Walter Trout, Edgar Winter, Dana Fuchs, Eric Burden and other great artists to pay tribute to Lead Belly, an artist whose contribution to Blues is immeasurable.
It was a pleasure to answer your thoughtful questions. Thanks very much for your support!
Follow up questions after the Carnegie Hall Show 2/12/16
R.V.B. - How was the experience of playing the Lead Belly Fest at Carnegie Hall?
S.S. - I’ll put it to you this way – playing Carnegie Hall and performing the works of Lead Belly, one of the founding fathers of the blues, the first thing that comes to the mind of a kid from Brooklyn is, “Fuhgeddaboutit!”
I’m performing in one of the most iconic music venues on the planet, and in my hometown, New York, NY where I’m born and raised. To stand on a stage where everyone from Billie Holiday to the Beatles once stood is thrilling and overwhelming.
R.V.B. - Anything interesting happen back stage?
S.S. - Well, it’s always fun sharing time with an amazing assortment of artists. There is the 'meet and greet' going on, interviews and photo ops. But, best of all, it’s a chance to catch up with some people you don’t get to see very often because of everyone’s busy tour schedule.
Backstage at Carnegie Hall is a production team in constant motion, working together like a well-oiled machine. It takes dozens of people with headsets, clipboards and nerves of steel to keep a show of this magnitude running smoothly. They don’t get the credit they deserve. Lead Belly Fest producers John Puccioni and John Velasco, as well as the show's director Peter Bird, also did a brilliant job.
R.V.B. - Did you meet any new friends there?
S.S. - I did make some great new friends. Walter Trout is now going to be a guest on my new album. In fact, I just got a skype call a moment ago from London where Mike Vernon is recording piano with multi-instrumentalist John Baggott (Robert Plant, Massive Attack, Portishead) on the duet Walter and I will be doing. I was able to hear a bit of the session and OMG; I can’t wait for everyone to hear it!
I had already met Buddy Guy when I was on tour in Canada with Joe Louis Walker, but it was wonderful to see him and his band again. Seeing Edgar Winter is always a pleasure. He's approachable and humble.
And, the lovely Dana Fuchs and I finally met although we have many mutual friends, both coming from New York. We’re now talking about doing something together. I’ll keep you posted.
Interview conducted by Robert von Bernewitz
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For more information on Sari visit these websites www.sarischorr.com
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