Singer/songwriter Jennifer Saran has been a very busy and very productive artist in recent times. She has been working on a new album called "Walk With Me" with legendary producer Michael Narada Walden. During this process, there was some logistical down time and to fill the void they made a holiday Christmas song. It came out so good that it opened up a can of worms. One thing led to another and the songwriting pair now have a completed Christmas CD titled "Merry Christmas, You Are Loved." It has a mixture of originals and Jen's favorite Christmas songs. I recently corresponded with Jennifer.
R.V.B. - Congratulations on your new Christmas release "Merry Christmas, You Are Loved". Was this on your bucket list to do an album of Holiday songs?
J.S. - First of all, Thank you. Not really on any bucket list. This project came up late September/early October while we were in a ‘stand-by’ mode waiting for various elements to come together on another album Narada and I have been working on since February (“Walk With Me”). The Christmas Album started as ONE song idea that I had written and sent to Narada, around which he composed a melody (Merry Christmas, You Are Loved), to have a ‘single’ to launch during this season. And within days it grew into a ‘let’s do a full album’. It was Narada’s confidence that we could complete that encouraged me. Time constriction impacted how many originals we could put together. Narada and I are happiest when we’re doing original music.
R.V.B. - Is the title directed to anyone, or group... or is it just a general title?
R.V.B. - It must have been a difficult decision to decide which cover songs to use for the project because there are so many good ones.
J.S. - You would think so…in fact, this list are ones you could say are at the ‘top’ of my list of favorites. The challenge was ‘limiting’ the list, because there are many more that I love. The Most Wonderful Time of the year is probably the only one that was not necessarily a long time favorite, but rather one of the songs I would think of if you asked me ‘which’ standard Christmas song says ‘Christmas is a Happy Time’ and would inspire people to smile and open themselves to the joy of Christmas.
R.V.B. - Were there any of the original songs that are on the CD, that have a special story or meaning to you?
J.S. - Yes! Sweetest Christmas started in my head as thoughts around children, and turned into ‘family’ fun. “Little Girls…” was totally inspired by memories of my youngest daughter and and my two sons various Christmas morning memories. “Mine at Christmas…” is a love song (no details to share J ) and “Christmas is Really My Thing” was from a text conversation between Narada and I – He said ‘I love Christmas…’ and I said “yeah, Christmas is really my thing”, to which he said, ‘Jenn, that is a great song title. Why don’t you write something around that?” So I did. And then HE composed the melody immediately.
R.V.B. - When you were a young girl, did you have any favorite singers or performers?
J.S. - For sure, but all over the map. As a young girl I loved musicals from the 1930’s all the way up to Rosemary Clooney and Doris Day (1940’s/50’s - my mother used to say I was born too late with my taste in old movies and music). I listened to Ella Fitzgerald and Elvis, and I loved the soul and Motown performers – Marvin Gaye, Diana Ross, Michael Jackson, but then also loved Elton John and Barbra Streisand and the Carpenters. Perhaps the unpredictable one is that when I lived in Paris as a young adult I fell in love with the music of Charles Aznavour. He was/is a brilliant lyricist. Beyond performers, I was intrigued by ‘lyrics’. Aznavour, Cole Porter and Gershwin were, to me, the most clever lyricists. Nothing hidden or deeply philosophical – just a brilliant grasp and delivery on life and feelings.
R.V.B. - With all the traveling that you have done in your life, and all the different languages and culture that you took in... does any of this experience show up on the Christmas CD?
J.S. - Perhaps less on this album than on the next, but universally what is important to me when writing is that there is ‘grace’ and ‘gentleness’ in anything I write, or sing. And I believe that this is a component of my personality that is a part of me from navigating different cultures and learning the ‘culture’ of languages. We can all learn ‘words’, but if we can learn ‘how to compose’ our words in another (every day) language to be meaningful in someone else’s language, then THAT is learning a language or culture.
R.V.B. - In your teens and in your college years, did your interests in tastes, and style of music change at all?
J.S. - My tastes broadened, rather than changed. In Cairo/Alexandria, where I went to high school and college, there were many ‘boy bands’ of young men who emulated western music; we had live band clubs and discos and night clubs, and there was definitely a groupie culture. I think my taste in music was much broader than most of my peer group, and young adults traveling out to Europe and the US always brought back new music. I was also very comfortable at 18 years old with people my own age, and their parents, or playing bridge with 60 and 70 year olds who loved older music ;whether in English, French, or Italian, even Arabic.
R.V.B. - In the lean music years when you were a wife, mother, and a professional, did you still manage to practice your art of singing?
J.S. - Not in early married years. Only in my car really. I had an outside sales job, so spent hours a day in my car, and came home to be a mother and wife. No time or space for anything else. I only saw a few live performers in the 9 years I lived back in LA; Rod Stewart, Charles Aznavour, Neil Diamond and Dudley Moore.
J.S. - I accidentally found a choir ‘activity’ with the American Women’s Association, joined and we sang two seasons a year, mostly for the AWA functions or the occasional shopping mall. During the Handover (HK went back to China) the AWA wanted us to stop doing anything in public. We felt we could do more in fund raising. So, we broke out on our own. I established the legal charity ‘structure’, with everyone serving as a volunteer, and the founding members established the executive committee to organize it. We went from raising $2000 a year to almost $10,000 our first year. And that grew to our best year of $75,000/-. (not a lot in the big world of NY or London charitie, but for a community volunteer group, it was and is considered very respectable here.) All the fundraising was from members selling tickets to our performances to family and friends and fans. I have served in almost every post over the years, but settled into music Librarian (I choose, source and buy the music) and Bookings – I secure the venues where we rehearse and sing.
R.V.B. - What are some of your favorite songs to sing with the choir?
J.S. - We love thinking up ‘themes’. Then I go out and find the music that fits the theme – all styles – and the Exco and Director make the final selections. Our Director is versatile and is willing to take on diverse styles and ideas.
R.V.B. - How did you wind up in Hong Kong and how have you enjoyed your years there?
J.S. - My husband and I had an agreement that family would go wherever either of us had the best employment opportunity. Intially he moved to Singapore to join me, because I had the better job. And when he was offered a much better job, we moved the family to follow him to Hong Kong.
R.V.B. - How did you enjoy working with Michael Narada Walden?
J.S. - He is the MOST inspiring and professional person I have EVER worked with in ANY profession or walk of life, besides my late husband. I have never seen the combination of POSITIVE energy, CREATIVITY, GENEROSITY, PROFESSIONALISM, and GRACE all wrapped in one package. He has been kind and nurturing and supportive. Besides that he always makes me and others laugh;he sees the joy in all we do. AND, he is quick. No ‘slacking’ ever goes on when we’re working. Everything is so FAST.
J.S. - Short term? Musically, I have two albums ‘in the can’ that were recorded before this album. Both VERY different in many ways, except that there continues to be a variety in type of music and styles of arrangements. Meanwhile, I have a few businesses that I’m involved in, and the Choir in Hong Kong. Haven’t thought beyond that, except I would like to keep recording with Narada. It’s the best hobby I’ve ever had.
R.V.B. - What's in your CD player right now?
J.S. - The MOST listened to? Al Green, Adele, Andrea Bocelli, Anita Baker, Streisand, Billy Paul, Blood Sweat and Tears, Aznavour, Chicago, Crosby Stills and Nash, Ella Fitzgrald, Frank Sinatra, Maroon Five, Michael Jackson, Naturally 7, Phil Collins, Rosemary Clooney, Seal, Santana, Whitney Houston.
R.V.B. - Thank you for considering answering these questions.
J.S. - Thank you for taking the time to ask. Happy Holidays – It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year.
Interview conducted by Robert von Bernewitz
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For more information on Jennifer Saran visit her websitewww.jennifersaran.com
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