sasha dobson /
the darkling thrush

1 Who Will Buy? (Bart) 5:30
2 You Go To My Head (Coots/Gillespie) 3:27
3 Goodbye (Jenkins) 3:43
4 Quiet Nights (Jobim) 3:42
5 What Is This Thing Called Love? (Porter) 3:27
6 Guess I'll Hang My Tears Out To Dry (Styne) 3:49
7 Detour Ahead (Carter/Ellis/Frigo) 5:06
8 I'm Beginning To See The Light (Ellington/Hodges) 2:47
9 Sophisticated Lady (Ellington) 3:56
10 I'll Get By (Ahlert/Turk) 2:21
11 If You Could See Me Now (Dameron) 3:15
12 April In Paris (Duke) 3:17
13 The Song Is You (Kern) 3:39

All arrangements by Chris Byars, except
Who Will Buy? arranged by Smith Dobson and orchestrated by Chris Byars, and
If You Could See Me Now arranged by Tadd Dameron and orchestrated by Chris Byars.


Sasha Dobson (vocals), Chris Byars (tenor sax, flute, clarinet), Gary Pribek (alto sax, flute), Mark Lopeman (baritone sax, clarinet), Richie Vitale (trumpet, flugelhorn), John Mosca (trombone), Sacha Perry (piano), Neal Miner (bass), Andy Watson (drums)

Taking a frustrating spin around the radio dial today, one might well ask: what has happened to the art of the jazz singer? For years now, it seems the jazz category has been the object of a hostile takeover by the music conglomerates, who fill the airwaves with a steady stream of overproduced easy listening music from a succession of pop and cabaret singers, conveniently recast to fit the stereotype of the jazz singer. But the resulting music rings hollow to our ears, lacking the depth, conviction, and finesse of the real thing.

Enter Sasha Dobson. As the daughter of two of the San Francisco Bay area's most notable jazz musicians, the late pianist Smith Dobson and singer Gail Dobson, Sasha has understood jazz as a way of life since day one. As a consequence, she doesn't just sing; she can really play.

Sasha arrived on the Smalls scene about five years ago, at first singing during late-night sessions. Over the years, vocalists by the score came around to Smalls to develop their craft on such sessions. As with any instrumentalist, those with a special gift were extremely rare. But Sasha, sounding like a great horn player you never knew but wish you had, stopped cats dead in their tracks. It wasn’t long before she caught the ear of multi-talented arranger/composer/saxophonist Chris Byars of Smalls tenure, who hired her to sing in front of The Chris Byars Octet, then appearing regularly at Smalls and Fat Cat. Chris, an arranger who keenly recognizes the connection between an artist's life and her music, wrote a book of arrangements over the course of a year as a subtle response to events in Sasha's life during that time. The resulting book, documented here, reflects themes of both love and loss, and it is colored most strongly by emotions stemming from the sudden and untimely death of her father in April of 2001.

These sessions were emotionally charged throughout, as the listener will readily appreciate. Who Will Buy? is an outpouring, propelled by the exuberance of Smith Dobson's arrangement. On Guess I'll Hang My Tears Out to Dry, it is plain that Sasha is fighting back tears of her own. Whatever the song, she puts herself into every line, never merely reciting, and never just pretending. And the arranger’s craft is everywhere in abundance. The finely-wrought arrangements by the prodigious Byars are lush and engaging compositions in their own right. The title of course refers to Thomas Hardy’s poem, which inspired the use of the word ‘thrush’ as slang for a jazz singer. We put it here as a reminder that the jazz artist exemplifies freedom and optimism in stark defiance of an often bleak world. All of these vocal performances were recorded with the full band and mixed live in the studio with no vocal re-takes. They are presented here as they happened, allowing the listener to go along on the perilous journey.

Luke Kaven


Like her idols Ella Fitzgerald and Sarah Vaughan, Sasha Dobson holds the simplicity, clarity and depth needed to master humanity’s first instrument. She forms her original stamp from both the rich historical essence of her stylistic ancestors and from her own 20-year tenure on the microphone. A rare bird indeed, a species worth your study.

For these sessions, I thought to construct a dialogue between Dobson’s flowing, ringing tone and the instrumental chorus of the Octet. There’s a good deal of call and response, some straight backdrop (band plays tableau-style under the vocal), and perhaps most exciting to the jazz listener is when we trot our vocalist out as a competent and inspiring solo improviser. Just listen to What Is This Thing Called Love? She tells her story without missing a beat, a chord, or a phrase, and spins a solo that horn players should learn.

On Who Will Buy, I based the arrangement on a sketch recording of Smith Dobson (Sasha’s father), a mainstay of the California jazz scene for decades prior to his untimely passing in 2001. Deprived of actually meeting the man, I learned much about his originality and passionate commitment to music through this tape. He stormed through the whole song, playing and singing everything without missing a beat, quite a technical show. There was a lot of music inside this guy.

Detour Ahead also harks back to the Dobson family. Gail Dobson recorded a brilliant duet version (Smith accompanies on piano) that makes the walls of your soul vibrate sympathetically. To recreate this feeling with our much larger band, the drums take a rest and the band plays rubato. The middle section of our arrangement pays homage, with pianist Sacha Perry masterfully cradling the next generation’s vocals.

Also, take note of Sasha’s stint “in the horn section” toward the end of Quiet Nights. After Richie Vitale’s reflective chorus, the Thrush slips into the lead voice of a soft horn section of woodwinds and muted trombone. It’s one of her favorite moments on the disc.

So, congratulations on getting to know this sensational jazz vocalist. I look forward to watching her flourish in the coming years. This early offering is a sign of good things to come.

Chris Byars


This record is dedicated to the memory of Smith Dobson.