All That Jazz!

A jazz player who looks like a Bollywood hero? As New York Times jazz critic Ben Ratliff wrote, “Sachal Vasandani was a total surprise: He looks like the leading man in a Bollywood musical, but is a very traditional jazz crooner in the great tradition of Billy Eckstine and Ellington’s Eckstine equivalents, Herb Jeffries and Al Hibbler. He sang swingers and ballads, and he scatted with surprising ease.”

Vasandani, who grew up in Chicago, is probably the only Sindhi jazz singer around! He was a singer at this year’s Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra presentation of Don Quixote. You can swing along with him this month at Singers Over Manhattan (Oct. 20, 21, 22) in Frederick P. Rose Hall, overlooking Central Park. He is featured along with jazz vocalists Carla Cook and Jennifer Sanon, backed by the Eric Reed Trio.

Vasandani’s parents who are from Delhi owned a very decent collection of jazz records, which introduced him to the wonder of jazz. ” For me it’s not even an Indian or non-Indian thing,” he says. ” I just happened to be a lot around jazz and found it to be the best expression for me, so I went with it.”

He was active in jazz band and choir, as well as other ensembles, and studied at the University of Michigan. He was the official representative of the International Association of Schools of Jazz, and was voted Collegiate Jazz Vocalist of the Year by Down Beat magazine. In 2004, he was a semi-finalist in the Thelonious Monk Institute Competition.

Jazz is about swing and improvisation and is quintessentially American. It’s found its greatest exponents in the trumpet and the voice, including names like Louis Armstrong, Ella Fitzgerald and Frank Sinatra. Says Vasandani, “To me, jazz is about freedom and I’ve explored different kinds of music – classical, rock and R & B – and I think jazz, both explicitly and implicitly, affords a musician, not just a singer, a lot of freedom.” He performs all over the country and internationally, but his base is the Zinc Bar where he performs every other Monday with his band.

What’s with his unusual name, Sachal? Surprisingly, it turns out to be a tribute to the Sindhi Sufi poet, Sachal Sarmast. Says the jazz crooner with the name of a Sufi poet: “It makes me feel there is a connection with all artistry that my parents wanted to tap into.”

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