Sun, 22 March 2015
"Thana Alexa is a great new talent...has a beautiful voice and is a great composer and bandleader...She's a musician first and a vocalist second." - Antonio Sanchez
High praise from a great musician and Ode to Heroes delivers the goods.
The album mainly features the engaging original compositions of singer-songwriter Thana Alexa, along with vibrant takes on jazz standards like Wayne Shorter's "Footprints," Charles Mingus' "Goodbye Pork Pie Hat," and Paul Desmond's "Take 5." Most importantly, it spotlights Ms. Alexa's ability to engage in rewarding and illuminating conversation with some of the music's most renowned and forward-thinking players. Her band includes veteran jazz stars like Sergio Salvatore on piano and Sanchez on drums and the likes of Donny McCaslin (saxophone) and Scott Colley (bass) sit in on other tracks.
Though she was born in New York City, Thana was raised in Croatia, so her path was never going to be the expected one. She first encountered jazz at an outdoor café in Dubrovnik. The owner was a bassist who encouraged her to join his band onstage when he spotted her mouthing the lyrics in the audience. "He yelled to me from the stage in broken English and my mom pushed me up there," she recalls. "I must have looked like a tree just standing there; it was my first time ever singing in front of people."
The experience ignited a passion for jazz and soon Ms. Alexa was taking voice lessons at the Rock Academy of Zagreb. A few years later, vibraphonist and club owner Bosko Petrovic took the young singer under his wing, producing a demo and urging her to discover her own voice. She returned to the States at the age of 18 to attend Northeastern University, majoring in psychology because she still saw jazz as a hobby. "I had the darkest year of my life," she says. "It was only during a jazz course I had once a week that something would light up inside of me when I had my five minutes to sing. The message was clear that a life change had to be made, so I moved to New York City and enrolled at the New School where I received a B.F.A in jazz performance and also finished my B.A. in psychology."
Since then, she has collaborated with a number of adventurous musicians, most notably guitarist Gene Ess, a veteran of bands led by Rashied Ali and Dr. Eddie Henderson, while holding down a residency at New York’s 55 Bar, a jazz vocalist’s Mecca. She won the 2011 Jazzon Alpe-Andria International Competition for Ode To Heroes while her song "Siena" was nominated for a Best Jazz Composition award by PORIN, the Croatian Music Academy, an honor equivalent to the Grammy Awards in America.
Podcast 471 features my conversation with Ms. Alexa with musical selections from Ode to Heroes, including the title track, “Trace Back Your Footprints” and “Siena”, as well as tracks from Sanchez’s New Life and Ess’ Fractal Attraction.
Thana Alexa will appear March 23 at SubCulture in New York, with special guests Antonio Sanchez and Donny McCaslin.