Sara Gazarek challenges her own narrative with new Vanity EP

If the best artists are those who are persistent in their desire to develop themselves, their approach and their work, then jazz vocalist Sara Gazarek is definitely up there with the best.

For musicians, each new project serves as a postcard from where they are at that point in their musical road trip. If that’s the case, then Gazarek is at a particularly interesting leg of her artistic journey.

The multiple Grammy nominee is getting ready to release Vanity, a four-song EP that finds Gazarek further developing a sound and artistic vision for which she’s become highly respected and highly in demand.

Gazarek joined me to talk about her latest project.

I didn’t know you were working on this EP. Was this a spontaneous decision, or is it something you’ve been working on for a while?

I had a tour as a solo artist and bandleader back in March. Looking at the set list and the instrumentation of the people I was bringing with me, I realized there weren’t any songs that spoke to my experiences over the past two years. All the music that we were touring was understandably from [my 2019 album] Thirsty Ghost, because we hadn’t had an opportunity to tour that project much. I started to look for songs that represented some of the things that I had been through and that could shed a bit of light on the person that I’ve become and the musician that I’ve become. I landed on these four songs, one of which is the first original composition I’ve ever written and one of which is a love letter to my mother. Similar to Thirsty Ghost, it was an attempt to capture some lessons I had learned in that moment and to give my audiences a sense of what I had been thinking about. It just made sense to head into the studio to document it.

There are a few different themes: growth, lessons, developing yourself, and the concept of removing fear. I found that last one interesting, because you’ve always seemed like a fearless performer. How did these themes come into the recording?

People can probably hear earlier in my musical experience that I worked really hard to record songs that were light and bright and would channel parts of my voice that were generally acceptable and pretty. For the most part, the priority was consistency. A lot of the arrangements were so thoroughly arranged that they didn’t give me an opportunity to explore very much. Those are the big things that were taken off the table. [I wanted to see] what would happen if I expanded my toolbox, my musicianship, my voice, to try to be a bit more exploratory with the colours, tone and textures that I’m using. Also, creating arrangements that have more room for exploration and interaction between the rhythm section and myself. The big one was finding repertoire, material and arrangements that speak to the underbelly of the experience that we have in the world. That was it: What if I explore truth instead of feeling like there’s a role that I’m supposed to play for my audience?

Was it your experience working with säje that pushed you into wanting to compose something for yourself, or has that been in the back of your mind for a while now?

It was neither. I feel like I always have thought that I was a great lyricist and a good collaborator. On Thirsty Ghost, there were four songs that I wrote lyrics to, and I’ve always felt really comfortable in that realm. During the pandemic, I [asked myself]: What are the narratives I have about myself? Are they actually true? Who am I? Where does this sit? As a teacher and as a person, I’ve always pushed myself and my students to challenge the narrative that they have about themselves and to just try something. I wrote [a] song, and it was so freeing.

What else is coming up for you in the next while?

It’s really just the release of Vanity. I just wrapped the music video for the title track, which I edited. I’m just sharing this small little baby with the world.

This interview has been edited and condensed.