THE OKAY-NESS OF TAKING CHANCES
by Norman Warwick
The first thing I learned as I followed the call of The Siren (see album cover above) was that it emanates from Susanna Aleksandra, a jazz vocalist, lyricist, and composer. With a passion for languages, she effortlessly plays with words and melodies, navigating across traditional, modern, and Latin Jazz. As a natural storyteller, the charismatic singer certainly holds her listeners spellbound, making jazz approachable not only for jazz connoisseurs but also for a Johnny Come Lately like me.
I´m told Susanna Aleksandra collaborates with top-class jazz musicians, including the Steinway artist, pianist Joonas Haavisto, and Holger Marjamaa (the pianist of Chris Botti). In addition, she has shared the stage with Jukka Eskola, Teemu Viinikainen, Riitta Paakki, Timo Hirvonen, Jussi Lehtonen, Robert Hurst, Peter Bernstein, Chico Pinheiro and many others. I have to say that is not a list with which I am sufficiently familiar with to be impressed by although they will very likely be familiar to many readers of Sidetracks & Detours.
However, that Mitchell Long (the guitarist of Melody Gardot), is also on that list opened a door and beckoned me in for Melody is a regular on my personal play lists.
Susanna has also performed with the legendary Russian musicians, Igor Butman Quartet and the multi-instrumentalist David Goloshokin.
She released her debut album, Miracles, in 2015. Her second album Souls Of The Night, featuring top Northern European jazz musicians, was released in Japan in March 2020 and subsequently the international version of the album was released as The Siren in January 2021 on Eclipse Music.
Susanna, a fluent speaker of six languages holds a degree in French Language And Literature. She loves to travel from place to place though and enjoys communicating with her audiences in their own language.
Susanna gained a Bachelor Of Arts degree in Jazz Performance in the prestigious Sibelius Academy in Finland. Currently, she is finishing her Master’s at the Sibelius Academy with professor Jukkis Uotila and Doctor Aija Puurtinen. In 2020, she received a scholarship to USC Thornton School of Music where she studied with the two-time Grammy-nominated jazz vocalist Sara Gazarek, (who recently wrote a moving piece on the late Annie Ross, in Jazz Times), Grammy-winner Bob Mintzer, and vocal coach MzLyndia Johnson.
In addition, Susanna has participated in several Global Music Foundation courses, studying with jazz diva Deborah Brown, Grammy-nominated vocalist René Marie, Pete Churchill and Guillermo Rozenthuler, and attending master-classes led by Bob Stoloff, Carmen Lundy, Sinne Eeg, Aron Goldberg, Chico Pinheiro, Tim Hagans, Bruce Barth, and many others.
Her new album is now receiving warm critical acclaim. Jazz In Europe says that, ´musically The Siren is a blend from the award-winning Steinway Artist, Joonas Haavisto on piano and synthesiser, Joonas Tuuri on double bass and Ville Pynssi on drums. Clean and inspired, The Siren was co-produced by Susanna, Joonas Haavisto and one of Finland’s leading percussionists, Abdissa ´Mamba´ Assefa who also features on the track Summer Came Early.
Mostly, thinking of sirens conjures up seductive creatures of the sea who lure sailors into the murky depths with their irresistible voices. However, Susanna’s song The Siren was inspired by a chance encounter in a Parisian department store with a retired dancer and choreographer who left her own charm with Susanna. Musically, The Siren is a jazz waltz with a modern twist that represents an imaginary scene of this dancer in full flight in her youth on the stages of Paris.
´I walked into a store to buy a hat.´ Susanna explains, ´and I started chatting to another customer, a true Parisian lady in her sixties, perhaps. We became friends and she gave me her business card with a photo of her in her youth. She held an elegant pose that looked so easy for her. The Siren is a metaphor for a woman who looks so elegant but possesses a lot of inner strength.´
Music has the power to heal and The Love Song is a reminder of the positive impact that love has. With Susanna´s lyrics and music, arranged by Joonas Haavisto (left), The Love Song is a pop-jazz crossover tune about accepting true love and becoming ready to fully invest ourselves in a relationship. This song was a finalist in Unelmastudio, the Finnish song-writing competition.
The album also features the jazz standard written by Oscar Levant with lyrics by Edward Heyman, Blame It On My Youth, that has special meaning for Susanna,
´It’s is a timeless song with a timeless message. For me, it is a story of accepting past errors and learning self-acceptance. We should not regret feelings we have experienced but rather be thankful for them and grow.´
The second cover included in the set is a beautiful rendition of a popular Finnish folk song called ‘A Rose Of The Valley’ with its metaphor of a boy finding a beautiful rose that he will never forget but as he is a poor wanderer, she remains only a beautiful dream.
I Will is dedicated to the unconditional love of parents for their children and was written in a spontaneous moment while riding on a train.
Susanna Aleksandra was born in Estonia and, after travelling extensively and spending a lot of time working and studying in Paris and LA, she eventually settled in Finland where she has found her new jazz home, collaborating and sharing the stage with some of the most revered Finnish jazz musicians. These include Holger Marjamaa (Chris Botti’s pianist); trumpeter Jukka Eskola, guitarist Teemu Viinikainen, pianist Riitta Paakki and drummer Jussi Lehtonen.
´I feel that music has taught me self-acceptance, kindness, and the “okay-ness” of taking chances and making mistakes,´ Susanna says. ´Singing, composing, and writing lyrics help me process and deal with the world.´
The source for this article was the excellent Jazz In Europe. pointed out to us by feedspot. Both the magazine and the listing service can be easily found on line, and are highly recommended to jazz lovers.
This article was written by Norman Warwick, (right) a weekly columnist for Lanzarote Information on-line and, owner and editor of this Sidetracks & Detours daily blog. A published author, poet, song-writer and radio broadcaster, Norman was a freelance journalist in the UK for more than forty years, and even since ´retiring´ to Lanzarote five years ago has continued that work, launching his blog in 2019. He was a founder-member in 2020 of the Joined Up Jazz Journalists (JUJJ) with Susana Fondon, a fellow writer from Lanzarote Information, UK radio jazz presenter Steve Bewick and jazz researcher and writer Gary Heywood-Everett. JUJJ was formed for the purpose of sharing jazz information with readers and listeners and of growing the individual and collective jazz knowledge of the JUJJ members.
You can listen to Steve and Gary presenting Hot Biscuits at www.fc-radio.co.uk and can find articles and archives of both Susana and Norman by subscribing to The Lanzarote Information weekly newsletter and following the appropriate links.
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