Sara + Josh Meet Tony Barcelona

Vocalist Sara Gazarek & pianist Josh Nelson tap acclaimed producer Tony Barcelona to work their latest DUO project. He wants gold!


All Again

Sara Gazarek and her group perform “All Again” at the Laguna Beach Live! Jazz Series, April 2nd, 2014.

Sara Gazarek, voice
Josh Nelson, piano
Hamilton Price, bass
Zach Harmon, drums 

video recording, mixing & editing by Alex Chaloff


NEW CD “Dream in the Blue” Arrives 8/5/16!

Dream in the Blue Cover copy

After Years of Steady Collaboration, Sara Gazarek and Josh Nelson debut as Vocal-Piano Duo with Dream in the Blue, Out August 5th 2016

Mix of Standards, Pop Arrangements and Originals Find Gazarek and Nelson Reaching New Heights of Artistic Maturity, Captured by Veteran Producer/Engineer Al Schmitt

Since 2002, vocalist Sara Gazarek and pianist Josh Nelson have nurtured an uncommonly strong musical bond. It’s no mere happenstance that Nelson played as a band member on all four of Gazarek’s albums, and she, in turn, sang on two of Nelson’s own recording projects. But over the past 18 months, this Los Angeles-based pair has taken their collaboration to a new level, touring extensively as a duo and developing a diverse repertoire that showcases their combined artistic maturation. Gazarek and Nelson recorded their new album Dream in the Blue (funded exclusively through the crowd-sourcing website as a tribute to their extraordinary partnership.

“I remember feeling so incredibly comfortable with Josh that I held on tight and never looked back,” says Gazarek, recalling their very first gig in LA. “We’ve spent the last decade and more writing together, arranging, recording, making silly videos; essentially growing up together, personally and musically.” Nelson, in addition to citing his close rapport with Gazarek, sees Dream in the Blue as “a nice snapshot of our musical tastes in general — decidedly welcoming and accessible for a wide variety of audiences.”

The intimate qualities of Dream in the Blue largely derive from the duo’s earnest reflection on their individual experiences and confront both light and dark aspects of the human condition. “I realized the fragility of the gift of love,” Gazarek says of recent life changes, “and the importance of vulnerability and gratitude in our most precious relationships. The songs took on a searching heaviness that I hadn’t explored before.” Nelson similarly identifies a shift in approach that situates their work into a more introspective space: “I feel like I came back to my traditional jazz roots on this album. My previous records have been more modern and theme oriented. I also hear a strong ‘West Coast’ sound on this album, a forward-thinking energy but also a laid-back vibe that reflects where we both live and create music.”

Reflecting on a pivotal moment in her artistic journey, Gazarek recalls a bit of enduring wisdom she gained from her mentor, the acclaimed bassist John Clayton, “about how to be taken seriously, maintain a long-term trajectory and keep developing as an artist,” she says. “John calmly told me, ‘As long as you stay honest about your experience, continue to grow as a person and never stop doing your homework, you’ll always have a place in this music.’ I’ve lived by that rule for the last 11 years.”

The clarity and warmth of Dream in the Blue, captured vividly by veteran producer and engineer Al Schmitt (who has worked with legends such as Frank Sinatra, Sam Cooke, and Bob Dylan), contributes to the emotional arc of Gazarek and Nelson’s program. The album opens with a medley that joins the Beatles’ “Blackbird” with the standard “Bye Bye Blackbird” — an arrangement that first appeared on Gazarek’s debut album, Yours. “‘Blackbird’ is one of our signature arrangements,” states Gazarek, “and when Josh plays his piano intro at the top, fans immediately recognize it, so it made sense to revisit and celebrate it, and highlight how it’s grown over the years.” Another medley closes the album: Nick Drake’s “Cello Song” morphs into the standard “Without a Song,” again highlighting a link between the Great American Songbook and the world of contemporary music.

Along these lines is the Bonnie Raitt classic “I Can’t Make You Love Me,” which “speaks to a universal truth of knowing that love is over, but wanting to stay for just one more night,” says Gazarek. “In this arrangement we incorporated musical elements like changing time signatures and ritardandos to add a speech-like quality to the phrasing.” Laura Mvula’s “Father Father,” meanwhile, shows how the duo’s harmonic ingenuity can enhance the spirit of a song. With the swing tune “On the Sunny Side of the Street,” Gazarek harks back to the life-changing moment she first heard the album Ella & Basie! Here and on “No Moon at All,” Nelson also offers a nod to the legacy of stride piano: “I feel like a piano and voice record would not be complete without at least pointing to that rich tradition. In this setting it really helps the time move as well.”

Duke Ellington’s “Mood Indigo” appears in a radical reworking that “encapsulates the whirlwind of torment that one experiences when love is lost,” says Gazarek. “The syncopated piano part, tempo, odd meter, and dynamics were carefully employed to give that effect.” “We tried to create a brand new energy and vibe,” Nelson adds, “so that the song might be thought of with a more ‘searching’ feel and message.” The upbeat Brazilian number “O Pato,” sung in Portuguese, also honors Ellington indirectly with its passing harmonic similarity to “Take the ‘A’ Train.”

The duo’s original songs reveal an evolving artistic depth and sophistication. “All Again” features lyrics and music by Nelson, who describes it as “a song about loss but also promise and hope.” “Petit Papillon” (“Little Butterfly”) evokes traces of “Moonlight in Vermont” and finds Nelson literally hitting his stride again. As Gazarek explains, “it’s a love song that compares the capture of a butterfly who loses her colors and wings, and a woman who falls for a man who leaves her once she’s fallen apart.”

“I Don’t Love You Anymore,” co-written with lyricist Cliff Goldmacher, tells the story of running into a former lover and finding him or her doing better than expected. “The lyrics encapsulate the lies that you would tell them, and yourself, to get through the interaction,” Gazarek shares. Finally, “Behind Me” evolved out of a song Nelson wrote years ago, with an entirely different lyric and story. “After a very challenging family health scare,” Gazarek recalls, “I was completely taken with the first few lines of Josh’s lyric, ‘I don’t know how I got here / maybe I should go on home, and leave this all behind me.’ That lyric directly tapped into to my internal dialogue during that time. I was grateful that Josh gave me the opportunity to process something so terrifying by writing a new lyric to his song.”

Over the years, Gazarek and Nelson have learned “to breathe together and anticipate where we’ll go, but react with joy and flexibility when we find each other in new terrain,” Gazarek says. “There’s so much freedom in the trust that we share — I know at any given moment, Josh will push me but also support me in a way I can’t imagine experiencing with anyone else.” Those inspired moments of finely honed communication between Gazarek and Nelson pervade Dream in the Blue, an album that exemplifies the art of the duo at its best.

Musical Charge ♥ Please Read

Every year I try to revisit this before the school year begins at USC. It’s an important read for musicians, artists, teachers, and students alike.

What follows is part of the talk Karl Paulnack (Boston Conservatory) gave to the freshman class and their parents when he welcomed them to the conservatory.

“The responsibility I will charge your sons and daughters with is this:

‘If we were a medical school, and you were here as a med student practicing appendectomies, you’d take your work very seriously because you would imagine that some night at two AM someone is going to waltz into your emergency room and you’re going to have to save their life. Well, my friends, someday at 8 PM someone is going to walk into your concert hall and bring you a mind that is confused, a heart that is overwhelmed, a soul that is weary. Whether they go out whole again will depend partly on how well you do your craft.

You’re not here to become an entertainer, and you don’t have to sell yourself. The truth is you don’t have anything to sell; being a musician isn’t about dispensing a product, like selling used cars. I’m not an entertainer; I’m a lot closer to a paramedic, a firefighter, a rescue worker. You’re here to become a sort of therapist for the human soul, a spiritual version of a chiropractor, physical therapist, someone who works with our insides to see if they get things to line up, to see if we can come into harmony with ourselves and be healthy and happy and well.

Frankly, ladies and gentlemen, I expect you not only to master music; I expect you to save the planet. If there is a future wave of wellness on this planet, of harmony, of peace, of an end to war, of mutual understanding, of equality, of fairness, I don’t expect it will come from a government, a military force or a corporation. I no longer even expect it to come from the religions of the world, which together seem to have brought us as much war as they have peace. If there is a future of peace for humankind, if there is to be an understanding of how these invisible, internal things should fit together, I expect it will come from the artists, because that’s what we do. As in the concentration camp and the evening of 9/11, the artists are the ones who might be able to help us with our internal, invisible lives.’

New Management!

Sara is thrilled to announce that she recently joined the list of stellar artists managed by Jeff Neben at Axis Artist Management! Check out his roster here!

Axis Artist Management, Inc.
Jeff Neben
(818) 998-2595

SG Returns to NYC 1/9!

“Sara Gazarek’s singing is impeccable… ★★★★★” -Winnipeg Free Press
“She may well turn out to be the next important jazz singer.” -Los Angeles Times
“Sara combines heart and intellect in a way that really makes her stand out.” – Larry Goldings

West-Coast Jazz Vocalist Sara Gazarek Previews New Music at Birdland January 9 in Rare New York City Performance

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Follow Up to Acclaimed “Blossom & Bee” (Palmetto) Coming Late 2014

Sara Gazarek is a gifted artist with a singular sound and vision. Steeped in the tradition of jazz, she is also deeply informed by contemporary songwriters and performers. Her influences range from Nick Drake and Harry Nilsson to Duke Ellington and Irene Kral. Her most recent release, “Blossom & Bee” (Palmetto), produced by organist Larry Goldings, featured guest artist John Pizzarelli and gained her a new level of acclaim as one of the finest young vocalists in jazz. Jazz Times noted, “‘Blossom & Bee’ has all the beauty, bite and superb workings of a winner. It’s as good – or better – than some recent Grammy-nominated or winning female vocalist efforts.”

Known for offering emotionally expansive standards, Sara creates uncommonly memorable originals too, all delivered with a thoughtful poignancy and rich, supple tones. She will debut new music she’s written and feature selections from “Blossom & Bee” at Birdland Jazz Club January 9, coinciding with the Jazz Connect and APAP conferences. Her engagement will mark the first time in five years she has performed in New York City due to international touring in Asia and Europe and considerable U.S. touring and work on the West Coast. She will be joined by her stellar Los Angeles-based band of nine years: pianist Josh Nelson (Natalie Cole, Monk Competition finalist); bassist Sam Minaie (Tigran Hamasayan); and drummer Zach Harmon (Terence Blanchard). Guitarist Randy Napoleon (Freddy Cole) will also be featured.

At Birdland we’ll explore the music of some of my favorite composers and debut some original compositions. I always look to tell a story via the mood, arrangement, melody and/or lyric of a song and am inspired by composers like Ellington who subscribe to the mood as a pivotal element. We’ll also work-shop some material for our next album, exploring more sophisticated instrumentation, much of it inspired by Ellington.

“Fragile beauty, darkest ruby, keep it close and guard it”


Sara first realized she wanted to become a jazz vocalist in 2000, when her high schooljazz orchestra was asked to perform at the Essentially Ellington Festival in NYC. Awarded the first-ever Ella Fitzgerald Charitable Foundation Vocal Soloist Award for her performance, she went on to the University of Southern California (USC) to study with vocalists Tierney Sutton and Carmen Bradford. While there, Sara was selected by Downbeat as its Best Collegiate Vocalist and went on to tour with the Concord Jazz Festival alongside Diane Schuur, Karrin Allyson and Oleta Adams. At USC Sara also connected with bassist/arranger John Clayton, who produced her first two critically- acclaimed CDs. He has remained one of her most important champions.
Sara is incredibly passionate about music education and conducts workshops and clinics in the cities in which she performs. Sara now serves on faculty in the jazz studies department at USC, and works as an educator and performer at many jazz festivals around the country including the Reno International Jazz Festival and the Lionel Hampton Jazz Festival.
INTERVIEWS / CD: Jana La Sorte / / 347.726.8325

Sara & Josh Japanese Release!

Josh and I are very honored to have our duo version of “Blackbird/Bye Bye Blackbird” included on a compilation CD put out by Yamaha (Japan), alongside so many of my favorite artists – Matt Wilson, Gretchen Parlato, Kate McGarry, Fred Hersch and more! “Graceful Harmony” will be released in Japan on Sept 4th.

Sara Gazarek + Josh Nelson “Blackbird/Bye Bye Blackbird”


Graceful Harmony – Piano and Vocal (Various Artists)

  1. Blackbird-Bye Bye Blackbird/Sara Gazarek & Josh Nelson (Quiet Corner Version) (vocal : Sara Gazarek / piano : Josh Nelson)
  2. Now At Last/Joe Barbieri (Bob Haymes) (vocal : Joe Barbieri / piano : Antonio Fresa)
  3. Love Marks/Fleurine (Chico Buarque; adapted by Fleurine / Francis Hime) (vocal : Fleurine / piano : Brad Mehldau)
  4. Summer Rain/Triosence (Bernhard Schuler)
  5. Prá Machucar Meu Coração/Peter Eldridge (Ary Barroso) (vocal & piano : Peter Eldridge)
  6. Debussy/Aram Sédèfian (Aram Sédèfian) (vocal : Aram Sédèfian, synthesizer : Jean-Pierre Auffrédo)
  7. La Tour De Nesle/Pierre Barouh (vocal : Pierre Barouh / piano : Maurice Vender)
  8. Our Day Will Come/Armen Donelian (Mort Garson – Bob Hilliard) (piano : Armen Donelian)
  9. Vienna Blues/Laurie Antonioli (Laurie Antonioli / Fritz Pauer) (vocal : Laurie Antonioli / piano : Matt Clark)
  10. Songs & Lullabies/Fred Hersch (Norma Winstone / Fred Hersch) (vocal : Norman Winstone / piano : Fred Hersch)
  11. Better Than/Gretchen Parlato (Gretchen Parlato) (vocal : Gretchen Parlato / piano, rhodes, hammond : Taylor Eigsti)
  12. Nica’s Dream/Romain Collin (Weaver Copeland – Horace Silver) (piano : Romain Collin)
  13. Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow/Christine Tobin & Liam Noble (Gerry Goffin – Carole King) (vocal : Christine Tobin / piano : Liam Noble)
  14. Yesterday/René Urtrege (John Lennon – Paul McCartney) (piano : René Urtrege)
  15. Someday My Prince Will Come/Meredith d’Ambrosio (Larry Morey / Frank Churchill) (vocal & piano : Meredith d’Ambrosio)
  16. Bridge Over Troubled Water/Mat Wilson (Paul Simon) (piano : Gary Versace)
  17. Moon River/Melissa Stylianou (John Mercer / Henry Mancini) (vocal : Melissa Stylianou / piano : Jamie Reynolds)

sgb @ catalina’s 8/29

I’m SO excited to play in our hometown at one of our favorite clubs, with some wonderful special guests! We have some new music to share, and we really hope to see you there, THIS THURSDAY, Aug 29th @ Catalina Bar & Grill.

sara gazarek band live!

Thursday, Aug 29th @ 8:30pm
Catalina Bar & Grill
6725 W Sunset Blvd
Los Angeles, CA

$7.50 student tix!

Sara Gazarek, voice
Josh Nelson, piano
Hamilton Price, bass
Dan Schnelle, drums
+ special guest Larry Koonse, guitar