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High Standards

Sarah DeleoJazz vocalist Sarah DeLeo recently released her second album, I’m In Heaven Tonight, a follow-up to her well-received 2005 debut, The Nearness of You, on her own Sweet Sassy label. We caught up with the New York City-based singer and discussed her influences and the state of the music industry.

What brought you to sing the standards?

I think I always gravitated to them without even knowing what they were. I grew up in the ’70s and they were not the songs my generation listened to. I remember an episode of The Love Boat where Melissa Sue Anderson from Little House on the Prairie sang “Witchcraft” and I thought, “Wow! That’s a great song.”

Critics have said your voice conjures images of Peggy Lee and the elegant supper club years of the 1950s and ’60s.

I consider myself a Garland-esque singer who likes to improvise. It’s a lot easier to say “jazz vocalist” though. The singers who most influenced me—Judy Garland, Barbra Streisand, Ella Fitzgerald, Aretha Franklin—were/are pretty high-energy singers, but I sound generally pretty mellow, because that’s the way I am.

Why did you choose songs like Lerner and Loewe’s “On The Street Where You Live” and “In the Cold, Cold Night” by Jack White of The White Stripes for the CD ?

Song ideas and arrangements can pop into my head anytime, anywhere, because they are the direct manifestations of what I am feeling, experiencing, or thinking about at the moment. The songs on this CD came to me individually. I consider them all standards with the exception of “Let it Rain” and “In the Cold, Cold Night.” It’s funny—I never really think about what “standards” are.

Why self-produce your albums?

When I was thinking about doing my first CD, I knew I would get the best outcome if I self-produced. I could produce an artistically honest CD, I would own the master, and I could control its distribution and publicity.

Back when albums were on vinyl, it was prohibitively expensive to produce your own recording. You had to be on a label. Now self-producing has become very common. The number of self-producing artists continues to grow even among performers who were formerly on labels: People want more control over the artistic and business processes.

How did Barnard influence you?

I sang in an a cappella group, Bacchantae, which was great. And since I still live on the Upper West Side, I’m up there working in the library all the time—more now than I did as a student! Professionally, I do feel strongly that my Barnard background really helped me to be tenacious in the jazz world, which is still very sexist and very male-dominated.

What’s next?

My biggest upcoming gig will be giving birth to my second child in August! I’m already working on new ideas and hoping to get back into the studio soon after that.

-by Karen Schwartz '93

For more information, visit sarahdeleo.com.