More than a Grammy: Big win for säje is a triumph for Seattle's indie music voices
The female vocal ensemble säje brought their ethereal, contemporary jazz to the Grammys recently, winning the award for best arrangement.
Their winning song featuring Jacob Collier, "In the Wee Small Hours of the Morning," is off the group's debut self-titled album, "säje."
The group combines the vocal talents of Erin Bentlage, Sara Gazarek, Johnaye Kendrick, and Amanda Taylor. All have have deep roots in the Emerald City. Johnaye Kendrick lives in the Seattle area now, and is a professor of music at Cornish College of the Arts. Taylor and Gazarek both grew up in the city.
"Seattle definitely feels like home for me," Gazarek said, while speaking with Seattle Now's Patricia Murphy after the group's big win.
While you're likely to find säje categorized as "jazz" or "vocal jazz", Gazarek said the group has been most influenced by "Black American music." The group's rhythmic and harmonic approach "captures the sounds that are inside of us as creators, and the sounds are influenced by what's happening in the world" — including the darkness.
"There is a small subset of that in the jazz community that really prides itself on this concept of amplification of voices," Gazarek said. "Amplification of social issues. Intentional creation of music that means something beyond just romance and dreams, that is curious about music, that isn't just nostalgic references."
That means their songs carry a strong social message, like the Johnaye Kendrick original composition "Never You Mind" about Black Americans killed by police.
The song as recorded on the album opens with Kendrick reading aloud the names of people whose deaths have fueled protest movements, like Michael Brown and Laquan McDonald, as guest musician Ambrose Akinmusire plays a mournful trumpet.
Kendrick is the sole Black woman in säje, and Gazarek said it's been an honor for the three white women in the group to stand with her.
"And to acknowledge the people who created this music and the importance of uplifting and protecting Black American lives," Gazarek said. "If we are going to benefit from and experience the art that is created by them, [acknowledge] the importance of making sure that we're protecting them as well."
It's that kind of support for each other and for underrepresented voices that makes säje what it is: an independent phenom.
"It feels like so much of it is sort of gate-kept by these major labels and big publicists and big marketing machines," Gazarek said. "But at the end of the day, the majority of the music community is fighting tooth and nail. So, hopefully, that win felt like it was a win for [the independent music] community, because that's the community that we inhabit."
Now, it's back to work.
Gazarek said säje already has five songs recorded for their next album, and their working on another five. Plus, they're touring this spring.
As of now, the tour schedule doesn't include any Seattle stops, but you can catch säje at the Edmonds Center for the Arts on April 14 in neighboring Edmonds. More details are available on the group's website.
Listen to Seattle Now's full conversation with Gazarek here.