About this show
Many an American musician has fallen under the sway of Brazil’s seductive rhythms and enticing melodies. But San Francisco pianist/composer Anne Sajdera has taken the romance a good deal deeper than many of her similarly besotted peers. Rather than simply exploring a program of beloved bossa novas, she has created Azul, a startling beautiful album that mixes her ravishing original pieces with classic tunes by Brazilian masters Ivan Lins, Egberto Gismonti, and Chico Pinheiro.
After more than a decade performing with leading Bay Area Brazilian ensembles such as Phil Thompson’s Rio Thing and the California Music Award–winning band Bat Makumba, Sajdera steps forward with an impressive debut that leaves no doubt about her exquisite touch, rhythmic acuity, and melodic resourcefulness.
Produced by Sajdera and guitarist Ray Obiedo, the album is built upon her dynamic trio with bassist Gary Brown and drummer Paul van Wageningen, well-traveled veterans who have performed and recorded with numerous heavyweights in jazz, Afro-Cuban, and Brazilian music. Drummer Phil Thompson takes over the kit on two tracks, and nearly every piece features percussion by either Michael Spiro or Airto Moreira, whose storied career encompasses classic sessions with Hermeto Pascoal, Miles Davis, Chick Corea, and vocalist Flora Purim (Airto’s wife and longtime musical partner).
Anne Sajdera grew up in San Diego and while the Southern California city wasn’t usually associated with Brazil, she absorbed a Carioca’s deep love of the ocean and sun-drenched landscape. Piano lessons as a child led her to form a tight circle of musical friends who often gathered to play together. When she started performing in her late teens Sajdera played drums in a pop combo, but her primary creative outlet was writing for the band.
Moving to the Bay Area in 1985, she enrolled at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music as a performance major and graduated as a composition major. Focusing on 20th-century repertoire, she immersed herself in Stravinsky, Prokofiev, and Bartók, while performing as pianist for the Conservatory Orchestra gave her exceptional opportunities like performing a selection from John Adams’s opera Nixon in China conducted by the composer at SFCM’s 75th anniversary concert in Davies Symphony Hall.
Her incipient investigation of jazz got a jumpstart when she began a relationship with an accomplished jazz guitarist, with whom she was soon playing casuals. A Jazzschool class with Marcos Silva sparked her abiding passion for Brazilian music. Before long she was gigging around the Bay Area with her own band Pelo Mar, which honed a sophisticated repertoire of tunes by Pascoal, Airto, Toninho Horta, and Eliane Elias while performing at notable venues like Rasselas, the Make Out Room, and the lamented Café do Brasil. An original member of Bat Makumba, she has performed numerous times at San Francisco’s huge Mission District Carnaval celebration.
Her interest in classical Hindustani music also surfaces in her playing through her knowledge of ragas. She spent two months in India in 1999, ostensibly to study yoga, and became fascinated with Indian culture. She has since continued to cultivate this facet of her musical vision through the study of Hindustani classical music with India's foremost violinist and vocalist, Kala Ramnath. Eventually Pelo Mar became Phil Thompson’s band, and Sajdera continued to play with the group for several years. She met Gary Brown and Paul van Wageningen through another deeply influential musician, pianist/keyboardist Peter Horvath, who felt they could provide the appropriate heft and sensitivity required for her music.
The music for Azul emerged after a two-year stretch (2006-2008) when Sajdera was off the scene recuperating from a back injury, a period of relative solitude when she was “writing tunes, practicing, setting up grooves, tying to really expand my linear playing,” Sajdera says. “I studied a lot and went back to original sources like Herbie Hancock, Keith Jarrett, Monty Alexander, and Egberto Gismonti.”
For Sajdera, there’s no particular mystery about her affinity for Brazilian music. With endlessly enthralling rhythms, a treasure trove of melodies, and jazz-informed harmonies, it’s got everything she requires. And above all, the music makes her want to dance.
“As soon as I heard the music, I started taking samba dance classes with local samba teachers and percussion classes with Mike Spiro,” Sajdera says. “I think the whole attitude makes sense to my personality.”