Sara Oschlag: Letter from America

I don't remember choosing music. I think it must've chosen me. I grew up in Copenhagen in a slightly chaotic home. My parents were unhappy back then. My two sisters had left home at about 15 & 16, which was when I was born. I felt like an only child but I did have my sisters to look up to. One of them sang & I would be at her gigs & know all the lyrics to the songs she sang. Her band was an Aretha Franklin tribute & I was 9 when she pulled me up to sing with her. That just happened that one time. 

I got into theatre (not musical theatre) when I was about 10. For me it was a great escape & I could really express different emotions through acting. I had a lot of fun doing that till I was 14. 

In 6th form (I believe that's the equivalent to gymnasium in Denmark), at age 16 or 17, I had to choose between A-level drama or music. It was an easy choice. Music became a serious part of my life. A year later (my last year before graduating) I dropped out & started studying music full time. That was a very tough decision & I'm always grateful to my mother for supporting that choice & any choices I have made in my life. 

I came to Chichester in August 2000. When I started I thought I knew jazz. Ha! I seemed to have a bundle of confidence but as soon as I got on the stage to sing in front of my fellow students, I was grabbing the mic so hard my knuckles went white & I couldn't look anywhere but into the ground. I couldn't hide like I could with drama. Something happened. I think I found myself exposed to the world & I had to learn to be cool with that – be cool with who I was.

I had only signed up for 4 months. Then I was gonna go to Mexico to join my friends & just bum around. But I did not want to leave. 

I finished the year & went back to Denmark, attending another music school before travelling to Thailand/Indonesia/Bali with a dear friend. We were partying for 3 1/2 months. When I came back I phoned up Adrian Kendon, who was running Chichester Jazz Course at the time & begged to come back & do another year. I did & moved to Brighton when the year had finished. 

This is where my learning started. 

I didn't know any working jazz musicians in Brighton, so I started going to Hanbury Ballroom every Monday night for the late jazz session run by Roy Gee to meet musicians. I met Dan Sheppard there on one of my first visits & he gave me my first opportunity. A two-week cruise. I didn't have the (I wish I could swear here) repertoire. I had to create a pad in 3 weeks & I did it using a tuning fork. A tuning fork! Of course, a lot of the charts were bad or wrong but the band (Robin Watt, Jason Henson & Dan) really helped me getting it right. And they still do. 

Being a musician is teamwork. You gotta listen to each other & support each other musically: be the foundation, guide or give space. But always listen & look around. Without communication there is no jazz. 

No one can teach you how to find your own voice – a good teacher can teach you technique & help you push yourself & get unstuck. But creating yourself as a singer – that's a great journey. I've listened to hours & hours of albums & gigs. Sitting by the piano learning tunes. Listen. Ask questions. Keep learning. On stage it has taken 10 years to develop from who I was when I first came to Brighton to the singer I am today. And the journey continues. 

As I'm writing, I'm sitting in my temporary New York apartment. We're here for two weeks to listen to as much jazz as we can get our ears near to. 

Tomorrow I'm going to see & hear Annie Ross (ANNIE ROSS!!!) & later this week Kurt Elling (KURT ELLING!!!) – I'm struggling to find the words that describe how overwhelmed I am, being here & being able to witness these greats. 

 

Sara Oschlag

Singer