[The West Australian] New York musician heading to Perth

Kavita Shah embraces traditional and adventurous jazz.Picture: Picture: Julien Charpentier

May 17, 2017

One of the advantages of the Perth International Jazz Festival is the chance to experience the talents of young artists emerging on the global scene with their energy and embrace of both the traditional and adventurous forms of jazz.

A case in point is New Yorker Kavita Shah, making her first visit to Perth with a band that includes a couple of Perth-raised lads — drummer Ben Vanderwal and bassist Sam Anning.

Shah is of Indian descent, her father having moved to the US to further his studies. But Shah was born and raised in New York, beginning her career in music as a member of the prestigious Young People’s Chorus, which she joined at the age of 10.

However, she had begun learning the piano at five and classical piano music was very much part of her upbringing, despite her secondary education at the selective Bronx High School of Science, which specialised in maths and science.

Shah proved adept at maths but her post-school study was at Harvard University, where she gained her first degree in Latin-American studies. It was during this time that her research project took her to Brazil, where she studied Brazilian music and culture.

This proved a turning point in her life, with Shah deciding that instead of going down the academic path she would focus on music and culture from a practical point of view as a vocalist and composer, drawing on the many influences that had shaped her life.

After Harvard she spent two years studying for her masters degree at the Manhattan School of Music, and now works as a full-time musician, composer and arranger. Her first album Visions was a collaboration with a range of like-minded adventurous performers and composers, drawing on the traditions of contemporary jazz, Indian and Brazilian influences and original ideas of how music should be created in the 21st century.

As one commentator put it: “Shah’s music reflects the insatiably curious mind of an ethnographer, the soul of a poet and the eye of a painter.”

Shah says her earliest musical influence was the Young People’s Chorus of New York where she was exposed to folk, gospel, pop and jazz music.

“I always knew that when I finally decided what kind of musical path I would take in my life it would be jazz,” she says.

“I had been introduced to jazz when I joined the New York choir at the age of 10, and then it was hearing Ella Fitzgerald singing A Tisket a Tasket.” She laughs at the memory. “Somehow that resonated with me.”

Shah’s performance at the Perth International Jazz Festival will feature some of those early, more traditional influences, although much of her music these days ranges across the influences of her cultural studies, including her Indian heritage and Latin-American music.

“One of the songs I like to sing in my concerts is an Indian lullaby that my mother used to sing to me as a little child,” she says.

A major influence as a vocalist is US singer Sheila Jordan, who she regards as her mentor.

Shah says she is looking forward to her first visit to Perth, and to playing with bassist Sam Anning, a fellow student during her time at the Manhattan School of Music.

Her quartet will also feature Brisbane pianist and composer Steve Newcomb, with whom she is collaborating on another album of original compositions.