Northwestern Press

Sunday, June 7, 2020
CONTRIBUTED PHOTOSara Caswell Quartet, 7:30 p.m. Oct. 19, Miller Symphony Hall, Allentown. CONTRIBUTED PHOTOSara Caswell Quartet, 7:30 p.m. Oct. 19, Miller Symphony Hall, Allentown.

Sara Caswell: Violinist of all genres

Friday, October 19, 2018 by GEORGE VANDOREN Special to The Press in Focus

The Sara Caswell Quartet brings its contemporary jazz sound to the “Jazz Upstairs” series, 7:30 p.m. Oct. 19, Rodale Community Room, Miller Symphony Hall, Allentown.

The Grammy-nominated Caswell says the audience can expect, “A mix of standards with a contemporary feel, reimagined, reworked. I love taking the audience on a journey. I want to give a lot of variety. I never want a performance to be predictable.”

The violinist began her musical studies with the Suzuki method at age five. “I was raised by two musicologists,” she says in a phone interview. “They wanted to be sure we [she and her vocalist sister] were exposed to as much music as possible in diverse styles.”

Sarah Caswell’s first instruction in jazz was from a master, David Baker, a jazz educator, former Director of the Smithsonian Jazz Masterworks Orchestra, and world-renowned musician.

“At age eight, I studied with David Baker. He was an incredible teacher. Even though I was very shy at the time, he could sense I was eager to learn about the music. He figured out how to guide me.

Caswell continues, “He had me transcribing, soaking up the language, doing call-and-response, learning licks by ear, jamming. Theory and form came later. It was fun all the way through.”

Caswell received bachelors of music in violin performance and jazz studies from Indiana University and a masters in jazz violin from the Manhattan School of Music.

In addition to the tutelage with Baker, she studied with the legendary Josef Gingold (classical) and with Stanley Ritchie (baroque). She also attended the Thelonious Monk Institute of Jazz Summer Residency Program and the Steans Institute for Young Artists at the Ravinia Jazz Festival.

Caswell has been labeled a “Rising Star” by DownBeat Magazine and has performed at Jazz at Lincoln Center’s Dizzy’s Club, as well as at university concert halls nationwide. Her two CDs, “First Song” and “But Beautiful,” received recognition as best-of-the-year albums.

Members of Caswell’s quartet include Jesse Lewis, guitar; Ike Sturm, bass, and Jared Schonig, drums. Of her musical partners, Caswell says, “They’re all based in New York. I’ve been playing with them for 10 years or so as a quartet and with other people’s groups. It’s a joy to be on the bandstand with them. They’re up-beat, life-loving people, and that comes through in their music.”

Lewis moved from his native Boston to New Orleans to study with Steve Mazakowski at the University of New Orleans. In 2002, he moved to New York and received a music degree from Manhattan School of Music. He has performed and recorded with Anat Cohen, Dave Douglas, Ingrid Jensen, Chris Potter, and a host of other top-tier artists. He and bassist Sturm have collaborated on the project Endless Field and released an album in 2017.

Schonig, a composer and bandleader as well as a top-notch drummer, has toured and-or recorded with many notables, as well, including Wycliffe Gordon, Tom Harrell, Laurence Hobgood, Nicholas Payton, Donny McCaslin, among others. He co-leads The Wee Trio and performs Broadway musicals pit orchestras and in recording sessions.

Sturm, a son of composer and arranger, Fred Sturm, also boasts a long list of top artists with whom he has performed, including such notables as Gene Bertoncini, Bobby McFerrin, Wynton Marsalis, Maria Schneider, and Kenny Wheeler, among many others. Sturm is jazz director at Saint Peter’s Church, New York City. He received undergraduate and graduate degrees from Eastman School of Music. He composed “Jazz Mass,” a work for voices, strings and jazz ensemble recognized as one of the best CDs of 2010 by Downbeat. He also leads the group Evergreen.

As with the rest of the ensemble, Sara Caswell is busy with numerous projects. “I love being in a lot of musical situations. It enriches your voice. You never stop learning. You try new approaches.”

Tickets: Miller Symphony Hall box office, 23 N. Sixth St., Allentown;; 610-432-6715