At 23, is this sultry Australian singer-pianist the next Diana Krall?

Is there a concept to your new album Don’t Tempt Me? Where does that title come from?

This album is a collection of standards and original tunes that I have been playing and waiting to record since the age of 16. There was no real concept to the album as such, just to make sure each song was as musically unique as it could possibly be. 

It’s named after my original tune Don’t tempt me, which I felt would be a good title since the song features Australian jazz icon James Morrison on trumpet. 

Apart from your two originals, the songs are all standards – how do you bring something new to familiar material?

I majored in Jazz Composition at the Western Australian Academy of Performing Arts and I love writing and creating my own melodies. I will typically learn a new song and then start playing around with it until I find some nice harmonies and melodies and generally feel comfortable that I have put my own spin on it. 

What’s the story behind the original songs you wrote for the album?

Each has their own personal story, but I will leave it up to the listener to find their own interpretation!

Any apprehension about putting your own songs next to those of, say, Gerswhin?

Gosh, I never thought about it like that! No, I’ll say that despite my great admiration for songwriting giants Geoege and Ira Gerswhin, I didn’t have any apprehension putting my own songs on my Album. I love writing music and it’s a big part of what I do.

Tell us a bit about the band you have put together for the album.

We have so many incredible musicians in Australia and I feel so fortunate that I was able to have all my favorites play on this album, including James Morrison. Each musician on my debut has their own unique sound, and that played a very important role in developing the ensemle sound for the album.

Check out Eamon McNelis’s trumpet solo on St James Infirmary Blues. It is just incredible, as is Alex Boneham’s bass playing on Bye Bye Blackbird. A particular favorite of mine is Julien Wilson’s saxophone solo on Dindi and Hugh Stuckey’s guitar playing on I’ve got the blues tonight. Carlo Barbaro has such an amazing feel on Love me or Leave me and Craig Simons’ drumming is always exciting and so swinging!

Do you get inspiration from other female singer/pianists – Blossom Dearie, Diana Krall for instance?

I love Blossom Dearie and I think Diana Krall is an incredible musician. I find them both inspiring but need to say I draw from many musicians – far too many to fit in this space! At the moment I’m particularly inspired by Joni Mitchel’s Album Blue. Her music is so moving and I find her lyrics particularly inspiring.

What got you into jazz in the first place?

I started playing classical piano at the age of five and by the time I turned nine I was ready to give up, but my dad took a radical approach and found me a rock ‘n’ roll/blues piano teacher. I found him incredibly inspiring and as a result became very interested in music and in particular with the blues. I had started to check out jazz, but It really wasn’t untill the age of 13 that I heard James Morrison play and instantly fell in love with jazz. At that point I realised I wanted to spend the rest of my life playing music professionally. I thought If James Morrison could make a career out of it then, in my own way, I could too.    

What gigs and projects do you have coming up?

It’s been such a fantastic month for gigs. I have just finished performing with True North on its voyage through the Kimberley as well as supporting international jazz artist Chris Botti on his national tour.

Next, I’m looking forward to playing at Bennetts Lane Jazz Club with my band on July 30, and also with James Morrison at Stones of the Yarra Valley on July 9.

I am also currently writing and arranging some material for an exciting big band project planned for next year! Can’t wait!

Sarah McKenzie’s new album Don’t Tempt Me is out now on ABC Music and reviewed in the July issue of Limelight, on sale June 15.