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Featured Sarah McKenzie, the artist that has provided The Smooth Side Of Jazz it's greatest moments

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This week our featured artist is a special favorite of mine, a tremendously talented jazz singer, jazz pianist, music composer and music arranger Sarah McKenzie. This has given me a chance to reflect on the greatest moment I have enjoyed doing this show. It was our good fortune that in April 2019 she joined me in our Redding studio for an incredible interview. After meeting her and interviewing her, I can not say enough superlatives about this wonderful young lady. She gave detailed and interesting answers to everything I asked. She has led such an interesting life and was certainly able to speak at length about it all. We learned so much about music through her wonderful stories, her experiences, and her personal beliefs on what is required to succeed. In fact every time since then that I have listened to that interview, I have learned more and have come up with additional ideas for this program. Her career is truly a remarkable story and I am so grateful  she shared it with us. The interview is still available in our station archives at kkrn.org on our April 20th, 2019 Program #87.

Sarah also called me towards the end of last year for a   follow up phone interview with updates on her career. As before she carried me through the interview and was sensational. That show was broadcast January 9, 2021 on our Program #177.

Sarah McKenzie is from Melbourne, Australia. In the beginning she took piano lessons. As with many back then including me, she was taught classical music. Same as me, it bored her, she did not care for it,  and she wanted to quit. Her Dad saw that she was very talented and sought another piano teacher. Soon she was playing Rock And Roll and the Blues. She progressed so rapidly that her teacher introduced her to Jazz. He asked her to go to a nearby record store, yes they actually had those back then, and purchase a jazz record. Quite by chance the work she chose was one that would influence her for a lifetime, jazz pianist Oscar Peterson’s Jazz On A Winter’s Night. She was especially enthralled by the song Night Train, a song that also influenced many artists including Diana Krall and Brian Simpson to enter a career in jazz. She loved work from bassist Ray Brown on Night Train, not knowing at the time that Brown would also be managed by her eventual manager and later her husband Burkhard Hopper.

Sarah’s friends did not share her love of jazz. They were into The Spice Girls and The Backstreet Boys. This did not deter Sarah from her destiny. 

At age 13 Sarah attended a school band camp run by legendary trumpet player James Morrison. It was this camp that enlightened Sarah that one could actually make a living as a jazz musician. In that moment of her life her magic world became real. 

For college Sarah moved to Perth, Australia to attend the prestigious West Australian Academy Of Performing Arts. She won an award as outstanding jazz graduate and a spot as a backup vocalist on Michael Buble’s Australian tour. This was the first time Sarah sang in stadiums and she learned a lot on performing from this experience.

For six years Sarah participated in legendary trumpeter James Morrison’s Generations of Jazz Festival in Australia. She won a scholarship and learned a very important lesson on a music career, perseverance.  

Following college Sarah was very eager to cut a record. It was here that her lesson on perseverance paid off. It took three years for Sarah to convince the head of ABC records in Australia to give her a record deal. I will play a song from  Sarah McKenzie’s debut album Don’t Tempt Me. This is a song she wrote at age sixteen. She describes it as having a sassy swing. It is titled Love me Or Leave Me.

The attention Sarah McKenzie received from her debut album Don’t Tempt Me resulted in her winning an opening slot for Chris Botti’s Australian tour. As with her experience with Michael Buble, Sarah learned a great deal by being the opening act for a superstar and she was encouraged in her career by Botti and by his musicians.  

Sarah’s second album Close Your Eyes was released in 2012. It won Australia’s equivalent of a Grammy.  I will play is a jazz standard from Close Your Eyes, The Way You Look Tonight.

Sarah McKenzie was working regularly at weddings and in hotels but her drive to succeed brought her to realize she must leave Australia in order to capitalize on her initial success. She participated in a competition at the Umbria Jazz Festival in Italy. At this competition she won a full scholarship to attend the prestigious Berklee College Of Music in Boston. At first at Berklee Sarah had a crisis of confidence. She composed a song, That’s It I Quit and put it away. Someone saw it and soon she was asked to perform it at Symphony Hall with the Boston Pops orchestra. That song was included on Sarah’s third album in 2014, We Could Be Lovers that was produced by Brian Bachus who had also produced for Nora Jones and Gregory Porter. From Sarah’s third album I will play that song, That’s It I Quit.

Sarah McKenzie’s third album We Could Be Lovers was picked up by Impulse records for international distribution and jump started her career. Around the same time Sarah signed with London based artist manager Burkhard Hopper. Among Burkhardt’s clients were music greats, bassist Ray Brown and pianist and composer Lalo Shefrin. This arrangement worked out great as Burkhard booked her many concerts. Sarah moved to Paris and began touring to promote her new album.

They also hit it off personally and  Sarah and Burkhard married. Burkhard was with Sarah in our studio during her interview with us. 

In 2017 Sarah released her fourth album Paris In The Rain. The title track to that album was written by Sarah. She was enthralled by the beauty of Paris and describes this song as a love letter to the city of light. I will play Paris In The Rain.

The radio interview tour that brought Sarah McKenzie to our Redding studio was to promote her  fifth album 2019’s Secrets Of My Heart. Two of the songs on that album were Brazilian tunes written by Sarah as a result of an incredible experience she had while touring in Brazil playing with the remaining members of the Antonio Carlos Jobim band. Iwill play one of those songs, Till The End Of Time.

Sarah McKenzie has become a very popular international star traveling and performing all over the world with her music including France, Germany, Spain, Brazil ,Norway, China, India, Canada, Taipei, Australia, the United States, and more.

Sarah is often compared to superstars Diana Krall and Nora Jones. She is honored by the comparison yet she is quick to point out that she is not out to try to copy anyone. She is proud to write many of her own tunes and to have her own style. She works hard at making sure her lyrics work perfectly in coordination with her music.

Sarah McKenzie is additionally well known for some of the work she has done in the bay area. During a trip to play at the Monterey Jazz Festival, Sarah hosted a workshop for east bay kids. That later resulted in her being awarded a well received thirteen song music commission project titled Paris In The West

Live performances were suspended with the pandemic. Sarah was initially caught in France and then was able to make her way to England. Locked down for three and one-half months. She wrote, arranged, and practiced music. Then she came up with the idea of recording separately with other musicians and then put them together as a music video. It grew and continued into a project Music Connects Our World with 27 other musicians from around the world. The project was initially broadcast October 3rd, 2020 as a concert from jazz at the Lesher Center at Walnut Creek, California. Sarah arranged, performed, and even composed some of the music while also hosting this event. My favorite song from this project, Schneller which in German means faster from her experience driving on the autobahn with no speed limit. First Sarah tells us about that experience and then I will play Schneller. 

Burkhard Hopper moved his artist management business to Los Angeles and of course Sarah is now also based in L.A. She continues to advance her career to greater heights and to perform around the world. Currently she is performing concerts all over France and will be performing in Paris October 26th, 27th, and 28th. We at KKRN sincerely thank Sarah for her informative and enjoyable interviews and music and wish her much continued success.

Thank you for your continuing support of KKRN and this program.

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