To succeed as a musician who performs your own creations, you need a diverse skill set honed through hard experience. Being able to play an instrument proficiently is merely one part of that package. My recent interview of Leslie Sanazaro Santi reminded me of the many skills one must develop, as well as the immense amount energy one must invest, in order to have a successful career of performing one’s own music. Truly, the performing musician’s skill set includes virtually every one of the multiple intelligences set forth by Howard Gardner.
I first met Leslie Sanazaro more than a year ago, at a weekly farmer’s market at Tower Grove Park in St. Louis (Leslie was recently married and she is just beginning to use her new name: Leslie Sanazaro Santi). While staring at some vegetables, I heard some captivating music about 30 yards away. Helpless to resist the siren song, I walked up toward the sound-source and took a seat on a folding chair. Ten feet from me, a woman rocked on her keyboard bench as she sang and played, her whole body “dancing” with her rhythms and her foot actively stomping out the beats. It was obvious that this was a musician who truly felt her music and believed in it. She had no drum machine nor any other gimmicks. What I heard was straight-forward first-rate music. It occurred to me that she seemed too serious about her music to be playing for an audience of only a dozen people at a local market.
My brother-in-law Steve, an accomplished blues and jazz musician, soon joined me in the small audience. We agreed that we were listening to an impressive performer and composer. After staying for a full set, I told Leslie I enjoyed her music, I handed her $10 for a copy of her CD, “Stars in the Attic,” and I signed up for e-mail updates regarding her future performances.
For the next year, I received mass-distributed e-mails every week or two indicating Leslie’s playing schedule, mostly at venues in or near the City of St. Louis. Eventually, her e-mails indicated that she was going on a tour through Asia, playing dozens of shows before returning to St. Louis. In September, 2008, the e-mails indicated that Leslie had released a new CD entitled “On Your Roof.” It sounded like things were going her way.
About a month ago, I visited Leslie’s site at “Reverb Nation,” to listen to several of her new tunes from “On Your Roof.” Bottom line: this CD is impressive. Her music has ratcheted up to a new level and the clean studio product spared no attention to detail. More than ever, I was impressed with Leslie’s high quality voice work and the sparkling cadence of her lyrics. In order to fully understand my motivation for this elaborate (and yes, glowing) profile of Leslie Sanazaro Santi, take a moment to visit Reverb Nation and listen to a few of her tunes (I especially recommend listening to “Put on Your Shoes” and “Hot and Cold” to hear some of the many impressive things she can do with her voice).
About one week ago, after receiving yet another mass-distributed e-mail, I decided to listen to Leslie’s music live at a local wine bar. This time, I was part of a crowd of 100 people. Once again, I was impressed with the performance. During her breaks, Leslie walked about the big room to greet those who had come to hear her play. She knew many of the people by name and it was obvious that she had a loyal following of people who really appreciate her work.
At the end of the night, I introduced myself and asked Leslie whether she would allow me to tell her story to DI’s readers. I suggested that many people, including young musicians and songwriters, might appreciate a chance to learn from her experience what it takes to succeed as a songwriter and performer. She graciously accommodated me; we sat down for an interview on New Years’ Eve at the Hyatt Regency Hotel in downtown St. Louis.
The three videos that I’ve attached to this post are the result of that extended interview. During the interview, one of my hunches was confirmed: not only is Leslie a proficient musician, but she is a thinking musician who is driven to constantly raise her own bar. Clicking on these three videos will give you a chance to hear an articulate musician explaining her craft in detail. Perhaps you too to will find yourself intrigued by Leslie’s many observations about music, as well as her insights into human nature. I assumed that this interview was going to be solely about music, but it turned out to be much broader and deeper: Leslie is a serious student and advocate of human communication and community-building. These are conscious aims of her live music performances.
In my previous writings at this blog, I’ve mentioned that I once played music. When I was18, I became the co-leader of a nine-piece jazz-rock band (we played Doobie Brothers, Chicago, Blood Sweat and Tears). I’ve thus tried my hand at writing music and performing music. I’m mentioning my background because my personal experience gives me a better-than-average foundation from which to understand the work of other musicians. My musical background also motivated me to repeatedly steer the conversation toward “talking shop” with a serious musician. Watching these videos will thus give you an insider’s view about how Leslie does what she does. Much of the video serves as a clinic on the specific strategies Leslie employs for writing and performing her music.
I’ve also mentioned my own musical experience because I am one of the many (many) people who, as they reached adulthood, made a difficult choice at a prominent fork in the road. Would I pursue a career in music or would I pursue a more stable full-time job to allow a more “traditional“ existence? Like most people, I chose not-music, a choice that occasionally haunts me. My choice, many years ago, is another reason I find Leslie’s story compelling. Based on my long-range choices, my reality is that I must live vicariously when it comes to performing music at the high level that Leslie is achieving.
I was delighted that Leslie turned out to be such an open book, but that she was also realistic about the things she wants to improve. Despite her years of survival in a highly competitive industry, her entire interview was thoroughly upbeat, without any hint of cynicism–such a change of pace from so much of what we read and hear these days. Leslie firmly believes that we all have music inside of us, and that all of us can use it to communicate out ideas. This is an idea to which I can relate.
When I planned my interview with Leslie, I intended to discuss her music-craft long enough to produce a straightforward 10-minute video. Little did I know that I would end up more than an hour of videotape. Cutting it down to three 10-minute sections involved many painful editing decisions. Here’s how I ended up organizing the interview:
Part I – Introduction. The importance of live music. Meet Leslie Sanazaro Santi. What makes a good song?
Part II – Working with Lyrics. Writing about sensitive topics. The process of creating a melody and lyrics. [During this segment, please excuse the jackhammer in the background –the hotel was under construction].
Part III – Vocals. Vetting new songs. Adjustments when playing solo. Promoting one’s music. Looking back at 2008.
I hope you enjoy watching these videotapes as much as I enjoyed talking with Leslie. If you enjoyed these videos, check out her music, which you can purchase her music at many outlets, including iTunes, CDBaby or Amazonmp3 (links here). To learn more about Leslie and her work, here’s her website.