Drama-Logue, Hollywood CA
March 10-16, 1994
OFF MIKE: Dames at sea? Not in this century, pal. Ladies of the night? Only in that they rule the night, not as victims but as champions. As we touch on the careers of two exemplary role models -- Sonya Jason and Andrea Marcovicci -- linked by their love of music and passionate commitment to their art, we can only gaze on in awe.
"I have a passion to express myself," says sax soloist Sonya Jason, "that comes from the core of my being." There's no doubt she means it. As she took the stage at Atlas in a tomato-red tux jacket backed by her three-piece band, this petite young woman who was born in Nebraska, proved herself a mellow and satisfying player. The set consisted of her original songs from her debut CD, Tigress, on Discovery Records, and diners had no trouble absorbing her sweet, moody, sensuous sounds while wolfing down their tasty repasts.
Not until her second set with most of the platters cleared was she able finally to blow and shine. Phil Woods and David Sanborn may be her sax heroes -- Sonya attended Boston's Berklee College of Music on a Phil Woods scholarship -- but when she blew hot it was the great Gato Barbieri and his scorching sound that came to mind. In its subtlest mode, the sax is perhaps the most sensuous and laid back of all the horns -- who could forget the sinuous solo on "Baker's Street" -- but whether she's playing the soprano, alto or clarinet-like sopranino, Jason blows hot and cool with equal finesse.
She certainly doesn't look like a horn player. Her features are refined, her face a delicately chiseled spring flower. As she plays her body sways, but there's a marked absence of overt sensuality. "I'm a little boy inside," she says, "but feminine on the outside." Maybe that little boy helped her cope and conquer in a world of players dominated almost exclusively by men. At Berklee, where she excelled both as a straight A student and as a player, graduating summa cum laude, she found many of her male counterparts viewed the intense competition like a sporting event, showing off and attempting to play as many notes as possible. "To me that was like musical muscle-flexing because it didn't really include the audience."
At work on her next album, she took time out to fill us in on her credo: "There are a couple of things I live by. First, if anyone can do it, I can. Music consumes 100 percent of my life. I don't give myself a lot of playtime. Just finding time to go to the gym to keep myself in shape so that I can play is a challenge. I love performing for audiences, and I'm there to touch their lives. I really believe I have the power to make a better world through my music."
When it comes to the mainstream, instrumental music is usually an also-ran. A few performers, notably Kenny G., have managed to sell millions of albums while logged in the Top Ten, but that kind of success is rare, and for all his mega-sales and Grammy's, he's taken his share of critical bashings. "But," Sonya insists, "you have to give him credit for touching on something that's moved millions of people. Consequently, he's opened doors for the rest of us.
I hear my music visually, it's like watching a film in my head. My goal is to create three to five more albums in the next few years and have them acknowledged by record sales. An industry accolade would be great; a Grammy does make a difference in your career. And I'd love to be a kind of female Branford Marsalis, leading a talk show band. It would be fun and I'd be so good at it because I really relate to the audiences, I'm quick-witted, and enjoy my patter with them almost as much as I do playing for them."
Certainly she isn't shackled with any undue modesty, fortunately, she has a playful sense of humor. "Cartoon Blues," written, hopefully, for inclusion on The Simpsons, is a giddy romp. It's a long, long road, but the competition better watch out: Sonya Jason is clearly aboard a self-propelled bullet train.