|Who Is She?|
SAXOPHONIST SONYA JASON is an internationally acclaimed recording artist and award-winning composer/arranger. Best known for her all original Warner Music Discovery release, "Tigress", her accessible, passionate style of contemporary jazz has made a huge splash on radio stations worldwide and garnered rave reviews from the media.
A world-class musician with the experience of thousands of live performances, Sonya is a polished and charismatic professional. Concert and festival appearances all over the globe have proven Sonya's international appeal. Audiences went wild for her music at such events as the Golden Jubilee International Jazz Festival in Bangkok, the Green Festival in Hiroshima, the Southern California Jazz Festival in Irvine, and the Cervantino International Music and Arts Festival throughout Mexico.
Sonya has been invited to perform for a number of Los Angeles celebrities including Hugh Hefner, Merv Griffin, and three of the LAPD's Chiefs of Police, as well as San Francisco's Mayors Willie Brown and Gavin Newsom. Internationally, she has been requested to appear for such renowned political figures as the King of Thailand His Majesty Bhumibol Adulyadej and the Governor of Mexico Rafael Corrales Ayala.
"What my life is for," Sonya declares, "is to inspire people, to awaken the passion in people! The words of virtuosic vocalist Bobby McFerrin resonate deeply with my own feelings about my life as a musician; What's important is a deep and profound spiritual reality, the joy of simply making and sharing music with others, and a sense of gratitude for each note that you play."
Sonya Jason was born in Wayne, Nebraska (USA), the city with the nearest hospital to the small, rural community of 600 where her family lived. By the age of four, she began playing piano and took classical piano lessons for nine years. But the musical match-made-in-heaven turned out to be the irresistibly shiny saxophone that captured Sonya's attention when she joined the school band at age ten.
Instrumental jazz was never heard at home, but rather a steady diet by established vocalists such as Barbra Streisand and Johnny Mathis. At thirteen, Sonya joined her first jazz band. It was here that she learned the rudiments of swing, the basic ability that all jazz musicians must possess.
"When I was fifteen, seeing the Barbra Streisand /Kris Kristofferson film A Star Is Born, and listening to Chuck Mangione's incredible record Feels So Good, inspired me to want to become a 'superstar' with the saxophone as my musical voice," Sonya recalls. "In fact, I learned to copy Chris Vadala's saxophone solo on Feels So Good."
Her family's move to the Southwest enabled Sonya to join the Apollo High School band in Phoenix, Arizona, then voted Arizona's leading jazz band. It was here that she first heard the passionate recordings of latin saxophonist, Gato Barbieri, and began studying the bebop stylings of Charlie Parker. She gained further inspiration from the saxophone work of Phil Woods and David Sanborn. "They became my heroes and gave me a vision of my own sound," Sonya relates. "I admire the warm tone and versatility that Phil has, and the emotion and fire of David's playing."
Coincidentally, Sonya later won the prestigious Phil Woods Scholarship offered by Berklee College of Music in Boston, the top musical university in the country. Two years of liberal arts study at Mills College in Oakland CA, known for women in the arts, and the experience of playing with the UC Berkeley big bands prepared her well for the competitive environment at Berklee. Her private saxophone teacher, San Francisco Bay Area bebopper Hal Stein, suggested she make the move to Boston.
There several top Berklee professors took Sonya under their wing. She studied privately with master saxophone instructor Joe Viola, as well as Buddy Rich's lead altoist Jimmy Mosher. Improvisation skills were polished under the guidance of avant-garde/bebop saxophonist George Garzone and the funky Herman Johnson. Veteran arranging professor Herb Pomeroy and Grammy award-winning arranger Robert Freedman passed on their knowledge which Sonya absorbed eagerly.
She took her studies seriously throughout her formal education, earning academic honors and eighteen separate awards for outstanding musicianship from such institutions as the International Association for Jazz Education (IAJE). After graduating summa cum laude from Berklee in 1985, Sonya returned to Arizona to begin her professional career.
"I was determined to fly without a net and make my living solely from music," she remembers. Sonya gigged all over Arizona gaining versatility by working with bands of varied musical styles -- jazz, latin, top 40, reggae, rock, classical, big band swing, and show bands. This valuable experience helped to develop her unique charismatic performance style. In 1987 she formed her own quartet and began to focus her energy as a solo artist leading her own original contemporary jazz band.
Sponsored by the Arizona Commission on the Arts, Sonya's band toured seven Mexican cities as part of the Cervantino International Music and Arts Festival. Locally, she played every possible festival and concert event in addition to her steady club engagements -- as many as nine gigs a week! Her band performed as opening act on the same bill with such well-known artists as Natalie Cole, Richard Marx, Chuck Berry, Ramsey Lewis, Janis Siegel (of the Manhattan Transfer), Smokey Robinson, Spyro Gyra, Lionel Hampton, Mose Allison and the Stanley Clarke/George Duke Project.
Secret Lover, Sonya's first release as a recording artist was produced and distributed by her own Saja Productions label in December 1988. Substantial national airplay and local sales eventually piqued the interest of Warner Music Discovery. A recording contract was signed soon after Sonya's move to Los Angeles in 1991.
Subsequently, her Tigress CD hit the international marketplace in April 1993, and became a favorite on radio playlists worldwide. This all-original recording showcases Sonya's composing, arranging and producing abilities, and features many of L.A.'s most prominent pop and jazz musicians.
"I love Sonya's writing," professed keyboardist Bruce Malament who teamed with Sonya to co-arrange the songs on Tigress and has written and arranged for Dionne Warwick and Barry White. "She's writing real songs, which is so rare these days. And I love her horn playing. It's melodic and moody, with fire and passion. Sonya's something special." This sentiment was echoed by the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers (ASCAP) who offered Sonya the Popular Music Award for her compositions.
Live-on-the-air radio interviews across the country and heavy rotation boosted her Tigress CD to #4 in Radio and Record and #14 on the Gavin adult alternative chart. Britain, Canada, Venezuela and Spain were among the many foreign countries that reported heavy radio airplay of such cuts as Exotica, Mystery Man and Cartoon Blues. In addition, reviews and interviews appeared in such notable publications as JAZZIZ Magazine, DOWNBEAT Magazine, Los Angeles Times, Bangkok Post, El Sol de Mexico, San Jose Mercury News, and many more.
Meanwhile, Sonya's contemporary jazz band became in-demand at top jazz clubs in the Los Angeles area and at performing arts centers throughout California. She made frequent appearances at West Coast music festivals on the same bill with performers such as Bobby Caldwell, Grover Washington, Jr., Sergio Mendez, David Sanborn, Dave Valentin, Tom Scott and Jeff Lorber. San Francisco radio station KKSF 103.7 FM featured her in their 1994 Rising Star Concert Series.
Beyond California, Sonya Jason performed for several special events at famous Las Vegas casinos including The Flamingo and Bally's. Twice, she played for the "High Roller New Year's Eve Gala" at the MGM Grand along side Earth Wind and Fire and K.C. and the Sunshine Band. In 1996 the King of Thailand invited her to perform at his Golden Jubilee Festival in Bangkok. The following year Sonya completed two tours of Japan and a performance in San Juan, Puerto Rico.
In addition to leading her own bands, Sonya has performed with such diverse artists as Latin jazz legend Pete Escovedo (Sheila E's dad); old school funk drummer Ziggy Modeliste (the Meters) and the funky Brothers Johnson; smooth jazz guitarist Ray Obiedo; big band swing with trumpeter Ray Anthony (of Peter Gunn fame); and in show bands backing Shirley McClaine, Debbie Reynolds, Barry Manilow and others.
International music companies, Yamaha Corporation of America, Unison Saxophones, Telex Communications, Bari Woodwind Supplies, and Claude Lakey Mouthpieces, recognized and utilized Sonya's marketability by requesting her endorsement of their products. As a roster artist for Yamaha, Sonya's song First Kiss was included on their Contemporary Jazz compilation CD release. She was also chosen to demonstrate the new Yamaha WX5 Midi Wind Controller at the NAMM Show (National Association of Music Merchandisers) in Los Angeles in 1999. In addition, Sonya appeared in the Showtime movie, Lush Life, starring Jeff Goldblum and Forest Whitaker, and was featured in two cable music specials, Music and the Biz and Hurry Up and Wait.
Seeking a richer, more balanced quality of life, Sonya relocated to the San Francisco Bay Area in April of 1999. As a new Coastside resident, her talents caught the attention of Sugo Music and Design in Half Moon Bay, the leading music recording company in the gift market. Capitalizing on the ultra-lounge trend sweeping the country, the label featured Sonya's smooth sound and arranging skills on The Supper Club, a CD recording which captures the essence of cool jazz and includes well-loved standards performed with a hip flair. Selections from this release are in rotation on classic jazz stations such as San Mateo's KCSM 91.1 FM.
Thrilled to discover a seasoned professional musician in their midst, the local theater groups vied for her contribution to their productions. In 2001 the Coastal Theatre Conservatory enlisted Sonya's services as Music Director/Arranger and featured performer for the children's musical presentation of Cinderella, involving over 100 youth of all ages. Next, This Side of the Hill Players snapped her up as Band Director/Orchestrator and lead player for Cabaret, the most highly acclaimed production ever presented at Mel Mello Theater in Half Moon Bay, California.
Still in love with performing live, Sonya appears at festivals, fairs, and performing arts venues in the San Francisco Bay Area, including the SFJAZZ Festival in San Francisco, Yoshi's in Oakland, Bach Dancing and Dynamite Society near Half Moon Bay, Villa Montalvo in Saratoga, The Jazzschool in Berkeley, Jazz on the Hill Festival in San Mateo and the San Jose Jazz Festival. During the summer of 1999, Sonya's contemporary jazz band performed for twelve straight days at the Solano County Fair in Vallejo, warming up audiences in the Twilight Theater for every major act including Tower of Power, Lou Rawls, Bryan White and more.
The GRAMMY Foundation requested her appearance in Los Angeles in 2005 to perform with the Montclair Women's Big Band, Monica Mancini, Mindi Abair, and as opening act for Diane Schuur and Shirley Caeser in "Mavericks of Music: Celebrating the Contributions of Trailblazing Women." The show was produced by Greg Phillinganes and hosted by top recording engineer, Leslie Ann Jones.
As first-call saxophonist for some of the Bay Area's top music agencies, she performs for corporate events and private parties at many of the finest country clubs, hotels and wineries in Northern California. Many of these engagements are high profile events such as the 2010 USGA U.S. Open Golf Tournament V.I.P. Party in Pebble Beach. In addition, she is a frequent soloist with a variety of local bands such as premier party band The Fundamentals, soul jazz vocalists Pamela Rose and Glenn Walters, the hard-swinging Montclair Women's Big Band and the Contemporary Jazz Orchestra at Pearls, bluesy jazz guitarist Mimi Fox, hot salsa bands Bermudez Triangle and Safari, corporate show band The Zippers, the rockin' Fabulous CruiseTones, Larry Baptiste's "Encore" and other soulful R&B bands.
Passing on her knowledge and experience to young musicians, Sonya Jason has developed a thriving music teaching studio, hearing as many as 25 private students a week. In 2002 she created a popular and successful series of ongoing Jazz Workshops to help musicians learn to articulate jazz phrasing and improvise solos.
"What my life is for," she declares, "is to inspire people, to awaken the passion in people!" Sonya concludes, "The words of virtuosic vocalist Bobby McFerrin resonate deeply with my own feelings about my life as a musician; What's important is a deep and profound spiritual reality, the joy of simply making and sharing music with others, and a sense of gratitude for each note that you play."