Säje members include, clockwise from left, Amanda Taylor, Sara Gazarek, Johnaye Kendrick and Erin Bentlage.  Photo by Lauren Desberg

By now you are probably aware of my love of vocal harmonies no matter what the genre. Well, I have made an incredible discovery that I am eager to share with you: the Grammy nominated quartet, Säje (rhymes with “beige”) — made up of Sara Gazarek, Amanda Taylor, Johnaye Kendrick and Erin Bentlage.

These four talented, world-renowned artists, composers and arrangers have teamed up to become a force to be reckoned with in jazz genre having already made their mark as solo performers. Having listened to and viewed all of their videos, I was totally blown away by every aspect of their craft and knew that I wanted to chat with a member to learn more about how they came to be To that end, I received a call from Sara Gazarek who, with the rest of the group, was in Seattle doing promotion for the upcoming tour that will ultimately bring Säje to Maine.

Q: Having grown up with vocal harmonies — whether in church choirs, school choruses, and listening to a plethora of vocal bands like The Association, the Manhattan Transfer and other groups like that — what the four of you are doing is exciting as well as jaw-dropping.
Gazarek: Oh, thank you so much.

Q: Well, let me start off by asking if you’ve ever been to Maine before?
Gazarek: I have been to Maine just as a soloist but Säje has not performed in Maine. One of our members, Erin Bentlage, grew up in the Vermont area so she’s almost certainly been to Maine. She’s nodding — we’re in the car together, so she’s nodding — she’s been to Maine (chuckle).

Q: And you’re coming into probably one of the finest listening rooms in the state, if not New England: One Longfellow Square.
Gazarek: Oh, beautiful!

Q: Yeah, you can make eye contact with everyone in there, too.
Gazarek: (Laugh) Oh, cool — I can’t wait!


Q: After watching all your videos, it really is incredible to hear your harmonies — you expect that from siblings but not from four people that are unrelated. Is that something you discovered at the beginning and decided to capitalize upon?
Gazarek: Umm, I think we benefit from the fact that both Amanda and Erin sort of have these effortless, straight-tone-leaning head voice qualities to their default instrument. I also think that we all can call upon different colors and sounds, but I think there’s an intention in making sure that we’re blending; but half the ensemble definitely has the goods for a really blend-able sound. To me, when they sing together, it’s like sometimes I can’t tell the difference between instruments so I just try to keep up.

Q: Now when you’re out on the road, do you have accompaniment?
Gazarek: Yeah, so as an ensemble our instrumentation is four voices plus piano and bass and drums; and then some of the songs on the record also feature Erin playing ukulele. I don’t think we have any songs that are entirely a cappella — we have certain sections where it’s just voices but we really identify as a group that also uses a rhythm section, for sure.

Q: And, in my opinion, you can’t go wrong either way.
Gazarek: Well, I think because we primarily identify as arranger/jazz musicians, so — as soloists, for sure, most of us are used to playing with a rhythm section; and as a four-part ensemble sort of abandoning that interplay we have with the rhythm section would be tough to accomplish in an a cappella setting.

Q: And it doesn’t detract it only enhances the overall performance.
Gazarek: Thank you.

Q: Now, I understand you have an album out, correct?
Gazarek: We do — it came out Aug. 25 and we self-produced it, self-released it; the origin story of the group is that, up until pretty recently, we’ve been entirely DIY — so we saw that record from seed to fruit.

Q: How’s it doing?
Gazarek: We were fortunate to have the record debut in the first week at No. 2 on the Jazz Billboard Chart.


Q: Whoa!!
Gazarek: Yeah, I know! And even a couple of months, yesterday it was at No. 2 on the the iTunes Jazz Chart — an independent release up against some of the big, major labels with huge marketing budgets and all that stuff — it’s all because of the fans, for sure.

Q: Now, I understand your tour begins officially tomorrow (Oct. 13)?
Gazarek: Yeah, we’re launching in Seattle — that’s where two of our members live and then I also grew up there, so it’s kind of a hometown show of sorts. Then the next week to 10 days we’re on the West Coast and then we have a little bit of a time off, then we do the whole thing again for our friends in the East.

Q: Seeing this record just came out, it’s probably silly of me to ask if you are working on something new.
Gazarek: Well, the main thing at the moment is just kind of focusing on this record and getting the sounds in front of people — we’re doing a lot of work promotionally with attention to the tour. We had originally recorded 15 songs for this record and there are only 10 that made this specific release, and so we already have some that we’re planning on releasing for the second record. It’s just a matter of figuring out what kind of goes with the rest of that music (chuckle). But that’s a long ways away — we’re still kind of in baby-mode and that’s important at this moment.

Q: You just have to hold its hand while it learns how to walk.
Gazarek: (Laughter) Exactly!

Q: Now, you write your own material like “Desert Song” but, by the same token, you do a killer cover of Joni Mitchell’s “A Case of You” — which you definitely made your own. On the album, is it all self-penned material?
Gazarek: A lot of the music is original songwriting but we do have some covers — it’s about 50/50.

Q: What are some of the covers that you put your stamp on?
Gazarek: We do the Stevie Wonder composition he wrote for Michael Jackson called “I Can’t Help It.” We do a pairing of a Beatles tune with a contemporary songwriter, and a song by The Bad Plus — a jazz instrumental group—so we’re not scared of covers but we definitely do all our own arrangements and orchestrations.

Q: Is there anything, Sara that you’d like to pass on to the folks reading this article especially seeing this is a venue and state debut for your group?
Gazarek: You know, I think the one thing we always try to emphasize is that we do all of our own arranging — which is something that isn’t super common. So the main thing is that we are four female identifying composer/arrangers that do all of our own orchestrations of our own compositions. And that we’re just truly thrilled to get to share this music with the world, and we’re excited to make our debut in Maine and get to meet some of our friends and fans out there.


Lucky Clark, a 2018 “Keeping the Blues Alive” Award winner, has spent more than 50 years writing about good music and the people who make it. He can be reached at luckyc@myfairpoint.net if you have any questions, comments or suggestions.

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