Interview: Sharel Cassity on Elektra, Gender in Jazz Instruction, and her Favorite Albums

Sharel Cassity performs this week at Dizzy's as part of the Generations in Jazz Festival.

News | Sep, 6th 2016

When adventurous saxophonist and composer Sharel Cassity performs this Wednesday, Sept. 6, at the Generations in Jazz Festival, she'll be convening her new band Elektra for the first time at Dizzy's Club Coca-Cola. We spoke to Cassity about the band's electrified background, the jazz legends that mentored her, and the albums that changed her life.

Jazz at Lincoln Center: For your show, there’s a focus on grooves and electric bass. Why did you start this project?

Sharel Cassity: I looked at it as a way to expand my palette. There’s a lot of music that I don’t get to play that relates to society today. I wanted to create music that relates to the time we’re in in a way that reaches people without sacrificing the art.

JALC: Why the name Elektra?

SC: Because it’s an electric bass group and it has a lot of women musicians in the group.

JALC: Your band has had a rotating cast of musicians so far. What are you looking for in its composition?

SC: I’m looking for people who are able to play not only straight-ahead jazz but pocket and groove and different styles of music. People that are very flexible musicians. With that comes diversity and everyone brings to the table what they do best.

JALC: Do you think there’s a need for increased mentorship for aspiring female jazz musicians?

SC: We need female mentors for young girls AND boys. We need both genders to see and be inspired by women as well as men, so that there's more respect and admiration for women as part of the music. I also feel many educators still don't naturally consider girls as successful prospects in jazz so they aren't as supportive, strict, or mentoring with them as they are with the boys. And I feel the male students also sense that from an early age. It would also be nice if we could stop stereotyping instruments as male or female instruments, especially in the early educational years.

JALC: Who are your mentors?

SC: Jimmy Heath, James Moody, John Lee, Vincent Herring, Ingrid Jensen, Antonio Hart, and Victor Goines.

JALC: Albums that changed your life?

SC: A Love Supreme by John Coltrane and Kind of Blue by Miles Davis.

JALC: If you could form a super group of five musicians, alive or dead, who would they be?

SC: Herbie Hancock, Christian McBride, Brian Blade, Woody Shaw, and myself.

Don't miss Elektra's performance! Reserve your seats now.

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This September, Dizzy's Club Coca-Cola will once again host the Generations in Jazz festival, showcasing living legends and up-and-coming stars like Jimmy Heath, Dave Holland, Marilyn Maye, Ben Wendel, Joanne Brackeen, and Joey Alexander.

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Learn more about tenor saxophonist Julian Lee, who'll be hosting Late Night Sessions at Dizzy's Club Coca-Cola for the entire month of September.


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