People generally have a preconceived idea about how classic jazz music should sound, relying on reference points like the soft timbres of Peggy Lee, the swift scat shuffles of Ella Fitzgerald, or the refined grooves of Duke Ellington, but singer/pianist/composer Daniela Schächter plays classic jazz without adhering to anyone else’s rules but her own. Schächter personalizes jazz music to fit her own voicing and make-up. She admits, "I wasn’t concerned" about making music that appeals to jazz fans. "I always enjoy the process of conceiving an album. I don’t like the verb ‘to appeal’ when it comes to music. All I compose or arrange comes from the need of enjoying music and ‘sharing’ what I feel. I wanted to have more jazz standards on this album, because I play them in live concerts and people ask for CDs after concerts that have those songs. But I wanted to be consistent with the concept of the album too."
The songs on her latest album, Purple Butterfly were chosen for their connection to her own life, although many of the tunes recapture the era of swing-jazz’s halcyon days. She confers that at the time of making the album, "My boyfriend, now husband, got stuck in Russia for ten long months and each song represents in a way each month spent waiting for him from September to June."
She reveals that she chose the name of the album, Purple Butterfly before she wrote the song for the album’s title, and tells how the term symbolizes her own life, "I decided that Purple Butterfly would be the title of the album and then I composed a song entitled Purple Butterfly. A purple butterfly in nature is really rare, but it exists. I felt that metaphorically a butterfly could represent my feelings as I sing in the last part of the song: ‘and then that purple butterfly will tell the story of my life / you could make that butterfly spread its wings into the sky / why can’t you just smile at me tonight,’ but he is not there with me and the story cannot be told."
She expresses how she approached the recording differently from her previous albums, Quintet and I Colori Del Mare, "For the first time, I decided to separate my instrumental projects from my vocal projects. So I decided to sing and play on all the tracks. Also in my previous two albums I had mainly originals. For ‘Purple Butterfly’ I mainly play standards. I hope by the end of this year to record my instrumental project dedicated to Messina Earthquake in 1908."
The arrangement for the track "Autumn Leaves" demonstrates her technique, "I like to scat doubling lines with piano and I always do in live concerts. I thought that, to avoid the cliche' head in - solo -head out, I could start an arrangement with the scat and end with a similar line in unison with trumpet. Then I tried to develop the idea of the beginning re-creating in music the movement of leaves which is never predictable... I made some re-harmonization and added a little interlude before the modulation into a different key. When I wrote the arrangement I did not know that there would be a new album, I did not know that I would be waiting for ten months. Only later I decided that the song could be part of an album."
Performing on the recording are trumpeter/flugelhornist Alex Sipiagin, saxophonist Joel Frahm, bassist Massimo Biolcati and drummer Quincy Davis. Schächter glows with pride about her band, "I hope to have Alex on all my albums: I love his music. He is fantastic! He is a very creative player and he is comfortable playing on complex harmonies. I had him on my previous CD as well. I met Joel in NY more recently. I think he is a talent that needs more recognition. He is very sensitive and plays always the right notes. He is extremely versatile and I knew that he would be perfect for my vocal album. Massimo and I met at Berklee College of Music when I was still a student there. He is a great musician and possesses a great sound and time. He is very melodic but not rhetoric as he shows in his Autumn Leaves solo. Quincy is great. I enjoy his energy and dedication. He’s very supportive and positive: a beautiful person not only a great drummer."
Performing the songs live gives Daniela Schächter the opportunity to let audiences connect with her music. She proclaims, "My goal for music is to transfer my emotions to the audience. If someone listened to my music and felt moved by it I would be really happy. I would like to keep composing and performing following the path that I am on now hoping that my music always reflects my emotions, sorrows and joys as I grow older."
She tells, "I have played most of them in concert. I always need to rehearse them when I play with musicians that are not familiar with my music. New material requires time. I like to sound like a band when I perform with my group and not like musicians reading music."
She describes, "Audiences react differently. I noticed that in Europe the response is milder during live concerts probably because people expect more traditional jazz from someone living in NYC. In the States especially in the east coast I find audiences being more open-minded."
She illuminates that being a jazz artist has a broad meaning and she defines it with an open mind, "The best advantage is that each day is different from the next I don’t plan things ahead. When I have a day off, usually people work. That means I don’t have to commute during rush hours I often go food shopping at 2am because I don’t have to wake up at 5am the next day. Musically speaking, the word "jazz" is so vast that now you can almost play anything and make it sound like jazz. So, in my music, I feel free to use a little of classical, funk with a mediterranean flavor background, add some jazz harmonies and make it sound like ‘jazz.’"
It is a profession which Schächter embarked on while growing up in Italy. She recalls, "In Italy when I was eighteen I started working as accompanist for classical singers. I remember myself vocalizing in the car on my way to that gig. But I was already playing and singing in rock and R&B bands; only background vocals at the time. I also had a group called Passe-Partout (progressive rock) that I was composing for. I was writing lyrics too for the group but I wasn’t the lead vocalist: the piano parts were too complex. A few years later I started taking voice lessons thinking more seriously about the piano/vocal combination."
She relocated to the United States when she acquired a scholarship to attend the Berklee College of Music in Boston where she studied with such erudites as Joe Lovano, Hal Crook, and Joanne Brackeen. She retraces, "I won a scholarship from Berklee and decided to move to Boston for 6 months in the Fall ’99; instead it will be 10 years in September 2009. I’ve never thought that my life would change so drastically once moved in the United States: both as a musician and as a human being. First of all Joanne helped me to understand what my strengths were and what I needed to work on to get to the next level. Hal is a great educator and gave me some important information about my playing that I had never thought before and suggested to use a tape recorder to listen back to my playing and singing. He said that I needed to be more consistent Joe was like a guru! Just one of those few musicians with such charismas that you learn just by watching them perform. I enjoyed playing with him in his ensembles and master classes."
She points out, "I started working while I was attending Berklee as a performer, arranger and studio musician. Entering competitions was part of it. Once moved to New York I mainly focused on performing for a while: truly refreshing!"
Schächter has won several awards including the Mary Lou Williams Jazz Piano Competition 2005, The Sister In Jazz Competition 2002, The Betty Carter’s Jazz Ahead Competition, and the Terri Lynne Carrington Endowed Scholarship. These competitions became a springboard for Schächter who was asked to play in a number of prestigious bands like the Clayton-Hamilton Jazz Orchestra and the Tiger Okoshi Quartet. She reflects about being a support player, "Working with artists such as Patti Austin, Tiger Okoshi and Terri Lyne Carrington made me work hard on make each song sound like a miniature symphony in which melodies and rhythms needed to be shaped into an emotional path. Then each song in the album has a meaning to be in that specific position. Each album that I recorded as a leader has a concept. Terri once told me: "you need to play like your life depends on it"; I always think about that in all my musical activities. She is one of my favorite drummers and educators. Working with Tiger was like a spiritual experience, we would talk about the music for hours and he would make us imagine what he was thinking when he wrote that or the other song. He would connect each song with an emotion and that’s what I like to do too. Also his music is rich in dynamics and contrasts, great stuff. Patti is such a fantastic artist Her singing was always so accurate. Her tone, time and intonation are the best. Her voice is so versatile that she can do everything she wants. Playing ballads with her, especially ad libitum, was really important for me. She would sing always in a different way, angular, unpredictable, sweet or angry: never the same. Once her eyes were watering after one of those duets It was a great moment. My music reflects these and many other stories I experienced with all the great musicians that I worked with."
Schächter straddles the line between being a solo artist and supporting other recording artists. She remarks, "I never decided to pursue a solo career or better I don’t look at it in the same way. I am a leader in my group but I also play as a side musician for other band. The reason why I wanted to be a leader is because I am a composer and I like to perform my music: it’s always been like this!"
Daniela Schächter’s album, Purple Butterfly is music that has festered inside of her. Her songs speak of what has been happening to her, the stages which her life has taken, and how she resolves moments of anxiety. Her vision of jazz is very personal, and her music enables her to share her product with others. Her strokes are spangled in traditional and modern motifs which were made specifically for her.