Gaea Schell, piano/flute/voice
Jordan Samuels, guitar
John Wiitala, bass
Greg Wyser-Pratte, drums
play music from her new CD,
“In Your Own Sweet Way”
(Saphu Records, 2023)
The CD features the same musicians — Gaea Schell (flute, piano, and vocals), Jordan Samuels (guitar), John Wiitala (bass) and Greg Wyser-Pratte (drums) — along with Carlos Caro (percussion on Cava dellâ€™Isola, El Picacho, and Luna Plateada); Marco Diaz (trumpet and piano on El Pichacho).
From Women in Jazz Media: While most of us stayed home during the pandemic and looked for projects to fill our time, GAEA SCHELL flew to central Mexico to play gigs with a Cuban son group, where she also swam in waterfalls in San Luis Potosi, began learning Spanish, and released sea turtles. She also went to Florence, Italy, to study opera, completed a master’s degree in composition in Vermont, won a Chamber Music America grant to work with Benny Green, and played with a group on an island in western Cuba, where she helped release more sea turtles. She also recorded a new album.
Schell, a multi-instrumentalist, composer, arranger, and vocalist, plays piano and flute on IN YOUR OWN SWEET WAY, and she also sings on a couple of tunes. The album consists of seven Latin-tinged original compositions, one straight-ahead original, and three fresh takes on songs from the Great American Songbook.
IN YOUR OWN SWEET WAY follows For All We Know (2007) and After the Rain (2011). Jazzpolice.com says, â€œSchell pulls in the listener with a minimalist approach that shines with interpretative sensibility rather than pure musicality. But unlike other pianist/vocalists who are competent at the keyboard but clearly in their element in song (Diana Krall, Karrin Allyson), Gaea Schell is competent vocally and brilliant as composer/instrumentalist.â€
Schell currently lives in San Francisco and is joined on this project by some top Northern California musicians. The core of the Gaea Schell Quartet includes JORDAN SAMUELS (guitar), JOHN WIITALA (bass), and GREG WYSER-PRATTE (drums). CARLOS CARO (percussion) and MARCO DIAZ (trumpet and piano) also appear on a few tracks.
Schell grew up in Alberta, Canada. Her father was initially a drummer who spent a lot of time on the road, and her great-grandmother composed music for silent films. Her family was rather poor. Her mother made many of her clothes. Schell became interested in music when she was just five years old, when a family friend gave them a piano with a few damaged keys. Unprompted, she took to it immediately, and thereafter her parents made sure she could indulge her artistic disposition with music, dance, and acting lessons.
Schell enjoyed playing just about any instrument she could get her hands on, like the guitar and recorder, among others. When she was 11 years old, she began studying the harp, and by the time she was in high school, she was playing piano and harp in local malls and for holiday celebrations. But after hearing Charlie Parker, she fell in love with jazz. Although she got a scholarship to the University of Victoria as a classical harp major, she did not stay long because jazz had become her first love. So, she headed east to study piano in the jazz program at McGill University in Montreal.
After graduating with distinction, she began her peripatetic lifestyle. She lived for a while in Portland, Oregon, but moved to New York City to study with the internationally known pianist/composer Richie Beirach after she received a grant from the Canada Council for the Arts. The high cost of living and her desire to live in a more temperate climate prompted her to move to Southern California shortly after 9/11, first to San Diego and then Los Angeles, where she became a regular on the local jazz scene. She moved to San Francisco after several years to pursue other opportunities.
It has taken several years for Schell to get back into the studio for her own recording, but that is because she has been so busy backing the likes of Nancy King, John Stowell, Albert ‘Tootie’ Heath, Clare Fischer Big Band, Tony Dumas, Marcus Shelby, Bobby Watson, Richie Cole, and Earl Palmer, among others.
Influenced by the likes of Bill Evans, Oscar Peterson and Eliane Elias, Schellâ€™s piano playing is subtle and swinging, and her flute playing is influenced by traditional Cuban flutists, while her soft voice has been compared to a Brazilian white-sand beach at sunrise.
Her compositions on IN YOUR OWN SWEET WAY are inspired by her appreciation of nature and reflect her love of Latin music as well as her training in classical music and bebop. The album opens with â€œCava Dell Cava dell’Isola,â€ a Latin tune named for a beach on an island near Naples, Italy. â€œForio Rainâ€ invokes her experience of the gentle rain that fell on the island of Ischia, Italy, while â€œSummer Seaâ€ is a bossa about swimming in waters around San Francisco. â€œLuna Plateada,â€ â€œDanza Nocturna de Flores,â€ â€œUn SueÃ±o de la Noche,â€ and are all Latin inspired compositions, while â€œPerplexityâ€ is a straight-ahead number. She rounds out the set list with her arrangement of some of her favorite standards, â€œSweet & Lovely,â€ â€œIt Had to Be You,â€ and Dave Brubeckâ€™s â€œIn Your Own Sweet Way,â€ for which Schell wrote lyrics about her boyfriend.
Inspired by nature and shaded with gentle Brazilian rhythms and classical hues, Gaea Schellâ€™s music is redolent with moonlight and romance. With her steadfast grooves and elegant expressiveness, IN YOUR OWN SWEET WAY is a highly engaging album.
IN YOUR OWN SWEET WAY will be released on June 23, 2023 on Saphu Records and will be available at Saphurecords.com and on all platforms.
For a taste of some of what Gaea does, and she does much, check out this quartet date — you might want to jump to the 38:30 mark for her romp through “You and the Night and the Music” segueing into her original, “Requited.” She’s a versatile multiple threat – pianist, flutist, vocalist, composer, arranger, a mighty jazz artist, indeed.
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