Rita Satch: ‘I thrive in those unplanned moments at gigs’

It’s hard to keep track of the various Nancy Wilson tributes happening around Melbourne, Australia – or the world, really – even before the great singer’s passing, a few months ago. This constant flow of love, honour and respect for the seminal vocalist is testament to the enduring relevance of her legacy and influence that she had – and continues to have – on every generation of singers that have come after her. Rita Satch is no exception – but she is more than yet another jazz singer paying tribute to one of the greats. A captivating performer with a big, soulful voice and a stage presence that keeps her audience on the edge of their seats, she has been balancing between jazz and neo-soul with great success, both in Australia and abroad. Led by her desire to sing the Nancy Wilson songbook, she makes decades-old material sound like it was written today.

Rita Satch | Photo: Kevin Peterson

How did you decide to do a tribute to Nancy Wilson?

Nancy Wilson was one of the most important voices in jazz, as well as being one of my greatest influences. Doing a tribute show in her honour has been something that I’ve been wanting to do for a long time, but it’s only in the past few months that the stars have aligned to make it happen. I was first exposed to her music after hearing the Nancy Wilson / Cannonball Adderley album, and since then I’ve been hooked. Nancy’s tone, phrasing and interplay with the band on that record had a huge impact on me as a musician. After going deep into those tunes, I think that it’s allowed me to approach my own music in a different way, particularly how I tell my stories through song.

How did you decide on the set list for this project?

The Musical Director for this show, Daniel Mougerman, and I got together and started brainstorming a list of our favourite Nancy Wilson tunes. Both of us shared a love for the Nancy / Cannonball album, so that was a great starting point. I’m also really lucky to be part of Melbourne’s rich and diverse music community, so a few months ago I put out a call out on Facebook of my friends’ favourite Nancy Wilson albums / songs. I received a pretty overwhelming response, further confirming what a huge influence she has had on so many of my fellow musicians, and this gave me an even bigger list to work with. In the end I chose the songs that most resonated with me, and I also wanted to showcase Nancy’s diverse range of repertoire and styles beyond the Cannonball collaboration.

Apart from Nancy Wilson, who are your heroes?

Aretha Franklin, Barney McAll, Curtis Mayfield, Stevie Wonder and Ella Fitzgerald.

What has your trajectory in music been so far?

I was classicaly trained on violin and piano from a young age, and started performing professionally as a vocalist from the age of 16. From early on, I was lucky enough to work with some of the country’s finest musicians, including Mark Fitzgibbon and Phil Rex, and you could say that was my jazz education. My greatest achievement to date was performing overseas – headlining Cheltenham Jazz Festival in the UK, playing Glastonbury and performing all around Europe. I’ve also independently released two EPs, which I’m super proud of. The biggest challenge I’ve had to face was living overseas on my own as a working musician. I started with very few contacts and in the first year spent a long time having to prove myself.

How did you discover the power of your voice?

Karaoke!

How did you get into jazz?

I come from a big and loud family, and there was always music around the house. The first time I heard a jazz record was through my brother-in-law, who had a big influence on my musical upbringing. To me, jazz means spontaneity. I thrive in those unplanned moments at gigs, when the whole band is listening and the music is cooking… Things start happening that transcend the music.

If you could travel in time and live in another era, which one would you choose?

The1960s. It seemed to be a time of great social change, and that is reflected in the music.

Which tune best describes your current state of mind?

‘I love you’ by Weldon Irvine.

Rita Satch presents her tribute to Nancy Wilson at Bird’s Basement on Thursday 30 May

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