The trajectory of an artist is sometimes unpredictable.
Such could be said of Elspeth Savani.
Elspeth’s first musical inklings came early. As a child, she danced around the house to the music of Scott Joplin. She also grew up listening to blues and folk music that her father sang and played on guitar. Elspeth’s musical migration eventually led her to Wesleyan University. While there, she focused on classical voice but also had the opportunity to study West African drumming and South Indian vocal music. After receiving her BA in Music at Wesleyan, Elspeth immersed herself in classical voice performance. It seemed that her course was set. Shortly after moving to Seattle, Elspeth joined the soprano section in the City Cantabile choir for a performance of Beethoven’s “Missa Solemnis.” After this performance, Elspeth decided to stay on with the choir for the remainder of the season. This decision would prove to be a significant turning point in her career. The choir’s following production was “Orin Odara,” a choral homage to the Orishas of Cuban Santaria. This was Elspeth’s first introduction to the music that would change her life. Inspired and excited by the rhythmic counterpoint and call-and-response singing of Cuban music, Elspeth promptly put her classical pursuits aside and immersed herself fully into the study of congas, Cuban dance and folkloric music and Spanish language. She has no regrets. She reflects, “Concentrating most of my early efforts on drumming was a good decision. Nothing could have better informed my singing in this style.”
The next leg of her peregrination found Elspeth at the musical helm of Cuban Big Band Orchestra Zarabanda, which she has directed and performed with for well over a decade. Combining the traditional Cuban conjunto format and a modern arrangement aesthetic, the 10-piece band creates a signature, groove-based sound evocative of Old Havana. Elspeth considers Zarabanda her main training ground in Latin music and rightly so. The band has logged hundreds of performances and two major recording projects. It’s no surprise that her 2007 CD “Gallo Que Canta” featured several musicians from Zarabanda, along with guest artists Jovino Santos Neto, Marco de Carvalho and Anthony Blea. The CD received much critical acclaim. In that same year, Elspeth was nominated for “Best Emerging Artist.” by Earshot Jazz.
With her 2011 release “Flights of Mind/ Pensamientos en Vuelo”, Elspeth takes yet another turn. Bringing her seasoned vocals and composition chops to the forefront, Savani once again steps forward into new musical territory. Inspired by a NPR news story about a former Guantanamo detainee, “Flights of Mind- Pensamientos en Vuelo,” is a lushly textured exploration of freedom: personal, political, and for Savani, musical. While her roots in Latin music are well grounded in this project, Elspeth infuses the music with elements of contemporary pop and modern jazz. Traditional Latin rhythms are articulated throughout the recording, yet Elspeth is unfettered by adherence to them. This freedom allows her a broader range of vocal expression and the opportunity to move the music in a more melodic and lyrical direction. A new release is currently in progress.
Throughout the years, Elspeth has also been an ambassador for the music she loves so dearly. She has been the recipient of numerous grants from both Seattle Office of Arts and Culture and King County 4Culture, and featured soloist in several choral projects, including Canto General at Town Hall in 2008 and 2013. In partnership with percussionist Jeff Busch, guitarist David Trejo and actress Mayra Laura Castanos, Elspeth has developed educational outreach programs and performances that introduce Latin music to audiences throughout the Northwest. These projects have included a bilingual, multi-media children’s show, interactive percussion and song workshops, and a large-scale Cuban dance and music retrospective.