Courtney Sanchez is a chameleon. She aligns her voice to the listener’s perception, all Ella Fitzgerald one minute, John Legend, Chaka Khan, or James Taylor the next.
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A native of Massachusetts and a ZACH Theatre alum (she’s performed in ZACH productions of DREAMGIRLS, FAME, and RENT), Courtney was once an integral part of one of MODERN BRIDE magazine’s top 150 wedding bands in the nation. She learned to please wedding guests of various persuasions with everything from Motown, jazz, soul, disco and funk to R&B. She’s still singing diverse tunes with her own band.
“Jazz is a genre that has evolved so much over the last 50 years,” she says. “Billie Holiday, Ella Fitzgerald, Sarah Vaughan were singing, and that was the birth of jazz, born from gospel, spiritual music, and the blues. Now, new elements have been integrated into it from R&B. Improvisation and the freedom people are taking with jazz are causing it to evolve into something else.”
“I can sing jazz standards, NeoSoul, R&B, Urban Jazz” Sanchez notes, as anyone who’s experienced her performances at Sullivan’s Steakhouse, Brasshouse Bar & Tavern, The Oasis, or Speakeasy in Austin will attest. “The ability to go off the cuff and create a whole ‘nother song in a song is definitely an element of jazz.”
Courtney knows about the human experience that resides at the heart of jazz, deeper than color or class. She resonates. In 2011, she celebrated the tenth anniversary of ending a four-year cycle of domestic violence in her life, removing herself and her children to a safer place, one focused on compassion, opportunity and uplift.
She served on the Foundation Board of SafePlace, an Austin resource for those experiencing domestic violence, a resource that helped her in the past. In 2011, she started the Survive2Thrive Foundation to provide an aftercare support system for those exiting domestic violence immediate-assistance programs. Through 2012, she spoke on social justices issues with JONAH Ministry, a non-profit she co-founded. She still speaks and moderates panels for the National Council on Family Violence.
Courtney is also authoring a self-help book, tentatively titled “YOU ARE HERE…AGAIN,” while obtaining a counseling degree from the University of Texas at Austin. She recently passed an audition for The Voice televised singing contest and is presently recording an as-yet untitled CD to be released June 1.
For her work as an advocate and artist, Courtney has been featured in magazines including THE KNOT, austin woman, UJIMA and ESSENCE.
What Courtney wants to bring to her audience is what she herself has come to enjoy:
I don’t think you should scat unless you know what you are doing,” she says, laughing. “I’ve heard people just destroy it! There are some people who can be the masters at it, just let them, and enjoy it. In my recent life, I’ve started to enjoy any music that’s not too busy. I like music that has complicated rhythms because I have a lot of musician friends and appreciate their complex compositions.
Courtney’s personal motto is “Compassion, Passion, Style,” adapted from a quote by Maya Angelou: “My mission in life is not merely to survive, but to thrive, and to do that with some passion, some compassion, some humor, and style.”
So, sit back, relax and let Courtney take you there at Austin Jazz Festival. Passion, compassion, humor and style will surround you. Guaranteed.
“What my band has been doing is taking jazz standards and adding to them, like a smooth jazz version of ‘Summertime.’ At the Austin Jazz Festival, we will be—as my guitarist calls it—‘Flippin’ it.’ It is nothing for us to be singing a song and break into something else, a song with a Latin beat, just throwing in things to enhance it and take the listener to a different place.”