On Sunday, February 5, the vocal quartet säje picked up a Grammy Award in the Best Arrangement, Instruments and Vocals category for their rendition of “In the Wee Small Hours of the Morning,” a track from their 2023 self-titled album. An acronym derived from the first letters of each members name, säje (rhymes with beige) is a supergroup of sorts, featuring award-winning and buzzed about singers and composers Sarah Gazarek, Amanda Taylor, Johnaye Kendrick and Erin Bentlage.
I have known and worked with Kendrick as part of Nicholas Payton’s Big Band, and always knew her voice and spirit would find home in a project that would gain mass appeal. Gazarek is an artist I have known from afar but always respected her musicianship and ambition. Last summer, I was invited to be the Artistic Director at Jazz Camp West in the Redwood Forest, and joining me as an Artist in Residence was säje.
Hearing the quartet in person, my mind was blown. It was as though I was listening to a blend of famed vocal groups Take 6, The Clark Sisters and New York Voices, yet with each säje member’s singular voice peeking through. To say it plainly, this group is incredible and unique.
Before they were a group, the members established friendships and a deep admiration for each other’s work. As individuals, each artist has crafted their own notable solo career. United, they traverse a vast array of original material, beloved standards and distinctive takes on the work of contemporary artists, including The Bad Plus, YEBBA and Björk, among others.
After debuting with an inspiring and energized set at the 2020 Jazz Education Network Conference in New Orleans, säje received their first Grammy nomination for their 2020 single “Desert Song.” They were also awarded the John Lennon Songwriting Contest Grand Prize Award for their second composition “Wisteria,” as well as their first Jazz Journalists Association Award Nomination for “Best Vocal Jazz Group.”
The group independently released their phenomenal self-titled debut, which aside from bringing them a wider audience, includes the song that earned the group its first Grammy Award, a take on the jazz standard “In the Wee Small Hours.”
Opening with an arrangement of the group’s other Grammy-nominated track, “Desert Song,” säje also includes “You Are The Oracle” featuring emerging jazz vocalist Michael Mayo. The album shifts along with the vocal collaboration with Collier. A harmonic mastermind in his own right, Collier took the musical world by storm with his Youtube videos before becoming a household name. The album also features takes on Yebba Smith’s “Evergreen” and haunting medley comprised of Michael Kiwanuka’s “Solid Ground” and the Beatles’ “Blackbird.”
I truly imagine a world where this group will create a new desire for the sound of well-crafted vocal jazz, with pop treatments rooted in deep harmonic discoveries. You won’t find a song on this album that doesn’t leave you spellbound. Now, after their second nomination and first Grammy win, there’s no reason this group shouldn’t be on your radar.