New Orleans jazz guitarist Steve Masakowski, daughter Sasha join orchestra for unique evening of entertainment
“I recognize that I was blessed in being raised in such a musical family. I have my father’s footsteps to follow.... But I trail along and create my own path.” Sasha masakowski
The child of a jazz guitarist-composer father and classical pianist mother, New Orleans jazz singer Sasha Masakowski was born into music.
“Both parents are forces of nature,” she said. “As a child I fell asleep every night to my mother practicing classical pieces, Debussy or Beethoven or whoever. It was always soothing, comforting, knowing that mom was playing downstairs.
“My dad provided such artistic inspiration,” she added. “I learned so much from him. I’ll always be a student of my father.”
Masakowski sang in choirs during childhood and studied musical theater at the New Orleans Center for the Creative Arts and jazz at the University of New Orleans. Her father, Steve Masakowski, directs UNO’s jazz studies program.
Between NOCCA and college, the 25-year-old Masakowski recalled from New York City last week, she found herself at a crossroads.
“I loved to act and I grew up dancing,” she said. “But I wasn’t crazy about Hello, Dolly! I didn’t want to be performing Cats for the rest of my life. I needed something that I could be more creative with and really be myself.”
Practical career advice came from her working jazz musician father.
“My dad was, like, ‘You can probably make a pretty good living as a jazz musician in New Orleans. You can definitely get some gigs.’ I said, ‘Oh, really? I can make money. Great.’ ”
Masakowski went on to get her jazz studies degree from UNO and get gigs in New Orleans and China. She also released two CDs. This summer she’s doing a residency at Zirzamin, a Greenwich Village venue that bills itself as a “subterranean music parlour.”
“It’s an intimate, really charming venue,” she said. “So I’m having fun.”
Masakowski loves New York and its music scene, but the Big Apple is not as easy as the Big Easy.
“If I have a rehearsal in Brooklyn, I have to leave an hour before rehearsal starts,” she said. “I’ve got to walk to the subway, wait for the subway, take the 30-minute train ride. In New Orleans, everything is so close and quaint. It’s a lot easier to get around.”
Despite the differences between New York and New Orleans, they’re nothing compared to Masakowski’s laid-back hometown versus Beijing. From October through February, she worked as vocalist with the house band at the city’s Shangri-La Hotel.
Masakowski described the Shangri-La hotels and resorts as the Asian equivalent of the Ritz-Carlton chain of luxury hotels. The band she performed with featured musicians from Boston and New York.
She learned about the China gig through a Facebook message. At first she thought it was a scam, but the offer turned out to be legit. After the singer originally booked for the engagement dropped out at the last minute, the hotel scrambled to find a replacement.
“It was totally by chance and I had no idea what I was getting myself into,” Masakowski said. “But it turned out to be a wonderful experience, a life-changing thing. I never expected to move to China, living in the lap of luxury in a five-star hotel, all expenses paid.”
Performances at night left the musicians free to explore Beijing throughout the day.
“Beijing is a beast of a city,” Masakowski said. “And there are so many things to see and do. I have always had a thirst for adventure and all things exotic.”
But China’s exoticism is accompanied by its pollution. Smog composed of industrial emissions, vehicle exhaust, aerosols and dust from the Gobi Desert blanket the country’s major cities. Suspended particulates in the air are particularly dangerous.
Masakowski, like fellow Beijing residents, wore a surgical mask outdoors. She was especially concerned because she sings for a living, her voice is her instrument. There’s also plenty of indoor pollution in China, especially at the nightclub where Masakowski performed.
“It was a smoking room,” she said. “The Chinese love to smoke. You can smoke in the mall. You can smoke in the airport.”
Wealthy Chinese businessmen made up most of the nightclub’s clientele. Other patrons included Chinese celebrities, TV and music stars, socialites, the big-spending offspring of government officials and ex-pats from the United States, Europe and the Middle East.
“All these oil company executives,” Masakowski said. “It opened me up to a new level of global economics. It was really interesting to get different world views. That’s something that you don’t find a lot of in Louisiana.”
Being in Beijing, 11,500 miles from home, Masakowski missed New Orleans.
“The biggest thing I missed was the people,” she said. “New Orleans is a place made up of such amazing individuals. And I missed the human warmth there. Also live music. You take that for granted when you’re the offspring of two phenomenal musicians and you grow up with music everywhere. But I was in a place that does not have a vast live music scene.
“I recognize that I was blessed in being raised in such a musical family. I have my father’s big old footsteps to follow, but I trail along and create my own path.”