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March 25 - Real Music - Southern Sonoma County Girl


Sat. March 25 - Real Music - Southern Sonoma County Girl   

by Robert Feuer

On a rainy day at her studio, a renovated barn where she teaches and records, Sarah Estalee Baker says she’s “looking forward so much” to playing at the Occidental Center for the Art's. The March 25 show is part of a celebration of Women’s History Month.

Baker, currently living in Rincon Valley, will lead on vocals and keyboards, backed by Sonoma County’s acoustic guitarist supreme, Nina Gerber, and Mona Gnader, longtime bassist for Sammy Hagar, who’ll also share the vocals.  The show will begin with blues songs written by women of the 1920s-30s, including Mississippi blues icon Jesse Mae Hemphill, whom Baker met at the Portland Blues Festival in the ‘70s. Hemphill mentored her in old-style Delta blues and they “sang together quite a bit and became fast friends,” Baker says. More contemporary songs, largely Baker originals, will follow. 

Baker grew up between Memphis and Nashville, near the Tennessee River, which greatly affected her music. “Life on the river is peaceful, and very important in spreading the blues. I love the rhythm of the river.

“I grew up in gospel,” she adds. Her father, a gospel singer, took her to country church revivals in nearby towns from age five, where “I learned a lot about harmony.” She got her middle name from her grandmother. 

Baker’s life in music has covered a lot of territory. “I love all kinds of music,” she says. While studying opera in New Mexico, even winning a couple of regional auditions for the Met, she encountered a bunch of rock musicians, dropped LSD, and began playing in bars with bands like Dolly & the Lama Mountain Boys, with whom she later moved to San Francisco in the ‘70s. 

There, she connected with members of The Family Dog including Chet Helms at the Tribal Stomp in Monterey, played at parties at Bill Graham’s house, and performed with her band at the Fillmore. She  signed with London Records, the Rolling Stones label at the time, for two albums. Renowned music critic, Ralph J. Gleason advised her to “play anywhere, anytime, under any circumstances.” “It worked,” Baker says.

“Sometimes I want to be more intellectual with music. I have a thorough background in  arranging, composing, and voice.” Baker completed her PhD in music and language, and has composed music for a string quartet, and co-written two musicals. She also studied jazz at Sonoma State, joining a jazz fusion band with Petaluma’s Peter Welker in the ‘80s. Her music has been used in  TV, films, and radio.

Currently leading three bands – Sarah Baker & the Cake, the Sarah Baker Trio, and the Wa Girls, Baker is also a performance coach, which she defines as “someone who supports and nurtures a person who’s interested in being a professional musician; somebody who tries to light a fire under somebody.”

This show promises to be a celebration of these three unique women and the artful interplay of their music.

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