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PHOTO: Chris Shields

School of Jazz

From singing bus girl to acclaimed new artist, Sarah Pedinotti is making the most of her unusual musical education


By Kirsten Ferguson

She’s got a backstory that any reporter or record label could love. From the age of 12, Sarah Pedinotti spent many nights in her family’s Saratoga Springs jazz bistro, One Caroline Street, where the budding singer bussed tables and sang jazz standards along with leading players in the jazz world. Acclaimed local pianist Lee Shaw took Pedinotti under her wing and would invite the teenager up to sing during Shaw’s One Caroline sets. And during the summers from 1996 to 1998, members of the Wynton Marsalis Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra would show up at the bistro to blow off steam after playing at the Saratoga Performing Arts Center.

Those spontaneous, anything-goes sets by pianist Eric Lewis, trumpeter Marcus Printup and drummer Ali Jackson were a revelation to jazz lovers in attendance, including Pedinotti. “After hours they would be full of this energy and music and they would come to One Caroline and want to jam,” she says. “They would play wherever they were in the room. Ali Jackson would be playing pots and pans as drums. I was a kid, so to me this was the most exciting thing to be around—the energy and the joy. They loved playing so much they couldn’t stop. I begged my mom to let me stay up really late.” Fortunately, an understanding mother allowed Pedinotti to partake in the late-night jam sessions, and one attendee at the time recalls with awe a night when Jackson banged out the beat on a restaurant chair and a little 12-year-old Pedinotti stood up to sing with the group.

A backstory like this one is invaluable because record labels can’t pay for that kind of authenticity, and reporters love to find the beginning of a story already written. The record labels will be on hand tonight (Thursday) when Pedinotti, now 23, will play a showcase at the Egg’s Swyer Theater. (The theater’s 450 seats are nearly sold out, although Pedinotti suspects some tickets may be released the day of the show.) The Egg show, to be attended by at least two major record labels and one prominent independent label, is a chance for the music industry to “hear us in a setting that’s more conducive to the music, on a stage where the acoustics are beautiful and we’ll be able to put on a show,” Pedinotti says.

Although she recently signed to a Hoosick Falls-based artist-management company that represents national jazz and classical performers, Pedinotti doesn’t consider herself a jazz singer, per se. Her father’s record collection, filled with the big-band and swing music of his father’s generation along with the American folk music of the ’60s that he loved, such as Bob Dylan, has always been an influence. And with four music-loving siblings, three of them older, Pe dinotti was exposed to underground rock bands like the Velvet Underground, while her sister played her dance tunes by Ma donna and Michael Jackson.

“I grew up in a jazz restaurant and people know me as the singing bus girl, singing jazz standards,” Pedinotti says. “But I’m a song writer, and I’m influenced by an eclectic mix of mu sic. I love Americana, roots music, the old blues, folk, rock, it’s all in there.”

She started writing her own music at age 15, and after graduating from high school in Galway, attended the Berklee College of Music in Boston. “I went away to school and discovered how much I love rock & roll,” she says. “At college I would experiment with different sounds and players. I got really into the rock scene. It was cool to be able to break away from people knowing me as a jazz singer. But coming back here was always great too.”

In the summers upon returning home from college, Pedinotti would team up with local drummer Chris Carey and jazz pianist Dave Payette, who have been part of her band since they all met at age 19. Her bassist Tony Markellis, who joined later, is an old-hand in the national music scene. A Grammy nominee, the Saratoga Springs resident has toured with Phish guitarist Trey Anastasio and the Mamas and the Papas. “I was very flattered that he wanted to be in my band,” Pedinotti says.

Pedinotti eventually found that music school, which she left with two semesters to go before graduation, couldn’t compare to the real-world education at her parents’ restaurant. “I learned so much at One Caroline,” she says. “I learned a lot through the feeling and stories of other musicians. It was such an education for me. Going to musical school really can’t teach you that sort of thing. I did learn a lot about theory and the technical aspects of music. But they can’t teach you soul. That you have to live to learn.”

Pedinotti and her band continue to play every Wednesday and Friday night at One Caroline Street Bistro, along with other local gigs. (The quartet will be joined by pedal-steel guitarist Kevin Maul for Thursday’s Egg show.) And the singer-songwriter currently is finishing up her third self-released album, City Bird, for release this spring. Her MySpace page offers a glimpse of rough mixes from the all-original City Bird songs, which display Pedinotti’s idiosyncratic lyrics and unconventional vocals.

“I like stories a lot,” she says, explaining the inspiration behind her songwriting. “We live in a nut house. Everyone is crazy in one sense, although they don’t know it. I fit in there somewhere. In this ’scape of the world, there is a lot to write about. All these crazy people and their stories. It’s a never-ending sea of stories that have already been told but are constantly being recycled in new ways. I’m tapping into them.”

The Sarah Pedinotti Band will perform tonight (Thursday, March 29) at 8 PM at the Egg. Tickets are $20 or $10 with student ID at 6 PM. For more information, call the Egg at 473-1845.


Got Rough Mix items? Contact Kathryn Lurie at or 463-2500 ext. 143.

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