Sandy Asirvatham
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Sandy Asirvatham

Baltimore, Maryland, United States | SELF

Baltimore, Maryland, United States | SELF
Band Jazz Singer/Songwriter


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This band has not uploaded any videos



"music for everyone"

THE EARLY BUZZ ON MEMOIR, Sandy Asirvatham's eclectic debut:

“What a terrific maiden voyage! Smart chords and lyrics met by perfect solos. Wonderful construction of tunes...Some work is made by artists because they MUST create it. Sandy is one of those artists. Beautiful.”
~Claire Daly, baritone saxophonist, four-time winner of Downbeat Critic’s Poll

“Sandy has written and produced some music that reflects her literary background and her musical background. This is great music. She’s created music that’s for everybody, but never ‘dumbed down,’ not even for a moment. You need this in your record collection.”
~Alex Norris, trumpet player, composer, and Fresh Sounds recording artist

“What is most engaging for me as an instrumentalist is the surprisingly wide palette of timbres and emotional depth Sandy brings to her music. She is a JOY to work with!”
~Jim McFalls, trombone performer and jazz educator

“Sandy Asirvatham has made an impressive debut CD with MEMOIR. Her piano playing is very pleasing, and together with her supportive ensemble, the music is beautiful. The voice is clear and truthful...the songs are lyrically fresh and inventive. I say BRAVA, Sandy!”
~Nora York, singer and multi-genre performance artist

- (unpublished)

"Baltimore Magazine rave"

[July 2007 issue, under the IT LIST]

A former City Paper columnist, Asirvatham abandoned a novel-in-progress to focus on composing and performing her own music. Although Asirvatham is an award-winning writer, it’s hard to argue with that decision when considering the merits of her debut disc. Over the course of a dozen songs, she walks a fine line between singer/songwriter and jazz chanteuse with some Tin Pan Alley in the mix, smartly turning phrases and crafting peculiarly appealing melodies. On tunes such as “Friday Night with the Elephant Man,” “Sleep,” and the title track, she makes the most of a limited vocal range with poetic, personal lyrics richly underscored by her idiosyncratic piano playing and tasteful accompaniment by players such as drummer Frank Russo and guitarist Chris Kennedy. A lovely rendition of “(Sometimes I Feel Like a) Motherless Child” and a melancholy take on “Smile,” the classic tune written by Charlie Chaplin, dovetail nicely with the gravitas and bittersweet lure of Asirvatham’s originals.
- John Lewis, arts editor

"A voice in jazz waiting to be heard by the masses"

Had Sandy Asirvatham had her way, she would have been on the Today Show talking about the novels she has written in her career. But a writing block caused her to turn to music, which she had done to pass the time, only to discover what she calls her true calling. Memoir (JazzGrrl Music) is a new chapter in her life, and her debut album.

She plays a nice, loungy-style of coffeehouse jazz where the warmth and feeling of her lyrics and voice are immediate, with little to no time for interpretation. When you do stop and look at her lyrics, you'll find she is someone whose music is open for a bit of deciphering:

Don't look for shelter from the skies or put much faith in cleric lies
it's best to stick with what we know
that you will still reap what you sow
Everybody pays a price for everything they do
everywhere they go every day (from "The Harsh Logic Of My Buddhist Buddy")

Teach me to sleep
teach me to sleep
cradle me down into my deep
The world spins out
dark echoes appear
my skin won't cool
what keeps me pinned
just lying here? Teach me to sleep... (from "Sleep")

Her love of writing also comes clear in the title track, where it is written as if it was from a novel, where she hints at somehow the fantasy can often be better than the reality. As Asirvatham states in her bio, her music may be no more than "little five-minute fictions that rhyme", but they are effective and you want to keep hearing these and new stories. I do like how sometimes she will sing a chorus to where it may sound off-key, but as you listen for the duration she makes it back, backed by her piano and group (which for this recording includes Amy Shook, Dani Cortaza, Chris Kennedy, Jim McFalls, and Tom Williams.

Comparisons? Listen and come up with your own conclusions, and with luck you'll make it on track and realize she is her own voice.
~John Book - Music for America

"live show review, An Die Musik 11/8/08"

Thankfully, more and more women are achieving recognition not only as vocalists but also as istrumentalists in the realm of jazz. Our region is most fortunate to have a number of them performing
in our midst. But how often do we see not one, not two, but three beautiful and highly talented women together in a single jazz concert? That happened on November 8th at An Die Musik.

The headliners of this concert were Sandy Asirvatham, pianist, vocalist, and songwriter, and vocalist
Amanda Olsavsky. Although
both women have shared the
stage before, this performance
involved a closer collaboration,
with Asirvatham as
piano accompanist for both,
along with the redoubtable
Amy Shook on bass, Frank
Russo on drums, and
Amanda’s regular side- kick
Chris Kennedy on guitar.
Joining them on a few numbers
were Tom Williams on
trumpet and Mike Lollis on

Sandy opened with her sinuous, haunting solo arrangement
of “Black Orpheus,” its intriguing melodic and harmonic variations held together by a steady
tango-like left-hand rhythm. She confesses that this was the first time she had played solo in a concert without singing, and it was “a little nerve-wracking.”
But you never would have known that while listening to her confident and sensitive performance. Her piano chops were good a year ago when I heard her at Jazzway
6004, but her skills have made a phenomenal leap forward since then.

Amanda then sang the standard “Softly As In A Morning
Sunrise.” Understated, sensual and elegiac, her voice gave gravity to the rather operatic lyrics — “For
the passions that thrill love/And take you high to heaven/Are
the passions that kill love/And let it fall to hell” — while her expressive hands told the story in stylized gestures.

First rising high and silvery sweet, softly attenuated, her voice suddenly swells with intensity. These striking variations in timbre give a goose-bump-raising drama
to anything she sings.

If Amanda’s voice is the high, silvery flute, Sandy’s is the low and grainy tenor sax, earthier but equally expressive. Sandy sang a few selections from her 2007 CD,
Memoir, and several other
original compositions, including
“Innocent,” a timely song about her frustration with information overload:

"I don't want to know it, don't want to talk about it
Even hear it all debated on the television show
Can't abide discussion, tolerate dissension
Analyze progression or come up with alternate scenarios
I want to live my life like an innocent,
unburdened of the need to know
Done with contemplation, sick of rumination,
tired of trying to figure out
What makes this topsy-turvy world go."

Who said that nominalizations are bad style? Sandy makes them work, and we can all share her weariness at incessant media chatter.

Perhaps a high point of the late show was “Fortress Around Your Heart,” a Sting tune from a couple of decades ago, arranged by Sandy and sung as a duet with Amanda—a first for the two. Another particularly enjoyable moment was watching the visual interplay
between the two women during an improvisational interlude. I don’t know any bass players who are as visually interactive as Amy Shook, and she and Sandy obviously relished their musical conversation. Finally, there was the moving duet between Amanda and Chris
Kennedy, on Imogene Heap’s “Hide and Seek.”

This performance may be just the first of many collaborative efforts between these two talented performers, both of whom perform regularly on their own throughout the Baltimore-Washington area. Will an Asirvatham/Olsavsky album be next? Stay tuned.

– Liz Fixsen - Baltimore Jazz Alliance, December 2008


MEMOIR is now available for purchase at and as well as other online retailers. Full versions of all songs can be streamed at

Sandy has a solid CD's worth of new original material she now plays live and intends to record in early 2009.



Sandy Asirvatham’s new creations feature jazz infused with prose

At the end of the millennium, Sandy Asirvatham was a successful journalist, a popular and provocative columnist for Baltimore’s City Paper, and author of nonfiction books for teens. Her newest creations, however, are original jazz songs.

Armed with an MFA in fiction writing from Columbia University, Sandy was freelancing from home and trying to complete a novel. Instead, she found herself gravitating to the piano.

Hours passed as she sat alone playing and belting out show tunes and pop songs, yearning for an uncertain future. (When would she be able to start a family? Why couldn’t she get past page 150 of her novel?)

Although it had been years since her classical piano studies, music became the center of her creative life. Jazz studies at Towson University and two stints at jazz camp helped her update her skills and jump into a league of top rated musicians. She was soon composing and arranging instrumental music.

Family life anchored Sandy's creative endeavors. When she and her husband adopted a baby in 2003, lullabies were added to her daily musical repertoire. The act of singing simple rhymes to son Miles emboldened her to put her own words to music. By 2006, she had entered a prolific period writing original jazz-inflected songs for grownups.

Today she is a respected jazz pianist, arranger and composer, and her storytelling skills enliven her original songs. Her highly rhythmic and idiosyncratic melodies and lyrics channel some of the darker emotions and brooding thoughts leftover from the sadder times in her life. But she presents them with the light and joyful approach of the mature artist who has learned to make her way in a turbulent world.

Sandy feels incredibly lucky to have found her true calling. She was raised in New Jersey by two physicians, both born in India. The exceeding practical couple tried mightily to steer their two daughters into math and science. Sandy attended the Newark Academy in Livingston. All the art, dance and music lessons she received were meant to round her out and prevent idle hands. Today, though, her parents can hardly argue with her current success at doing what she loves.

In the past five years, she has performed often, leaving a strong impression wherever she appears. Busy with club, concert and festival dates in many cities, her sidemen (and women!) have included heavy hitters from the jazz world, such as bassist Amy Shook, drummer Frank Russo, and trombonist Jim McFalls. Her 2007 album was well received, and audiences are coming out in strong numbers to hear what else this artist has to say.



Sandy Asirvatham’s 2007 CD, MEMOIR, attracted attention from Baltimore to Manhattan. Critic and historian W. Royal Stokes named it as his choice for the year’s best jazz debut in the annual Village Voice poll. The eclectic recording contains nine originals and three freshly reconceived standards, including a haunting rendition of the gospel classic “Motherless Child.” Tracks range from introspective solo piano/voice performances to kinetic full-band arrangements.

Thought-provoking lyrics are framed in jazz harmonies and enlivened with rock, funk and folk grooves. She may appeal to listeners of unique artists like Fiona Apple, and genre -transcending jazz singers like Madeleine Peyroux and Cassandra Wilson. But make no mistake: Sandy Asirvatham has an unforgettable and distinct sound of her own.

“She walks a fine line between singer/songwriter and jazz chanteuse with some Tin Pan Alley in the mix, smartly turning phrases and crafting peculiarly appealing melodies.”
~John Lewis, Baltimore Magazine

“Sandy opened with her sinuous, haunting solo arrangement of “Black Orpheus,” its intriguing melodic and harmonic variations held together by a steady tango-like left hand rhythm…
~Liz Fixsen, Baltimore Jazz Alliance

“What is most engaging for me as an instrumentalist is the surprisingly wide palette of timbres and emotional depth Sandy brings to her music. She is a JOY to work with!”
~Jim McFalls, trombonist and jazz educator



Liz Fixsen, “Sandy Asirvatham and Amanda Olsavsky,” Baltimore Jazz Alliance review, December 2008

Sam Sessa “Baltimore Unsigned,” WTMD 89.7 FM, Towson MD, November 2008

Doc Manning, “In the Tradition,” WEAA 88.9 FM, Baltimore, November 2008

Sam Sessa, “ Meet the Band,” The Baltimore Sun, November 2008

Aaron Henkin, “The Signal,” WYPR 88.1 FM Baltimore MD, September 2007

John Lewis, “Play It,” Baltimore Magazine, July 2007

Jenny Wierschem, “She’s Happy For The Right To Sing The Blues,” Baltimore Guide, July 2005



An Die Musik
Artscape 2008
Avalon Ballroom
Baltimore Unsigned, WTMD 89.7 FM