Suarez, Leah : Found Freedom
About Leah Vocalist Leah Suárez confident artist, with a luminous voice and an alluring stage presence, she has cultivated strong roots in jazz and Latin music into a deliberate, emotionally mature sound, combining the best of both traditions with glorious results. Born August 12, 1981 to a Mexican father and an American mother, and growing up on Sullivan's Island, Leah's artistic perspective owes much to the creativity and inventiveness that comes from the mixing of cultures. While she performs a range of music that includes American jazz standards, Brazilian bossa nova, and folk music from all over the world, she finds equal passion in creating original music. Leah's music was first nurtured by her mother, who recognized both her talent and creativity at an early age. She began her formal musical training studying the euphonium, an instrument rich in timbre and resonant in voice, which became an excellent expression of Leah herself, both musically and personally. Today, her vocals carry a similarly distinct and mellifluous tone. During her school years, Leah spent her summers at the Brevard Music Center in North Carolina, an instrumental experience in developing her passion for music. Leah describes her time spent there as "idyllic"; Brevard, she says, "was a creative, safe space in the midst (serenity) of exquisite natural surroundings, where we could imagine romantic lives as struggling artists." Being surrounded by people from all parts of the world who shared the same artistic goals planted the seeds of inspiration. "That's where my music profession was realized," she recalls. In the mountains of North Carolina, music became her truest emotional outlet. Leah carried her passion to the world of higher education, continuing with the euphonium at George Mason University in Fairfax, Virginia. She then returned home to South Carolina to complete her music performance degree at the College of Charleston. It was here that Leah chose to let her voice become her instrument. Leah honed her vocal technique, developed her stage presence and grew adept at jazz vocals. Her professors and mentors while at the College of Charleston included Tommy Gill, Dr. Jill Terhaar Lewis, Quentin Baxter, and Robert Lewis. In addition to Leah's formal studies, her time at college was spent discovering her own musical tastes, finding music and musicians that she could relate to lyrically and compositionally*. The result at graduation was an even more passionate Leah Suárez, complete with a degree in Music Performance and the ability and motivation to begin a professional career as a vocalist. She began performing in and around the Charleston area both as a soloist and as a bandleader for the group Toca Toca. As Toca Toca, she and a tight-knit core group of band members were featured two years in Charleston's Piccolo Spoleto Festival, headlined the inaugural South Carolina Jazz Festival, and played the Copenhagen Jazz Festival. While in Denmark Toca Toca performed nightly for six consecutive weeks as the house band at the famous Hotel Kong Arthur. Leah extended her stay in Copenhagen by four months on her own, writing, reading, and making music that, for the first time, was hers alone. Leah emphasizes Denmark as a turning point in her growth as an artist: it was a place of creativity, restoration, and one might even say rebirth. "I found my voice there, and I'm more deliberate now with what and how I choose to sing." In keeping with her constant focus on expanding her musicality and love of language, she sings in English, Spanish, Brazilian Portuguese and Swedish. "Singing in different languages makes the world a little smaller; you're giving people sounds they don't normally hear." It is that commitment to "making the world a little smaller" that sets Leah apart-music is a means of forging connections, and she does that with her audience in every performance. "It's important to participate in people's lives," she emphasizes. When she returned from Denmark, Charleston welcomed her eagerly: with great success, she produced the concert event "Viva Brasil" two years running, as well her own concert series at the contemporary art gallery Modernisme. In the May 2007 edition of Charleston Magazine Leah was chosen as one of Charleston's "Women Who Rock." The article praised her "fresh and nuanced vocal style" and "considerable improvisational liberties" that are a hallmark of her performances, making even the most familiar standard unique and refreshing. Just listen to her sing "Summertime." From Charleston to Brevard, and to Denmark and back, it is this musical journey that has brought her where she is now: taking ownership of her music and about to release her first solo album of original tunes. It's "Leah Suárez" for the first time. "I know what I want; there's no hiding inside the band." No hiding, indeed. With a strong focus on her art and a renewed sense of balance, Leah Suárez is confidently showing the musical community who she is: a singer, writer, risk-taker, and above all someone who believes, without question, in the power of music. ~Bio Credit: Elizabeth Pandolfi.