By the time an artist discovers their own voice, they’ve inevitably been shaped by countless influences. On her debut album, Ode To Heroes, vocalist Thana Alexa pays tribute to the personalities both personal and musical who have impacted her on the path to forging her own distinctively individual voice. It’s a telling list that encompasses her own family; jazz giants like Wayne Shorter, Charles Mingus, and Paul Desmond; and the stellar musicians who collaborate with her on the album, including drummer and coproducer Antonio Sanchez, saxophonists Donny McCaslin and Lenart Krecic, bassists Jorge Roeder and Scott Colley, pianist Sergio Salvatore and vibraphonist Christos Rafalides.
The release of Ode To Heroes, due out March 10 via Harmonia Mundi/Jazz Village, marks the arrival of a rising star on the modern vocal jazz scene. The album mainly features her engaging original compositions, along with vibrant takes on jazz standards like Shorter’s “Footprints,” Mingus’ “Goodbye Pork Pie Hat,” and Desmond and Dave Brubeck’s “Take 5.” Most importantly, it spotlights Alexa’s ability to engage in rewarding and illuminating conversation with some of the music’s most renowned and forward-thinking players.
Though she was born in New York City, Alexa was raised in Croatia, so her path was never going to be the expected one. She first encountered jazz at an outdoor café in Dubrovnik. The owner was a bassist who encouraged her to join his band onstage when he spotted her mouthing the lyrics in the audience. “He yelled to me from the stage in broken English and my mom pushed me up there,” she recalls. “I must have looked like a tree just standing there; it was my first time ever singing in front of people.”
The experience ignited a passion for jazz and soon Alexa was taking voice lessons at the Rock Academy of Zagreb. A few years later vibraphonist and club owner Bosko Petrovic took the young singer under his wing, producing a demo and urging her to discover her own voice. She returned to the States at the age of 18 to attend Northeastern University, majoring in psychology because she still saw jazz as a hobby. “I had the darkest year of my life,” she says. “It was only during a jazz course I had once a week that something would light up inside of me when I had my five minutes to sing. The message was clear that a life change had to be made, so I moved to New York City and enrolled at the New School where I received a B.F.A in jazz performance and also finished my B.A. in psychology.”
Since dedicating herself to music, Alexa has performed and recorded with Antonio Sanchez on his album New Life and his upcoming album The Meridian Suite - performances have included Red Sea Jazz Festival and Montreal Jazz Festival – with legendary drummer Bernard “Pretty” Purdie and two albums with guitarist Gene Ess. She came in 2nd place in the 2014 Made in New York Jazz Competition and won the 2011 Jazzon Alpe-Andria International Competition for “Ode To Heroes,” while “Siena” was nominated for a Best Jazz Composition award by PORIN, the Croatian Music Academy, an honor equivalent to the Grammy Awards in America. For the last two years she’s been in residency at Greenwich Village’s 55 Bar.