Yvonne Sanchez: Polish-Cuban jazz singer who fell in love with Prague

Yvonne Sanchez, photo: CTK

This edition of the Arts is devoted to Yvonne Sanchez, a jazz singer of Polish and Cuban origin, whose grandfather even performed with the famous Buena Vista band. Yvonne was brought up in Germany, but settled in Prague in the early 1990s, soon becoming one of the leading singers on the Czech jazz scene. In 2002 she recorded her first album, ‘Invitation’, with a trio of Czech musicians and a few months ago, she released her very own album, called ‘My Garden’.

Yvonne Sanchez, photo: CTK
“I am the author of the music. I did compose some music before, but it was mostly classical music, mostly bossa nova and jazzy songs. I was thinking of what I would like to have on this album but I got a little bit scared, because I realized it’s hard to classify into some category, such as jazz, Latin, ethno, bossa. There is a little bit of everything: there is a bit of jazz, of Brazilian and Latin music. It’s just my little songs, but they are coming from the inside.”

How long have you been working on this album? You recorded your first one, Invitation, in 2002, which is quite a long time…

“I didn’t think of recording a new album as soon as I finished ‘Invitation’. I think the inspiration to ‘My Garden’ came from Warner. I signed a contract but they didn’t tell me what I should do. And then I thought that I might as well do my own songs. I already composed some songs before but I never really considered myself to be a composer. In the end I am much happier with ‘My Garden’ than I was with ‘Invitation’. But it was entirely my responsibility. I did everything myself: the music, the lyrics as well as the arrangement. If something isn’t the way I wanted it to be, I can blame myself only.”

‘My Garden’ is a truly multicultural album, including Czechs, Slovaks, a Mexican and a Brazilian. Yvonne admits that from a production point of view, it wasn’t easy to coordinate so many people. How did she actually choose her accompaniment?

“When I composed the songs I already knew who would be perfect cast for each one of them. I really wanted to have these three piano players, and the three base players and the two drummers, because each one of them is slightly different. Somebody plays fantastic jazz with the kind of melancholic feeling that you need for a jazz ballad and someone else really grooves in some groovy song, and it doesn’t have to be the same person.”

“It is a garden, in a metaphoric sense. The garden for me is a place where you can relax, where you can be in balance. At the same time, all the different flowers represent various emotions. And each of these emotions prompted me to write the songs on the album.”

Are you actually working on something right now?

“I would love to go to Cuba and record music from the 1930s and 1940s – jazz, but Latin jazz, with a Cuban big band. This is something I definitely want to do because I love the music and because of my Cuban roots, because of my Cuban father. I will also continue to write my own music and I will continue to sing jazz and standards, because I love that. But I feel the Cuba roots in me, which is good, because it helps me to survive the atmosphere in Europe, which is a bit colder.”

After spending nearly fifteen years in Prague, Yvonne thinks it is time to move somewhere else, most probably Berlin. But, as she says, that won’t stop her from visiting the Czech Republic and performing here once in a while. So, what was it that brought her to this country more than 15 years ago?

“I came to a jazz festival. But it wasn’t the only reason. I was here before with a friend of mine and I loved the city. At that time I lived in Germany and I sang in a jazz club in Heillbron. When they told me that they were organizing a trip to Prague to a jazz festival, I knew that I had to come. I met many musicians and gradually I spent more time in Prague then in Germany. So I quit my job and started to live here. I was completely in love with the country and with the city and with life.”

If you move to Germany, what are you going to miss about Prague?

“Everything! I will always have some feeling for the Czech Republic because I lived here for such a long time and I was very happy here. It is my home right now and once it has been my home it will always stay my home in my heart.”