Singer’s album carves place for her in city’s jazz scene

Who says Sesame Street can’t be inspirational? Certainly not Sarah Jerrom.

It was while watching an episode of the popular children’s show, which starred Diana Ross, that a 3-year-old Jerrom decided singing would be in her future.

Twenty-four years later, the University of Toronto jazz program grad has followed through with her musical passion.

Having just released her debut album, Illuminations, in early March, the midtown resident is slowly but surely making a name for herself as a singer in Toronto’s jazz scene.

The St. Catharines native’s self-produced CD was recorded in August. It features both up-and-coming and established musicians, including tenor saxophonist Mike Murley, guitarist Harley Card and pianists Stu Harrison and Jamie Reynolds.

Two of the 10 songs were penned by Jerrom; other tracks she arranged. The rest were chosen because they each meant something special to her.

The self-penned “Dusty Nugget”, about a homeless person dealing with a newfound freedom, is a version of the song “Dusty McNugget” from Brad Mehldau’s Largo.

“The lyrics are written from the perspective of a homeless person, but it can apply to anyone who, when face-to-face with an offer of freedom and happiness, feels that they don’t deserve anything good,” Jerrom wrote in the liner notes for her CD.

“Sometimes when you have an opportunity in life, you’re not ready to take it,” she elaborated in early April, a month after her CD’s release at the west-end Lula Lounge. “The song is indirectly about myself.”

While she grew up in a musical family, jazz wasn’t Jerrom’s first choice. She moved to Toronto in 1999 to study classical music at U of T, but soon realized the jazz students at the university seemed to be having a much better time.

“I wasn’t very happy in the program, and I was looking at the jazz musicians, going ‘They look really happy. What’s up with that?’” Jerrom recalled, with a laugh. “So I decided at the end of that year to go into the (jazz) program.”

Her original jazz audition was a disaster, but Jerrom didn’t give up. She began taking private lessons, and re-auditioned two years later.

Her second time around was a success. Since graduation Jerrom has been striving to get her name out there.

She supplements her solo career with singing with The Debonaires, a fun country/jazz/experimental band that improvises old Hank Williams tunes. Jerrom’s friends Mark Laver (saxo-phone/vocals), Mike Smith (bass/vocals) and Ryan Driver (piano/vocals) round out the band.

But it’s jazz she loves.

“You can sing a song differently every time,” Jerrom says. “You’re not locked to a page.”

Although she has upcoming gigs with The Debonaires and as a soloist at the Toronto Downtown Jazz Festival in May and June, Jerrom admits she’s still trying to figure what Toronto’s music scene is all about.

She is confident, however, about her place in it.

“I’m just trying to do my own thing, and do the music that I love,” she said. “I’m trying to put my own stamp on things and see what that’ll bring with it.

“I’m not going to try and be anybody I’m not, just to be different.”

Big Bird (and Ross) would be proud.