Name: Catarina New
Instrument: all the saxophones, prefers tenor.
Early Years/Education: I’m from a small village of three thousand people in northern Sweden called Vindeln. My dad played guitar, violin and bass. He had a band for 45 years called “The Happy Boys.” They’d play at parties, and when I got good enough I joined them on guitar, my first instrument. He taught me, but I began studying music when I was nine in school. He was so passionate about the music, he’d take me once a year to a jazz festival. We’d see Sonny Rollins, Art Blakey, Frank Foster, Michael Brecker, etc. I got a degree in music education in Sweden. I was a pianist when I got into the conservatory, and a saxophonist when I got out. The saxophone is so close to the voice, each saxophonist has a very personal sound. I was too shy to sing in front of people by myself. If you love music you want to be in the middle of it all, and I thought the saxophone would be great, so I switched to sax at age 18. The educational system in Sweden is so good, you get your degree for free, everything is paid for except your study materials and instrument. Performing wasn’t my first thing, I wanted to be a teacher.
One of the first jobs I got as a 23- year-old was as principal of a music school in my hometown -- four hundred students and eight teachers. I was really into teaching, I never thought I could be a professional musician, no one did that. I’m from the north, a farming community. There were no jazz clubs. My dad knew a successful pianist who had a quartet, and I played with them for years. This was before the “Real Book,” and so I knew lots of songs. One day the band leader said, “Catarina, you need to go to New York.”
To the U.S.: So I took a leave of absence from teaching and went to the southernmost part of Sweden, Malmo. There I played and studied 24 hours a day. After a year, I said, "This is it." I quit work and went to Stockholm. While I was at Malmo, I was in a big band. One day the band leader said, “We’re having a soloist come in from the states -- Bobby Shew.” I couldn’t believe it -- years earlier somebody had given me a tape of Bobby Shew, which I listened to over and over. Years later I phoned him and told him I wanted to come to LA to go to the Grove School of Music and study with him. He said no, go to New York, that’s the place for you. He suggested I study at the New School. So I went there in ‘93 for four semesters.
Around that time I had heard about a jazz gig playing for the Mercedes company. They wanted a female instrumentalist, and at that time there weren’t very many, so I got the job. I still longed to be in Los Angeles, and luckily they switched me to the L.A. band. A friend took me to Chadney’s, a hip club in Burbank. A man sat down next to me. That’s how I met my husband, Al Martin, a Latin percussionist.
Palm Springs: I then got into USC and started my Masters in Music. I toured with a 13-piece R&B band, was musical director of a group called Women in Blues and was very active. We were in LA from 1995 until 2000, when we decided to move to Palm Springs to have a baby. There I instantly found work teaching and playing in high-paying gigs. Many Portlanders spend the winter in Palm Springs, and these “snow birds” would see me playing and ask, “What are you doing here, do you know how much jazz there is in Portland?” After Palm Springs we briefly moved back to Sweden and decided to visit Portland.
Portland: We went to the Cathedral Park Festival and met Stan Bock. He invited me to Jimmy Mak’s. It was a Tuesday night and packed. They gave me a chair with Renato Caranto next to me. It was awesome. We were also invited to a party with a salsa band, all Cubans. Me and my husband both sat-in. Afterwards, we said, “This is the town!” A year later, in 2010, we moved to Portland. Also, my husband’s first professional gig was in Portland. When he saw all the green, he said, "Someday I want to live here."
Today: I teach keyboard in the after school band program at MUSE. I also have a music studio called Time For Music, where I teach saxophone, piano and theory. Currently, I’m in Andre St. James’s group, “He Said, She Said,” and a big band called Jazz Express Big Band led by Dave Parker.
Musical Influences: My father is number one; Kjell Johanson, Bobby Shew, Dexter Gordon and Evan Lins.
Most Satisfying Experience: Appearing at the 1998 Playboy Jazz Fest in Pasadena with my sixpiece Catarina New Band. Everyone on the bill was famous except me. Tower Records was selling CDs, and at the end of the festival they said I had sold more than anyone. We were invited to Hugh Hefner’s mansion. We played all original tunes; I wrote a lot at that time. My husband was on conga. Other great experiences include playing with bassist Marshall Hawkins at the Idyllwild Jazz Festival in Palm Springs and in Finland at the Pori Jazz Festival with Kjell Johansson Quintet in 1990. That was my first big professional gig.
Favorite Recordings: Patato -”Cubala”; Michel Camilo Big Band -”One More Once”; Tom Lellas’s ”Mountain Flight”; Shelly Berg with Eddie Daniels - “L’impossible”; John Coltrane -”Coltrane’s Sound”; Joe Henderson -”Page One”; anything by Horace Silver; Al Jarreau - “Accentuate the Positive”; Nancy Wilson/Cannonball Adderly, “Never Will I Marry”; Miles Davis, ”52 Street.”
Discography: Catarina New, “Don’t Stop Now” (1998) and “Point of No Return” (2006).
Gigs: I play with my husband the second Sunday of the month at the Corkscrew in Sellwood, 6-8:00 pm; with Andre St. James at the Camellia Lounge (check my website); and numerous wineries in the Salem area in July.
Future Plans: As far as bands, I haven’t started my own yet. It’s important to know the scene and the players. I need to get it going this year. Some people are into a certain style, but I’m not. I love to play down home blues, classic jazz, etc. I’d love to start a blues band and record more. I have 100 tunes yet to be published.
Other: Why do Europeans appreciate avant-garde jazz? They have more patience to listen. The American environment is bombarding you with sound all the time ... go into a store, there’s background music, people are on the phone. When you do go into a jazz club you’re not paying attention. In Northern Europe especially, there’s lots of nature, there’s a lot of quietness, so when you do hear live music, you respond. I’m so glad to be in Portland. People are appreciated here more compared to California. Jazz is appreciated by all kinds of people, even those who don’t seem to be a jazz audience. And what the radio is doing for jazz is phenomenal!
-- by Rita Rega