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Jul 31, 2014
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Singer-songwriter uses old-fashioned work ethic to create success
By Thomas Crone • Photo by Thomas Crone
Posted On: 04/30/2007   

Leslie Sanazaro has been crafting an emerging reputation in St. Louis in the most old-fashioned of ways – simple hard work – while applying all the new technologies available to any modern musician.

A presence online at MySpace? That’s in place. Forays into music video? On the way. Monthly gig cards highlighting upcoming shows, dropped off at every venue she visits? A matter of routine. A portable PA for those last-second gigs? Of course!

Caught early in April for a post-lunch chat at Mangia Italiano, the singer-songwriter confessed, in so many words, a spirit that runs counter to many musicians in town. Those who eschew playing locally say that the audience will eventually catch up to and tire of any act. But Sanazaro, a talented pianist and vocalist, isn’t worried about that. In fact, despite several gigs a week – under her own name and with the bands Polaris and So Say We All – she’d be happy to increase the work rate rather than scale it down.

“I’m starting to have a handful – eight, 10 people – that are always showing up to gigs,” she said. “Or, at least, most of the time they’re there. Seeing those faces lets me know that I’m doing something right.” Pause. “That’s how it’s supposed to work!”

And “work” is just what Sanazaro’s applied to her career.

She’s played at a host of restaurants, lounges and nightspots as a solo singer-songwriter act, often accompanied by bassist Micah Johnson. With Johnson, guitarist/vocalist Bill Dechand and drummer Kenny Moore, she makes up So Say We All. And on nights when those acts aren’t gigging, she’s often found as a sort of hired gun with the rock band Polaris, adding vocals and percussion to a group that’s been playing around town for a decade.

That band added Sanazaro after her move back to the region three years ago. After growing up in Cuba, Mo., Sanazaro traveled, eventually stopping for a long stretch in Philadelphia. There, her musical ambitions grew, but the move to St. Louis really helped spur her career along. For a town that’s got a reputation for not embracing new – let alone veteran – talent, her experience so far has offered a different story.

“It’s taken a lot of work in St. Louis,” Sanazaro said, “but I’ve had a lot of good exposure since moving here from Philadelphia. I just had a feeling that I wanted to come home. St. Louis has been so welcoming and positive. It’s been such a pattern of support. And since going full time, it’s gotten better and better. And it is full time – not 40 hours a week, but 60 or 70 hours. And it’s totally worth it.”

“She’s a real trooper,” said Dechand, her songwriting foil in So Say We All. “She’s really giving it her all. She’s quit her day job and is going at it full time, which a lot of people in St. Louis aren’t able to do.”

Dechand’s a fan of her multiple-gig approach to music. “I’d say that a lot of musicians in St. Louis have a lot of things going on,” he explained. “The more you learn from one situation, the more you can bring to another. Playing with different bands, guesting with someone new, all of that will help her.”

This month, Sanazaro’s solo career will move front and center, as she moves her shows from her core of nearly a dozen St. Louis nightspots to a mix of venues along the eastern U.S. and Canadian coasts in support of her recently completed EP, “Stars in the Attic,” which she’s been selling at shows and via digital downloads. On what she’s dubbed the Green Light Tour, she’s hitting the road for 22 shows with two fellow singer-songwriters: Nashville’s Jen Woodhouse and Todd Sapio of Austin, Texas.

In each city, they’ll not only play a date, they’ll be involved in local environmental efforts, including things as simple but profound as planting trees, to help mitigate the fuel needs of touring acts.

“Jen’s a friend from college and we started talking again,” Sanazaro said. “We started thinking and trading ideas and thought it would be a good idea to have another songwriter with us, who is going to be Todd Sapio. We thought we’d give it a little bit more of an environmental pitch, too. ... At shows we’ll each have a solo set, as well as an environmental speaker from that area. “

Again, the work involved in setting up such a challenging affair is notable. “You have to talk to a lot of city planners and environmental groups to do something as simple as digging a hole,” she joked. “And we’ll be talking to them right until we take off.”

After she returns to St. Louis in late May – with solo dates at Brandt’s on May 25 and at SqWires on June 1, among others – Sanazaro will continue promoting “Stars in the Attic” while recording with So Say We All. The components of making good nights in her old/new hometown will start all over again.

“Ideally, I play at a place with decent acoustics,” she said, summarizing a perfect night. “An attentive audience is it for me. And they’re not just listening to the music, they’re coming up to sign the mailing list or take home some music. That’s so wonderful, so great.”

And it’s a scene that seems to be recurring more and more.

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