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Fresh Jazz

Sasha Dobson celebrated her 17th birthday in style at San Jose's Garden City March 31

By Sheila Dawkins

While most teenagers spend their 17th birthdays eating pizza and partying to the Fugees or Red Hot Chili Peppers, Sasha Dobson sits in a cream-colored, floor-length gown squeezing lemons into a cup of herbal tea at a nightclub. Dobson is an exception to the '90s, MTV style of teenaged "cool." A jazz vocalist with 12 years experience studying music and eight years gigging with the Dobson Family Band, she still sounds fresh.

After a brief birthday ballad by her father, pianist Smith Dobson, the slender Sasha takes the Garden City stage. Grabbing the microphone with black nails, she closes her eyes and sings "Savoy." "Them There Eyes" comes in next, with a snappy swing as bassist Jeff Chambers pumps out a solo thick with vibrato.

"Alexander's Ragtime Band" follows. Suddenly, Smith Dobson jumps to his feet and takes his solo, peppering it with Dixieland riffs and serving it hot to the audience. In the large room across the hall, gamblers anxiously await the arrival of lady luck. No place for a girl who graduated high school at 15 and is applying to music colleges at 17. Yet, it is the best place for a teen "guided and driven" by the legacy of Ella Fitzgerald.

Sasha, who saw the jazz diva perform in 1992, speaks of how "she [Fitzgerald] went beyond the stereotype--she sang until she was 70." In 2049, if genetics have anything to do with it, Sasha's career should be in step with her role model. Mother Gail sings, dad plays piano and brother Smith Jr., is an accomplished drummer. Sasha, the youngest of four, is also a rockabilly dancer.

On the stage, youthful innocence clings to Sasha tighter than the strands of pearls lacing her neck. "Stand straight!" her father reminds her as she shares a giggle with Chambers. Quick glances at the lyrics sheet dangling over a bar stool and visual cues from the band keep her on track. Her rapidly maturing talent shines as she bounces into "It Don't Mean a Thing," spicing up the familiar number with unexpected silences and pauses. "I dig it so much," Sasha exclaims about scatting, a technique Fitzgerald was famous for and that Sasha uses to finish off her set.

Grooving to the beat laid out by drummer Eddie Marshall, Sasha's penciled-on eyebrows arch as the last note flutters into the air, the applause rises and her turquoise "To a Birthday Star" balloon dances freely by the stage.

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