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Jazz Deepens Bond Between Father, Daughter Musicians

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Sasha Masakowski remembers sitting at the piano with her father at their home in New Orleans, Louisiana. At the time, she was six years old.

Her father is the jazz musician Steve Masakowski. He would ask Sasha to play the piano while he played his guitar, she told VOA. "He would tell me to play something using just the white keys or just the black keys, and I'd make up music."

She remembered thinking of herself as a "little composer," making music with her dad.

"I love those memories," she added.

More than 20 years later, Sasha, now 33 years old, is a successful musician. She has already made five record albums. She was recently nominated as New Orleans' best female singer.

These days, father and daughter still work together, along with another musician, Sasha's brother Martin. They perform together as the Masakowski Family Band. Right now, however, the COVID-19 health crisis means online performances only.

On a recent Friday night, the Masakowskis turned a room in their home into a performance space. They played in one of a series of local events held to honor jazz great Ellis Marsalis, who recently died from COVID-19.

"Ellis and I used to play together twice a week and I'm proud to pay tribute to him with music," Steve says, "but to be able to do that with my daughter and son makes it even more special."

Musical household

For the Marsalis tribute, Steve wanted to perform music he and Ellis enjoyed playing together. One favorite of theirs was a piece Steve wrote called Sweet Dreams.

"I asked Sasha to write lyrics to it for this performance," he said. "She did a beautiful job. To have your daughter write lyrics to your song -- what Dad isn't going to love that? And she has a great ear for it."

It is easy to understand how Sasha developed that ear. She grew up in a family in which music was always being played. Her father was not the only musician. Her mother is a successful pianist.

Sasha went to a local arts high school and studied musical theater. She developed a love for pop music, like that of Brittany Spears and boy band NSYNC.

Steve admits to hoping his children would develop a love for jazz.

"I know the joy music can bring to life and I wanted them to have that," he said.

Steve and Sasha are not equally clear on the details of how she rediscovered jazz music. Steve told VOA, "I think she might have had a couple of friends in high school who were jazz musicians."

Sasha's version is a little livelier.

Laughing, she recalled having a "massive crush" on a good-looking, older boy at the school. "He was in the jazz department and really seemed to love it."

She remembers the first time she spoke with the young man.

"I was so excited, and the first thing he did was take my hands into his and say, 'Oh my God, you have his hands! I'm such a big fan of your Dad's!'"

She says that exchange forced her to consider a possibility -- maybe her father and his music were, in fact, cool.

So, after high school, she entered the University of New Orleans, where her father headed the Jazz Studies Program. There she became her father's music student, officially.

Developing a skill

Sasha and Steve love playing together, and they treasure the common language jazz gives them. Still, such a close relationship is not always easy.

"He has a drive to be so good. There's a reason he's the best," Sasha said. She added that he always seems to have advice about what she should work on, musically. She does not mind his criticism, however, saying she knows it comes from love.

"He wants me to succeed. I know that."

Both compose music. Steve is more centered on traditional jazz and teaching. His daughter likes to produce sounds with more of an electronic edge.

Today, Sasha is known for her musicality and her ability to "scat". That means to sing without preparation or using words. The idea is to use the voice just like any other instrument. Scatting well is an unusual and valued skill.

"I don't think she thinks of herself as a singer," Steve explained. "She's an instrumentalist, and she can improvise just like a trumpet player or a pianist or a saxophonist."

But for Sasha, improvising is about something much more personal.

"I just feel so free when I'm doing it," she said, adding, "for me, I feel like a little composer again at the piano next to my Dad. I love it in large part because of him."

I'm Caty Weaver.

Matt Haines reported this story for VOA News. Caty Weaver adapted for VOA Learning English. George Grow was the editor.

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Words in This Story

key -n. a lever with a flat surface that is pressed with a finger to activate a mechanism of a machine or instrument

composer -n. a person who writes music​

tribute -n. something that you say, give, or do to show respect or affection for someone​

lyrics -n. the words of a song​

crush -n. a strong feeling of romantic love for someone that is usually not expressed and does not last a long time​

improvise -v. to speak or perform without preparation​

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