Photos & Stories

Meet the Willie Sordillo Ensemble: Willie & Zoë

September 20, 2020

Over the next few weeks, we would like to (re)-introduce you to the Willie Sordillo Ensemble! Every week the Ensemble soothes and stirs our souls at our Virtual Jazz Coffee House--and before that, Jazz Worship. They are some of the most talented musicians in New England and pastor us with their gifts and artistry. 

This week we meet Willie Sordillo himself and vocalist, Zoë Krohne.

WILLIE SORDILLO

How long have you been a part of the Willie Sordillo Ensemble? 

We began Jazz Worship in September of 2015, and I’ve been there since the start, so I’ve been leading the Jazz Worship ensemble for 15 years.  That said, the ensemble has undergone a number of changes in that time.  We began as a trio, without a dedicated vocalist, and with a rotating cast of musicians, with me being the only constant from week to week.  We have several times had a consistent pianist, with David Hunte, Erin Craig, and Linda Brown-San Martin all acting in the dual role of pianist/song leader for periods of time, and during Linda’s tenure, Doug was the consistent bassist.  Zoë joined us 7 years ago as our vocalist/song leader, and we moved to the steady band of Zoë, Doug and Erez in early 2020.   

What are some things you like about playing for Old South Jazz Worship and the Virtual Jazz Coffeehouse or that make this a unique performing experience?

There are so many things I love about Jazz Worship that it’s hard to know where to start.  One thing that stands out is the fact that this is a place where all of my passions are in full play, rather than being segmented, as my love of spirituality, social justice, community and music are all incorporated and blended. I love the challenge of coming up with music which supports the themes of a service, and of drawing from many distinct genres of music to find songs which bring us deeper into the message and the ineffable, were words alone are not enough.  For me, Christian mysticism and the profound emotional experience of great music are inseparably fused.  The goal of playing music in this context is very different from the idea of entertainment, and though there is an undeniably performative aspect to what we’re doing, the goal is for the music to be a form of prayer, rather than a performance. 

What keeps you busy when you aren’t playing with the Ensemble? 

I love to practice the saxophone and am always striving to increase my knowledge of music-  I would spend most of the day in these pursuits if it weren’t for the fact that it would likely end my marriage!  I enjoy discovering new music and artists that I’m not familiar with, and can spend hours surfing YouTube checking things out.  At this point in my life I’m free from a non-musical day job and my kids are grown and living on their own, so while family remains extremely important to me, life is very different than it was not so many years ago when raising a daughter was my absolute priority and day to day responsibility.  I like to ride my bicycle for exercise and as a form of “rolling meditation,” and my wife and I watch way too many movies and TV series for our own good.  I love spending time with friends, and in non-pandemic times I make yearly treks to visit friends in other cities.  One of those friends and I have made a couple of long car trips together visiting music and cultural shrines, a tradition which we hope to continue.  I love going to the ocean, and in better times, I love being at Fenway Park to cheer the Red Sox on.  

Can you talk about particular songs, albums or artists which have had a significant impact on your musical direction?

This is another question that has so many answers that it’s hard to narrow things down too much.  I have eclectic musical tastes, and am as strongly influenced by the Beatles, Bob Dylan, Joni Mitchell, James Taylor Paul Simon, Jimi Hendrix, Santana, Aretha Franklin and James Brown as by Charlie Parker, Miles Davis, John Coltrane, Sonny Rollins, Dave Brubeck and Wayne Shorter.  If I had to make a desert isle album list, it would surely include Kind of Blue (Miles Davis), Blue (Joni Mitchell), James Taylor’s first record on Apple, Abbey Road (Beatles), Freewheelin’ (Dylan), Are You Experienced? (Hendrix) and Time Out (Dave Brubeck).  What I care about in music is “soul,” in the broadest sense-  its ability to reach me in some deep emotional place.  Some of that has do to with context and reminiscence, of course-  where I was in my life when I first encountered a particular album or song and how it spoke to me then and can still take me back to that place; but I also think some of it is just the timeless beauty of something created out of honest emotion which connects me with others through expressing truths about our shared experience as humans.  Approaching this question from another angle, a concert which affected me profoundly was seeing the Dave Brubeck Quartet play a reunion concert several years after they had disbanded, and not long before alto saxophonist Paul Desmond died.  The bond between Dave and Paul was palpable, and their longstanding connection and history led to moments of astonishing beauty.  At one point while Paul was soloing, he spontaneously modulated to a different key, and Dave sensed it coming, and was right there with him.  A brief smile between them followed, and it was like seeing a lightening bolt connect their eyes.  That’s what I want to do when I grow up.  

ZOË KROHNE

How long have you been a part of the Willie Sordillo Ensemble?

I started singing with the ensemble in March of 2014.

What are some things you like about playing for Old South Jazz Worship and the Virtual Jazz Coffeehouse or that make this a unique performing experience?

I feel very honored to support the music ministries of Old South Church.  Creating a space for worship and, hopefully, to inspire, bring peace, beauty or even to challenge feels like a dream job!  When we were together in person on Thursday nights for Jazz Worship, I prepared a lot in advance and came to the service ready to go with the flow and be flexible, adjusting to whatever was needed musically and/or in support of the fabulous worship leaders.  It was really about getting out of the way for the Spirit to come through - creating and holding that space.  Now that we are recording at home for the Virtual Jazz Coffeehouse, I find my focus is on sending out a sense of connection, comfort and peace through the music and through the camera.  Both ways are forms of prayer and I value them both very much!  I also love the variety of music that we choose.  It’s so challenging and fun to sing and play different styles!  Lastly, partnering with Willie and the band is such a joy.  I’m grateful to find such kindred spirits on this journey.

What keeps you busy when you aren’t playing with the Ensemble? 

Like so many others, I am mostly busy these days supporting my family through this challenging season.  My husband, Todd, and I have two kids in middle school.  I also care for my father who lives with us.  We all dote on our dog, Ms Mookie Bettsie!  Yoga, gardening and being near water are some of my other great loves and ways I’d like to spend lots of time.

Can you talk about particular songs, albums or artists which have had a significant impact on your musical direction?

My formative musical years were spent pouring over the sounds of the female singer/songwriters of the late 80’s and early 90’s - the Indigo Girls, Shawn Colvin, Tracy Chapman, Suzanne Vega to name a few.  Those roads have wound their way through many different styles over the years, yet I’m still definitely drawn to women vocalists.  Today I draw great inspiration from singers who I feel are soulful and can also groove - Lizz Wright, Lisa Fischer, Kandace Springs, and Rachel Price are incredible.