Kristen Strom in the Press

Richard Scheinin

San Jose Mercury News says of her most recent album,”Sojourn,” “It floats, swings, and touches on samba, and each track has a gem-like solo by the leader.”

Paul Freeman, Palo Alto Daily News Entertainment Writer

“Strom demonstrates again, with her mesmerizing new album, “Intention,” that she’s among the finest contemporary sax players. Her stylings are rich in subtleties and nuance. –

Wayne Wallace

“Kristen Strom’s new CD, ‘Intention’ shows off Kristen’s saxophone artistry in a variety of styles. The music and playing are thoughtful and deeply soulful. This is one of my favorite records of 2005.” –

San Jose Mercury News, Posted on Fri, Oct. 14, 2005

Good ‘Intention’
STROM IDEALIZES SAXOPHONE MELODY, COMMUNITY HARMONY
By Andrew Gilbert
Special to the Mercury News

With a tone that’s lithe and lustrous, Kristen Strom embodies her musical philosophy in every note she plays.

The San Jose saxophonist has been a mainstay on the Bay Area music scene for nearly two decades, and her new album, “Intention” (Open Path Music), reveals an artist whose musical world is predicated upon the primacy of beautifully rendered melodies.

Opening with Nick Drake’s haunting theme “River Man,” the CD is a luxuriant exploration of songs, with Strom’s saxophone (mostly tenor, though also soprano and alto) serving as the lead vocal on tunes such as the Beatles’ “Blackbird,” Nat Adderley’s lament “The Old Country” and an almost jaunty version of the folk song “The Water is Wide.” The album closes with the soulful jazz singer Nate Pruitt joining the band for a wistful rendition of Henry Mancini’s “Two for the Road.”

“The project is melody-based,” says Strom, who celebrates the release of “Intention” on Saturday at Boas Club Elite in Cupertino. “I wanted the beauty of melody and tone, to capture all the instruments with the best sound possible.”

She performs with the group featured on the album, including her husband, guitarist Scott Sorkin, and Adam Shulman on keyboards, drummer Jason Lewis and bassist John Shifflett. A number of guest musicians will also be on hand, including Pruitt.

The album is the latest release from Open Path Music, a studio and label recently created by guitarist Tim Volpicella and bassist Gordon Stevens. Focusing on music by South Bay artists, the label’s other recent releases include “Departure” by Stevens and pianist Denny Berthiaume, Volpicella’s “Unspoken Words” and vocalist Catherine Seidel’s “Through the Trees.”

“Part of the thing at Open Path is to try to develop this community feeling in San Jose,” Strom says. “I’ve been thinking about this album for many years, hearing the music in my head, but the possibility of it coming to fruition happened when Scott joined Tim Volpicella and Gordon Stevens in partnership at Open Path.”

The key to the project was assembling a group of like-minded musicians. Strom and Sorkin have played together intensively over the years, often in a duo setting. She also has collaborated extensively with rhythm section maestros Shifflett and Lewis.

“With Jason there’s tremendous rhythmic communication,” Strom says. “He’ll always give me an idea when I’m looking for something. And Shifflett and I have a very strong connection in trying to reach that emotional point, though not necessarily with pyrotechnics or technical ferocity. I don’t really have that as one of my goals. We’re trying to find the essence of the melody.”

Besides leading her own band, Strom is a valued session musician who has backed pop acts such as the Temptations, Natalie Cole, the Four Tops, Roberta Flack and Johnny Mathis. She has performed with a number of jazz greats, including saxophonist-composer Jimmy Heath, trombonist Steve Turre, singer Kevin Mahogany and trumpeter Jon Faddis.

A supremely versatile player, she has worked with the San Jose Symphony and performed the role of Ginger the saxophone player in the San Jose Repertory Theater’s 1988 and 1994 productions of “The 1940s Radio Hour.” She also has toured and recorded widely with the Nuclear Whales Saxophone Orchestra since the early 90s.

“I joined the band to get a chance to play more alto and soprano,” Strom says. “All the ensemble work has certainly served me well. You rarely get that many hours of really working on getting an ensemble sound.”

Her most valuable contributions to the Bay Area’s lively music scene are through her work with musicians who have created distinctive ensembles, such as Volpicella, guitarist Ed Johnson’s Novo Tempo band, vocalist Jennifer Scott and the prodigious trumpeter John Worley’s band Worlview (which performs at Boas Club Elite on Nov. 5).

Worley, who is also a member of Johnson’s Novo Tempo, has come to rely on Strom’s finely honed melodic sensibility in his own band. They have worked together in numerous situations, often bringing jazz into grade-school classrooms through the San Jose Jazz Society’s education program.

“She’s totally musical, and she’s got her own sound,” Worley says. “She’s not one of those saxophonists who likes to play a million notes. She picks and chooses, and each one is a gem. Everything just comes together in this beautiful picture. It’s all about music to her and playing the melody.”

If Strom is a pillar of the South Bay Music scene, she’s also one of its products. Her family settled in Hayward when she was in the fourth grade, and she caught the jazz bug while attending Hayward High School. As a member of the jazz band, she rubbed shoulders with saxophonists Dan Zinn and Dean (now Guido) Fazio, whose beautiful sound had a lasting influence on her. Well versed on the alto and soprano, Strom identifies most closely with the tenor.

While often compared to Stan Getz and Zoot Sims early in her career, she hadn’t listened to either player much at the time. Rather, she cites big-toned tenor greats Dexter Gordon and Sonny Stitt as primary influences. Through her close attention to the fundamentals, Strom has built a reputation as a player who will elevate whatever situation she finds herself in.

“If you don’t play with a good tone and in tune, it seems to me you’re losing a main part of the music,” Strom says. “I really feel if you don’t have a good sound, why bother?”

WDET FM

Kristen Strom – Moving Day: The Music of John Shifflett (OA2): Kristen Strom (soprano, alto, tenor sax, flute, clarinet) offers a beautiful tribute to her late friend and musical colleague by showcasing seven of his compositions and closing with a song of special significance for him. Scott Sorkin (guitar) and Ken Okada (bass) were also members of the quartet, which is completed by Jason Lewis (drums, percussion, vibes). There are several other musicians who guested as well: Dahveed Behroozi and John R. Burr (piano), Aaron Lington (bari sax, bass clarinet), Jeff Lewis and John Worley (trumpet, cornet, flugelhorn), John Gove (trombone) and Dan Robbins (bass). The performances are varied and beautiful. Dave Rogers, WTJU

Destination Jazz: The Ed Love Program – Ed Love’s Highly Recommended New CDs for 2018, WDET 101.9FM

Chris Spector, Midwest Record

Kristen Strom – Moving Day: The Music of John Shifflett (OA2): Kristen Strom (soprano, alto, tenor sax, flute, clarinet) offers a beautiful tribute to her late friend and musical colleague by showcasing seven of his compositions and closing with a song of special significance for him. Scott Sorkin (guitar) and Ken Okada (bass) were also members of the quartet, which is completed by Jason Lewis (drums, percussion, vibes). There are several other musicians who guested as well: Dahveed Behroozi and John R. Burr (piano), Aaron Lington (bari sax, bass clarinet), Jeff Lewis and John Worley (trumpet, cornet, flugelhorn), John Gove (trombone) and Dan Robbins (bass). The performances are varied and beautiful. Dave Rogers, WTJU

Dave Rogers, WTJU

Kristen Strom – Moving Day: The Music of John Shifflett (OA2): Kristen Strom (soprano, alto, tenor sax, flute, clarinet) offers a beautiful tribute to her late friend and musical colleague by showcasing seven of his compositions and closing with a song of special significance for him. Scott Sorkin (guitar) and Ken Okada (bass) were also members of the quartet, which is completed by Jason Lewis (drums, percussion, vibes). There are several other musicians who guested as well: Dahveed Behroozi and John R. Burr (piano), Aaron Lington (bari sax, bass clarinet), Jeff Lewis and John Worley (trumpet, cornet, flugelhorn), John Gove (trombone) and Dan Robbins (bass). The performances are varied and beautiful. Dave Rogers, WTJU

Jack Bowers, All About Jazz 3.5 stars/4

The esteemed bassist John Shifflett was for roughly thirty years a mainstay in countless San Francisco Bay Area sessions and recordings until his untimely passing in April 2017. Gone, that’s true, but far from forgotten. Shifflett, as it turns out, had another largely hidden talent as a composer of bright and accessible jazz tunes, seven of which are performed by a number of his friends and colleagues on Moving Day, a warm-hearted tribute whose nominal leader is saxophone / woodwind specialist Kristen Strom, a long-time member with guitarist Scott Sorkin and drummer Jason Lewis of Shifflett’s working quartet. 

The ensembles, which vary slightly in size and instrumentation on most tracks, step lightly through Shifflett’s snappy themes before closing with the concise, hymn-like “Franklin’s Men / Northwest Passage,” written by Stanley Rogers. Strom, a standout on every wind instrument, plays tenor most of the way, soprano on “Her Garden” and “Down to the Sea in Ships,” while no doubt adding background voicings on alto, flute and clarinet elsewhere. She and Sorkin solo most often, with other well-framed statements by bassist Ken Okada (“Moving Day”), trumpeter Jeff Lewis (“Mt. Hamilton”), pianist Dahveed Behroozi and trombonist John Gove (“Quantum Theory”). The music itself parallels what one might expect to hear at a typical nightclub / concert date, shaped to please a sizable audience whose musical tastes are broad and well-grounded. 

The upbeat title song, underlined by Strom’s engaging tenor solo and others by Sorkin and Okada, opens the session on a breezy note, leading to the frisky “Mr. Hamilton” before “Her Garden” slows the pace. Sorkin’s guitar and the rhythm section introduce “The Vikings,” whose subtle melody is accentuated by Strom’s assertive tenor. “Quantum Theory,” which follows, is a strapping showcase for the ensemble, Behroozi and Gove; “Down to the Sea in Ships” a lustrous excursion for Strom’s emphatic soprano, “Iowa” an earnest salute to Shifflett’s home state. Strom describes the enterprise as “a labor of love,” one to which every participant clearly brought his (and her) A-game. Even though Shifflett is no longer able to speak for himself, it’s credibly fair to assume that he would have been pleased by the result.