An Unfolding for Natalie Cressman
Cross together two talented San Francisco musicians and out comes a sassy, smart, stylish performer.
Natalie Cressman, the 20-year-old, daughter of Jeff and Sandy Cressman, sings vocals, composes music and plays the trombone. Dad, a horn player, has toured with Santana since 2000 and was a one-time member of the Trey Anastasio Band. Mom, a talented vocalist, sings in perfect-pitch Portuguese.
“I actually didn’t have formal private lessons because my dad was just around,” said Cressman, who loves everything French, “when I felt like learning something, we would hang out.
“They were always trying to feel the vibe of what I wanted to do and helping me do it. It was never them pushing me to do anything. It was always my initiative and them following through on it.”
Cressman, a junior at the Manhattan School of Music, keeps a busy schedule. She takes 15 to 18 credits a semester and tours with Classic TAB as well as Wyllys and the New York Hustle Ensemble.
“You can’t learn how to be a good band member in the classroom,” said Cressman, who will perform at Wycliffe Gordon’s Jazz a la Carte, May 12 at New York’s World Famous Apollo Theater.
She also has her own band Natalie Cressman and the Secret Garden. Her debut album, Unfolding, is set for an August release.
Following a rehearsal, Cressman met up with jambands.com at the Manhattan Diner.
Were you destined to be a professional musician?
I kept in balance with a lot of things growing up. As a kid I was really into acting, singing and dancing. I started playing trombone when I was 9 or 10, but at that point I was in the San Francisco Ballet School four times a week and had a lot of stuff going on that I liked as well as music. For a while I tried to do everything and by the time I got to high school, it got really hard to do.
My sophomore year of high school, I was on track to doing the pre-professional ballet program and in the school musical, Fiddler on the Roof and I ended up injuring my foot and had to stop dancing for three months; and just started digesting all the music I could get my hands on and realized I really wanted to do music.
Are you the perfect mixture of your mom’s voice and dad’s playing?
I’m sure if you asked them, they would probably say ‘Yes.’ (laughing) They really are inspiring to me because I think they’re incredibly musical people. Besides from being great musicians, they’re artistic people and I will always find myself trying to play like my dad, because I think he has perfect time and the most amazing phrasing. When I play, I’m always trying to channel him in some way – he thinks about music in the most selfless way. He’s really adds to everything – he’s not trying to show off. It’s understated but so sick because it fits perfectly with everybody else.
I guess I’m trying to do what they do and I don’t think I can do it as nearly as well as of now, but I’m young (laughing).
As a 13-year-old, what was it like watching your dad play with Trey Anastasio? Did you know who Trey was and what he represented?
I was totally oblivious. I just thought it was amazing music and the whole event was pretty amazing. I hadn’t really checked out Phish before my dad started playing with Trey. I definitely was kind of oblivious to the scope of things.
Five years later you’re playing with Trey. How did that happen? Does Trey call you? Does Trey call your dad?
It was really funny. So Trey called my dad and my dad couldn’t do it. And he was like, ‘This might sound really funny but I have this daughter who lives in New York and she sings too and she might be a good fit.’ And I can’t believe it, because they actually took him seriously. They actually followed up on it. First, Trey’s manager called and asked me to send over some music and a bio. And then I remember, freshman year in my dorm room getting a call from Trey – no big deal (laughing).
He was so nice, he was like, ‘I really hope this can work out.’ We had a really nice talk about what it would be and then it wasn’t a done deal until he set me up to meet Jen (TAB vocalist/trumpeter Jennifer Hartswick). We played together – it was like a little audition and we really clicked.
Were you nervous?
Jen is so warm and welcoming that when you meet her, you feel at ease. Of course, I could have been totally scared but I had a great time meeting her.
Was Trey’s music difficult to learn?
It’s definitely an interesting mix of things, especially since so many people have written for the band and some of it is written down perfectly and a lot of isn’t and you just have to pick up on it and remember it. Actually starting on my first tour, we put together a book of all the music.
It’s definitely hard. His music is enigmatic – it’s kind of like how I am – drawing from a bunch of different sources of music and coming out with something that cannot be boxed in one genre, which is what I love and why it’s so much fun to play.
During your first tour with Trey, I was at the Connecticut show where your great-grandmother was in attendance.
It was amazing. I grew up not being able to see her a lot because she was East Coast and I was West Coast. I hadn’t seen her since I was 13. It was a big deal to see her and my great aunt brought her. She was standing up for a lot of it. She stayed for the first set and she loved the music.
Is it possible to describe in words what it was like to perform with Trey?
I think what strikes me the most about playing with him is that at every moment, I can tell that there is so much joy in the music that we are making. I think that’s a big secret as to why it resonates with the audience.