A model singer

Angela Hagenbach performs music from the movies in the Hot Jazz series.

A model singer (photo credit: Courtesy)
A model singer
(photo credit: Courtesy)
Angela Hagenbach is one of the most adventurous vocalists to appear in the long-running Hot Jazz series. The 50something Kansas-born singer will join forces with US-based Israeli pianist Tamir Hendelman and local drummer Shai Zelman and bassist Dor Samocha at concerts from April 27–May 4. The shows will focus on works written for cinema by the likes of Michel Legrand and Henry Mancini. Between them, the two composers wrote hundreds of film scores, with Mancini’s best-known work including the theme for the Pink Panther series, while Legrand’s oeuvre features the soundtrack for Yentl , which starred Barbra Streisand.
Hagenbach got a good start to her musical life. “My father was a saxophonist who played professionally, and my mother played piano and organ, and it was mandatory to play an instrument,” she recalls. “My first choice was the acoustic bass, but I didn’t have a mentor to guide me to that, maybe through the cello, but I loved the sound of the instrument. So I went for the trombone, maybe because it looked interesting and it had a nice tone.”
It was to be a long love affair. “I’d say I played the trombone from age seven to 21,” she says, adding that her instrumental experience has an impact on her vocal work.
“I think I hear things like a horn player. I put the trombone down many years ago, but I still hear music in that way.” There’s another metaphorical string to Hagenbach’s professional bow. “I also hear things in a percussive way. I play a few hand- held percussion instruments, and I have recently become very fond of vocal percussion. But that’s very new for me. I’m still exploring that, so I’m not sure if I’m good enough yet to try doing any of that in Israel. We’ll see.”
Parental influence notwithstanding, it took Hagenbach a while to get to her current career path. “I was the second-youngest of eight children, and rather than listening to my parents’ music – which would have been wonderful because it was jazz – I listened to my older siblings’ music. That’s a sort of interesting detour until I found my way back, so to speak, to jazz.”
Mind you, Hagenbach’s mother wasn’t a jazz purist. “She played music around the house, but she was interested in whatever was current,” Hagenbach recalls. “When she was elderly, she played Stevie Wonder’s “Superstition.” That was great.”
For Hagenbach, performing the music of Legrand and Mancini comes naturally. “I think I got that sort of big band thing because of the music my parents were into. But I’m also a fan of films and film scores and classical music, so I touch on all of that.”
During her career, Hagenbach has had the opportunity to work with some of the jazz greats from her parents’ generation. “I sang with [trumpeter] Clark Terry and [saxophonist] Jimmy Heath. That was a wonderful experience. You can’t go wrong when you learn from the greats,” she says.
Despite her musical upbringing, Hagenbach initially chose a very different line of work, which also got in the way of her musical exploits. “I was a fashion model, touring the world and having a great time. But I had to stop playing the trombone because it was leaving me with scars on my mouth.”
It was a combination of religion and natural processes that brought her back into the music fold. “I sang with a church choir because I love to harmonize. I love to sing Christmas carols. That lasted eight years. I became one of the leaders of the choir because of my musical background. I could hear if something was missing, and I knew what needed to be added,” she says.
The modeling work came to a temporary end when Hagenbach discovered she was going to become a mother. “I had to take a break from that. And I later found myself singing with the choir, modeling and starting developing my career as a jazz singer.” The latter eventually took over completely.
Even though it took Hagenbach a while to get into jazz, once the musical love bug bit, it hit home and stayed home. “My first influences were Sarah Vaughan and Louis Armstrong, and then I got into Kind of Blue by Miles Davis. And then I stumbled onto [Brazilian composer Antonio Carlos] Jobim, all within about six months. When I heard those three – Sarah, Miles and Jobim – I had a feeling of coming home. I can’t explain it,” she says.
The latter has had a telling influence on Hagenbach’s career, and she increasingly performs Latin jazz, specifically music from Brazil. “There was something innate in Brazilian music, maybe the rhythms, that grabbed me.”
The music grabbed Hagenbach before she knew much about Brazil or the culture. “I had never been there, and have been there several times since, and I didn’t know the language. Today, I understand a lot more Portuguese than I can speak, but I work through Brazilian songs with someone before I sing them, so I know the story and appreciate the meaning,” she explains.
Of course, each language has its own rhythms, textures and feel. “Portuguese is spoken mostly with the front of the mouth, and it’s so romantic,” says Hagenbach. “I like that. I am a Brazil nut,” she laughs.
So will we hear any Jobim songs on the upcoming tour?
“I don’t know about that yet. I’ll have to speak to Tamir about that,” she says.

Angela Hagenbach will perform on April 27 at 9 p.m. at the Municipal Conservatory in Rehovot. On April 29 at 9 p.m.at the Gerard Behar Centre in Jerusalem. On April 30 at Zappa Herzliya (doors open 8:15 p.m., show starts 10 p.m.). On May 1 at 10 p.m. at Einan Hall in Modi’in. On May 2 & 3 at 9 p.m. & 9:30 p.m., respectively, at the Tel Aviv Museum of Art. And on May 4 at 9 p.m. at Abba Hushi House in Haifa.