Discovering a new life, fresh purpose and her true inner voice after years of keeping up appearances in an unfulfilled existence she called a “gilded cage,” Anna Danes is truly flying high. The emerging jazz vocalist and songwriter captures the inspirational philosophy that continues to propel her forward in the opening lines from “Find Your Wings,” the gorgeous piano-vocal ballad that is the title track and centerpiece to her new full length album. Speaking both to her soul and to millions of women who seek the courage to liberate themselves and follow their deeper creative passions, she sings, “When you feel that you don’t fit/You’re not understood one bit/Find Your Wings/You can rise above the fray/Sing what you can’t seem to say/Find Your Wings.”
The Polish born, San Diego based multi-faceted artist and performer’s advocacy for passion-pursuing and dream chasing has caught on quickly. Upon its release, Find Your Wings debuted at #1 on the iTunes jazz chart. Soon thereafter, it placed on two Billboard charts, reaching #13 on the Traditional Jazz chart and in the Top 25 on the Jazz Albums chart. The collection, a follow-up to her well received 2013 debut Longing, was produced by Dave Darling (Brian Setzer, Tom Waits, Jack Johnson, Motley Crue) and recorded with top L.A. session musicians in Capitol’s Studios A, where greats like Frank Sinatra and Nat “King” Cole once held court.
A true Renaissance woman who has used music as a springboard to become a motivational speaker, budding author, noted philanthropist and live show producer in the San Diego area, Anna recently created a vision board for the way she wants her career to unfold. It includes images of her flying out of LAX to a multitude of destinations, stages with microphones and large audiences, the Hollywood Bowl, NYC skyscrapers, Grammy Awards, even the cover of Time Magazine. Bold? Yes! Yet none of these hopes and dreams seemed remotely possible just a few years ago, when her marriage was breaking down and the onetime stay at home mom was trying to literally find her wings and start over at the age of 43. Recording her second album in the place where the legends worked their timeless magic was the ultimate confirmation that she had succeeded in re-inventing herself while sharing those long latent musical gifts with the world.
“I could feel my jaw literally drop, walking in there where these icons created their magic and realizing that this was my time to make my mark,” Anna says. “It was truly an incredible trip and dream come true. Our incredible production team brought in old mics from all the greats that worked with them in the past, we used a Yamaha that Nat had played. I recorded ‘That’s All’ with Richard Shelton, one of the world’s premiere Sinatra singers, in grand Frank style, using his old mics in the middle of the Studio A, Sinatra style!
“For me,” she adds, “the moment went deeper than recording a wonderful track in a historic setting. For girl who spent the first part of her childhood in Communist Poland under a repressive regime, it was a moment that reminded me of the freedom and unlimited potential we can reach in America. It was also a connection to the classic Hollywood movies I watched in those days, growing up with big dreams and fantasies while living in a small apartment in Poland, of what it would be like to be onstage dressed in sequins.”
Darling helped Anna realize her vision to create a recording in the style of the classic 1975 Tony Bennett/Bill Evans album that she heard for the first time a few years ago. “I loved the sparsity of the music and how strong Tony’s vocals were, how absolutely magnificent Bill’s playing was,” she muses. “I thought that if I were to make another album it would be like that, strong and simple, with exceptional musicians who could tell their own story on their respective instruments.”
Having quickly developed her strengths as an authentic storyteller, lyricist and songwriter, Anna’s initial concept was to create an album of all original songs. Darling had hooked her up with veteran songwriters Cindy Alexander and Mary Harris, which resulted in powerful pieces that doubled as spiritual affirmations and declarations of the joy of finding new love – true emotional progress from her debut album, which centered on her longing for true connection. Ultimately, Anna and Darling decided on the perfect balance – six originals and six golden standards that would reflect her new outlook on life while establishing a link to the history of jazz even as she was adding her own stamp on the genre.
“Find Your Wings is about me having found my passion and purpose and being set free on this exciting new path of music, which allowed me to leave my cage of self-doubt,” she says. “I had a cushy lifestyle and could have taken the path of least resistance and stayed in it. Five years ago I was a pale shadow of myself, dressed nicely for all the world to see but empty inside.”
The six standards on Find Your Wings are all “dear friends” already in her repertoire – “I Will Wait For You,” “It’s Crazy,” “I Want to Be Around/Cry Me A River,” “That’s All” and “In The Wee Small Hours.” The six originals are powerful snapshots of her life from around the time she wrote them. “The Voice,” a co-write with Alexander, is about life at the end of her marriage, while “Mr. OMG,” co-penned with Harris, reflects on life after separation. The others – “Long Distance” (co-written with Darling), “See You in L.A.” (with Alexander) and “I Love You,” a hypnotic a capella piece written by Anna that closes the set – are life with a new love and falling in love for the first time in a long time.
Although the title track “Find Your Wings” is universal in its emotional impact, Anna says she initially had herself and her daughter in mind when she wrote it. Ironically, the singer initially discovered her latent vocal gifts via vocal lessons she had won in an auction and originally gave to her daughter, who had expressed a strong interest in music. When her daughter wanted to quit after a few lessons, Anna stepped in and took one herself. The teacher, upon hearing her voice, said, ‘Wow, where did you come from?’ One of the teachers, veteran pianist, arranger and composer Larry White, became Anna’s mentor, helping her stay in tune, develop a unique style, find suitable songs and reach her potential. As composer, performer and producer, White guided the creative process of recording Longing.
In addition to her career as a singer, Anna produces private and public events as well as the very successful Jazz on Cedros concert series in San Diego that has celebrated sold out shows since its inception in 2014. She is currently writing her first book – also titled “Find Your Wings” – which chronicles her incredible journey from Poland to Canada and Southern California, through her careers as a lawyer and business manager for her husband, and the amazing unfolding of her musical artistry. It is also a book of motivation and inspiration.
Anna recently began producing another ambitious project, The Jazz Divas, bringing together 15 of San Diego’s top jazz singers and presenting them in a glamorous Vanity Fair cover-style photoshoot held at the San Diego Symphony. Magazine editorials, a documentary and a “Jazz Divas” show based on the concept are currently in the works. She is also an avid philanthropist for causes that support women, children and the arts, with a seat on the board of the San Diego Symphony.
“When I first discovered my gift,” Anna says, “it was such a great feeling being able to sing, and I felt free and liberated for the first time in my life. I believe everything happens at the right time, and lived through so many geographic and emotional upheavals, I can bring truck-fuls of experience into every lyric I share. It’s a lot to have dealt with – three immigrations, losing my entire family, going through divorce, and illness – but from all that I’m able to bring a genuineness and honesty that comes with time and wisdom and not be afraid to show any of it. There’s a dignity that comes from being yourself and letting people know that it’s okay to be vulnerable – because we’re all in this together.”