By Mike Sales
A little over a year ago, I had the privilege of playing New Year’s Eve with a husband and wife duo at The Hub. Sammy “Barefoot” Warren, who plays percussion, interviewed for the Nov. issue of the Siesta Sand Newspaper and in the time since then, I’ve seen and heard some beautiful and inspiring music from both Sammy and his wife, Zooey, who was absolutely amazing (accurate use of the word) on her violin, with no rehearsal and with whom I’m fortunate to interview for this month’s issue…
WPT: Where are you from?
Zooey: I was born in Mexicali, Mexico, but I lived in Rochester, NY until I was about 11 when we moved to El Centro, CA, a town out in the desert, just over the border from where I was born.
WPT: When did you start playing music?
Zooey: When I was 6 years old, my dad brought home a little 3-octave keyboard. I played around with it and started learning songs by ear until my mom noticed I had a real interest and went to the library, checked out books on music, studied them and worked music theory and playing into my home-school lessons.
WPT: How did your lessons progress from there?
Zooey: A few years after my initial introduction to music study, a woman at church heard me play and was so impressed with the progress I’d made at home that she gave me some lessons at no charge, and then recommended me to an instructor in town who provided a music scholarship program for young people with a gift.
I studied with her until after high school. She cultivated everything I love about music to this day, by transforming my concept of music. She helped me connect emotion to music and urged me to compete. At 16 I won a young artists competition for my performance of Mozart’s Piano Concerto number 20 in D minor. I was already playing at church and in recitals, but performing with an orchestra behind me was mind blowing. It was my first introduction to playing with other musicians.
WPT: How did you wind up playing violin?
Zooey: I was homeschooled for most of my life and when I was 14 my mom took me to a community concert to see the Imperial Valley Symphony. The chamber orchestra from the local charter high school opened the show…before that I hadn’t realized that people my age could play in an orchestra, so I asked my mom if I could do it. She noted that I’d have to learn a string instrument to do that, so she got me some videos and a cheap violin, which I worked with for 6 months and then auditioned my way into the last chair. The director was very stern, but with her guidance, the encouragement of working with fellow music lovers and lots of work, I moved up.
WPT: How did you wind up in the Siesta Key area?
Zooey: That was a journey… I did my undergrad work in Riverside, CA, where I earned a degree from La Sierra University. I initially went to school for music, but found the classical program to be rigid. My first love was fusion, but they discouraged it in favor of competition that really crushed my love of music, in the way they would scrutinize every note and criticize personal expression. I tried different subjects and wound up getting really involved with social activism. In the interest of helping people I studied their backgrounds and cultures in order to understand them. I moved to Statesboro, GA and attended Georgia Southern University where I got my Masters in Applied Anthropology, where my internship and thesis were based on domestic violence against Latino women in rural Southern Georgia and got to do work with non-profits who educate women and equip and assist them in freeing themselves from unlivable situations.
After graduation, I had to face the realization that I couldn’t abide sitting in an office all day, nor was I too keen on a lot of the corruption that seemed to plague not only politics, but also many non-profits. To make a living, I returned to my art and started writing and recording. I met Sammy, who is now my husband, at a music store he managed, when he invited me to play any instrument in the store, which was a lot more relaxed policy than I was used to at the other store in the area. I sat down at a piano and started playing a classical piece that coincidentally was the same piece of music on the demo of that instrument, so Sammy came over to help me shut it off, but upon realizing I was actually playing it, offered me a job as a teacher, right there on the spot. I worked it into my schedule and, in the process rediscovered the magic of being there with students as they have their, “ah ha” moments and realize their hard work into being able to play difficult pieces or read sheet music they couldn’t understand or create their own music to share with someone who appreciates it…it inspired me to get back into creating my own music.
When our situation changed and facilitated a move, we decided to relocate to the Siesta Key area, where we’d visited Sammy’s grandmother.
WPT: What drew you to this area?
Zooey: We fell in love with it. I really appreciated the variety of music and the diversity in general. I’d had no clue there was a place we could live that had musicians playing Jazz, Blues, Latin and World music at a variety of venues all over the area. I had always been in love with fusing different styles of music together and it was just a dream come true. We’ve met and continue to meet so many musicians. Sarasota is such a hub, here and the surrounding cities for us to meet beautiful spirits, not just in the music community, but in the yoga and health communities as well.
WPT: Which venues have you played on Siesta Key?
Zooey: We’ve played at the Blasé Café, The Hub, Siesta Key Oyster Bar and The Cottage, where they have such a great world vibe.
WPT: What styles of music do you play?
Zooey: I segwayed into the scene with a country band…I’ve played rock, blues, reggae and island music as well as flamenco instrumental music, but I love world music.
WPT: What is your favorite part about performing live?
Zooey: I love that moment when you cease to be a person and it’s just about the music and the connection with the audience, whether you make eye contact with an individual or feel a shift in the venue toward the music…it’s about letting go.
WPT: How would you describe your originals?
Zooey: Our duo, Zen Seraphine plays originals that are a blend of World/Funk/Fusion with influences of Acid Jazz and Neo Soul, and the lyrics are all socially conscious, but with a sense of unity and togetherness. In addition to vocals and violin solos, the songs include pre-recorded keyboard loops that serve as backing tracks. Sammy has also worked up some auxiliary percussion rhythms on the octapad that he blends with his acoustic drum set.
WPT: Where do you see your career going from here?
Zooey: We’re currently working on an album and planning to shoot video. I hope to have them completed by the end of spring. I look forward to working with a band on a regular basis, like we get to do every now and then and am really looking forward to getting into the festival scene.
You can hear Zen Seraphine music at their website www.zenseraphinemusic.com as well as stay posted on upcoming video and album releases and performance dates.
Blasé Café is located at 5263 Ocean Blvd #9 and features live music on their outdoor stage.
The Hub Baja Grill is located at 5148 Ocean Blvd and features live music on their outdoor patio.
Siesta Key Oyster Bar (S.K.O.B.) is located at 5238 Ocean Blvd and features live music outdoors on their deck.
The Cottage is located at 153 Avenida Messina and features live music in their rear courtyard.
Mike Sales is a local singer/songwriter for more information visit www.mikesalessings.com