Every time Davina and the Vagabonds take the stage, more than a century of jazz heritage is distilled into a modern performance.

The band blends the soul of Fats Weller, the sass of Aretha Franklin and the energy of the Preservation Hall Band into every note they play. Band leader Davina Sowers taps into the history of America’s own unique art form, adding her own flavor and flair with sultry vocals to match the jiving beat of their band.

Their look, their sound and their attitude reflects the heyday of jazz music. Upright bass, jaunty piano and hot horns make toe tapping inevitable.

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Davina and the Vagabonds will showcase their style as one of the headlining acts of this year’s Indy Jazz Fest, performing Sept. 17 at Apparatus in downtown Indianapolis.

The band just finished a stretch of shows in Norway, before returning to the U.S. for a tour that will last through the end of 2015. The Daily Journal was able to catch up by email with Sowers to talk about jazz history, her approach on stage and the surprise of performing.

What is the sound and style behind Davina and the Vagabonds?

We bring 100 years of Americana music. When blues and jazz were one and starting to be a household name to early rock ‘n’ roll. I mix in my originals that lend to those eras as well. True heart, high energy, “level A” musicianship, tons of sass — tons of soul.

What attracted you to this type of music?

The honesty it holds. The trueness to the feel and meaning.

Who are some of your biggest musical influences?

Fats Waller, Aretha Franklin, Tom Waits, Louis Armstrong, Preservation Hall Band, Bette Midler, Little Richard, Led Zeppelin, Melanie … I could go on and on. It’s endless.

How do you incorporate them into your performances?

I have been a sponge since I can remember when it comes to music. I take a piece of what has grabbed me from each one that I have observed growing up and somehow ended up being me, just plain old me. People ask me all the time, ‘How did you come up with this group?’ I didn’t pick this music — it picked me. I didn’t pick this profession — I am incapable of doing anything else with any amount of happiness. It’s a tough business, but it is 100 percent worth the sacrifices of normalcy to use my words with some notes and move people.

What makes this music still relevant for a modern audience?

I go back to basic honesty thing. Who doesn’t want the edge and rawness of true feelings, whether it’s heart break or complete happiness?

How does this style of music translate into a live show?

It translates like it always has. It was meant to be live and is still meant to be live.

What is the joy in performing your music to crowds who maybe have never heard anything like it before?

I love to surprise people. I love to just watch their mouths drop and the corner of their mouths curve up in a smile. I do what I do to make people happy. I want to just make those notes bounce around their head to their toes.

How do you approach your live shows?

With everything I have with in me.

What can people expect if they’ve never seen you and your band perform live?

Leaving with a smile and a song.

Do you think jazz is still an important art form in American culture?

All I know is I want to help make it as relevant as possible again. I want to expose these new generations to something they may have thought or think is square and show them there is guts behind all of it. I want to show them the edge so they can relate.

If you go

Davina and the Vagabonds

When: 7:30 p.m. Sept. 17

Where: Apparatus, 1401 N. Meridian St., Indianapolis

Cost: $25

Information: davinaandthevagabonds.com

Author photo
Ryan Trares is a reporter for the Daily Journal. He can be reached at rtrares@dailyjournal.net or 317-736-2727.