Striking sophistication. Rich, dulcet vocals. Versatility, and a perseverance that has been the driving force behind her long and diverse career.
This is the essence of Machan, an entrancing performer whose extraordinary talent has led her to work with some of the greatest musicians of our time. Layered with soul, her euphonious voice surrounds her performance with a unique vitality that is unsurpassed by any other.
Born in Yokohama, Japan with music in her blood, Machan’s parents met after World War II at the army base where her father served as Sergeant Major. An American bred from Italian, Irish, and English stock, her father also served as manager and MC of the Officer’s Club on base where her Japanese mother performed as a jazz singer.
Relocating with her family at the age of 5 to her father’s native America, Machan spent her childhood growing up in Wharton, New Jersey. From an early age she was influenced by music and enjoyed putting on performances with her older sister of favorite show tunes and jazz standards from their mother’s repertoire. She studied tap, ballet and acrobatics until the age of twelve after her dreams of being a professional dancer were impeded by her stature, which was considered too tall at the time.
Following her musical foundations, Machan taught herself to play guitar and began writing original songs which she performed in small coffee houses along with covers from artists like Joni Mitchell, James Taylor and Judy Collins. Realizing the joy and fulfillment this gave her, Machan continued to perform solo while lending her precocious talent to several high school bands. It was during this time that she allowed herself to truly explore her vocal potential by performing songs from popular yet varied artists like Janis Joplin, Black Sabbath, Grace Slick, and Jethro Tull.
Graduating from high school at 16 years old, Machan considered attending the Berklee College of Music, but opted instead to continue working as a singer in nightclubs where she was already making a good living.
By the age of 17 she was singing with a Jersey-based band called Za Zu Zaz, which enjoyed a huge local following, playing 5-6 nights a week at clubs throughout the New York metropolitan area. An eclectic mix of swing, bebop, and jazz, Za Zu Zaz performed at festivals and venues all over the country. In a review by The New York Times, their versatile sound was described as being able to “capture the sound and spirit of the swing band” while also turning “to the crisp staccato phrasing of bebop.” Unfortunately, the band found it difficult to get a record deal based on their unconventional sound and by 1979, Machan had left Za Zu Zaz to move to New York City. There, an audition for the Glenn Miller Orchestra landed her a spot on tour as a female vocalist, a position she held for two years.
From there it was only a matter of time before Machan was performing backing vocals for well-known groups and artists such as Foreigner, Pat Benatar, Pink Floyd, Aretha Franklin, and George Benson. In addition to singing backup, her chops as a lead vocalist served her well as the front woman for Hiroshima, a jazz ensemble which she appeared with from ’88-’91. After completing a tour with Sting in 2000, Machan decided to pursue her longtime goal of recording a solo record.
Reconnecting with her love of Brazilian music along with the early influences of 70s era singer-songwriters and her mother’s jazzy elegance, Machan began writing songs for the album that reflected this distinctive mix of styles. Enlisting the help of various musician friends and producers including her husband Danny Louis, keyboardist for the band Gov’t Mule, she recorded the album in her home studio. Eponymously titled Machan, the record was released by A440 Records in 2004 and in the first month reached #35 on the Billboard Adult Contemporary Jazz Charts.
In 2007, a second record deal with NuGroove Records allowed for the release of another solo album entitled Motion of Love which featured performances from such illustrious artists as John Medeski, John Schofield, Randy Brecker, and Danny Louis. On this record, Machan states that she “really tried to be thoughtful about including songs with different grooves and diverse subject matter to give my audience a broader sense of what I’m about, both musically and personally.” This inclusivity is one of the things that makes Machan’s music so warm and expressive, because it highlights her personal approach to creating a distinct sound.
In discussion of the social commentary of such songs as the Reggae-influenced “Everyday”, Machan explains that “As I’ve gotten older, I find I can’t ignore what’s happening in the world or the way I feel about it. In order to develop as a songwriter, I want to be a person that speaks her truth.” On listening to the album as a whole, M.R. Smith of Roll Magazine likens the experience to “tasting a fine Swiss chocolate filled with a sweet richness that makes you feel just a little guilty.”
Despite the critical success of Motion of Love, Machan agreed to part ways with NuGroove when the label did not give adequate support for touring, promotion, and marketing.
Following this solo record, she was given the chance to rediscover her passion for teaching. Having worked as a vocal coach for the past twelve years, Machan has a gift for bringing out the best in her students, which is no surprise considering her enormous talent. Her forte as a teacher earned her a film credit as the vocal coach for Vera Farmiga’s 2011 directorial debut Higher Ground, for which she also served as associate producer.
Always finding a way to implement her creativity, Machan has been a successful songwriter for film and television through Sonoton, a music library company she has worked with since 1995. Often collaborating with keyboardist and producer Steve Gaboury, her music has been used in such popular programs as The Oprah Winfrey Show. In addition to her work as a composer, she has lent her remarkable vocals to commercials for major brands like Toyota and Oil of Olay, as well as on movie soundtracks including American Beauty, and Natural Born Killers.
In 2011 Machan reunited with Hiroshima to play a benefit concert at BB King’s Nightclub in NYC for the Japanese tsunami/earthquake relief. This thread of charity work led to her contribution to the Hudson Valley Artists Hurricane Relief Project, a collective album featuring musicians such as Amy Helm, Medeski, Martin & Wood and Gov’t Mule.
Currently, Machan performs as often as she can as a featured singer as well as with her own bands. In addition to lending her tremendous vocals, she is the rhythm guitarist for Phelonious Phunk, a Woodstock-based band whose lineup includes husband Danny Louis and drummer Randy Ciarlante, best known for his work with The Band and Levon Helm. Playing to packed houses in the Ulster County area, Phelonious Phunk serves up a soulful mix of goodtime funk through both original and cover tunes.
With such a multifaceted, diversified career, Machan is the epitome of a hardworking musician whose efforts have served her well throughout her musical journey. Empowered by her role as a strong female artist, she continues to develop and expand her talent, while adding more and more accomplishments to her impressive oeuvre.
Why did you write the song and participate in Occupy This Album?
My song “Everyday” was actually written a few years ago, but it was inspired by the same kind of fervent emotional angst that I think everyone with the Occupy movement is feeling. The unjust, out of balance socio-political, economic climate has been bubbling for a long time in our society. And like a disease, it spread all over the world. Unfortunately, things haven’t changed that much as of late, so I believe it’s so important to support this movement and any movement towards a more conscious, compassionate and empowered world for everyone…including the planet itself.
What the movement means to me/where do I think the movement is heading?
Like the immortalized poem of Emma Lazarus at the foot of the Statue of Liberty… “Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free…,” The Occupy movement is the new beacon of hope. But it’s success will only bare the fruit of victory, if we all till the soil of activism.