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By Thomas J. Sullivan–
Ava Lemert, the self-described “singing saxtress” of Citrus Heights is a one-woman band with a powerful three-octave voice.
Lemert has deep connections to the Citrus Heights music and arts community which she calls home. She was a founding member of the Citrus Heights Community Marching Band, which still uses the original logo which she designed. She’s also a past member of the former Citrus Heights History and Arts Commission.
“I’m the most unknown famous person you’ll ever meet,” Lemert said modestly. A surprising tenor saxophonist with a vivacious stage presence, Ava writes her own tunes and includes popular covers which she has made her own.
She’s a complete one-woman band, switching effortlessly from her keyboard to her saxophone and back, while handling lead vocals herself. During performances, she handles her own sound.
“I’ve produced about nine albums worth of material since I resumed my music career in 2005,” she told The Sentinel in a recent interview.
Her new album, “Ava’s Groove,” made its debut July 19 and features 15 original tunes and covers. The album was produced, arranged, recorded, performed, mixed, and mastered by Lemert in her home Citrus Heights studio, “My Blue Heaven Studio,” between March 2013 and June 2019.
The album is a decidedly family affair, as her husband John is her principal photographer, and took the album cover photo. The album is a mix of funky, adventurous, and fun songs she feels her audience and new listeners will enjoy.
Many of her songs and performances can be found on her Youtube channel.
In all, while her son John is off at school, Lemert said she’s constantly busy in her home studio practicing or writing new material. Her in-home music studio has an isolation booth. At home she takes plenty of “stolen moments” as she describes them, to practice and work on her material.
Lemert is rather modest about her start in the music business which she describes in her biography about how she began singing her made-up songs into her sister’s tape recorder in their family home in Covina before she started kindergarten.
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Her first musical instrument was a butter tub and wooden spoons, but she would go on to play clarinet in elementary school. Her Dad bartered work as a motorcycle instructor for Yamaha motorcycles in order to buy her new YAS-23 alto saxophone for high school jazz band. As an underclassman, Ava was selected the first female in her high school to be a drum major.
She attended the University of Southern California to study music and left to enter the workforce. Her professional experience prior to embarking on her musical performance career included graphic design and computer database work in the aerospace industry.
“Music wasn’t a part of my life until 2005, when as the mom of a 3-year-old son, I took time to relearn how to read sheet music. I wanted to play my saxophone again,” she said. Soon she was playing in the Citrus Heights Community Marching Band.
She continues to break new ground for herself in music, reaching beyond what her early successes might have predicted.
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Her unique arrangements of cover songs range from Prince, the Eagles, to Aretha Franklin and Whitney Houston. In all, it’s a wide range of material in a variety of styles which she has made her own.
“I like to do songs sometimes where the original artist is male, where I can adjust the lyrics and transpose the song to my key, or play the melody on the tenor saxophone, extending my lower range to reach down to the original key,” she said.
“Smokey Robinson’s ‘Cruisin’ is one of my signature tunes, which features both my vocals and my saxophone,” she said.
The depth of her music catalog includes several originals which have special meeting for Lemert.
“Annette’s Song,” an instrumental she wrote and recorded in 2010, was written in honor of her mother, two years after her passing.
“It helped me heal after the trauma of losing her,” said Lemert. “The song is free meter, it was one of those that I had it in my mind and picked up my sax, turned on the mic and recorded it straight from my heart and mind. I did it in one take.”
“’A Mother’s Song,’ includes a vocal I did in a smooth R&B style for my own son, John, my only child, who was starting first grade,” she said. “Our home felt so quiet and empty when he was gone to school.”
Among her favorite cover tunes, she’s especially fond of the classic Etta James tune “At Last,” which she included in her first album, “From My Soul.”
“I’ve had the honor of singing that very song for several weddings, a 70th wedding vow renewal, and it has become one of my most requested songs,” she said. “It’s typically my last song of my live performances.”
Lemert said she’s hopeful she will have more opportunities to play live in Citrus Heights. As a working professional, she said, she’s always looking for a place to play close to home.
“One of my goals when I was a member of the Citrus Heights Community Marching Band was to encourage an appreciation for live music in the city,” she said. “Performers need a place to play, and I hoped that the outdoor amphitheater/pro tennis stadium [outside Sunrise Mall] became a permanent, or at least a seasonal feature,” Lemert said. “Sadly, it wasn’t meant to be.”
Outside of performing, Lemert enjoyed working as photographer for a performing artist who was featured during the short-lived Sunrise Mall summer concert series, “Sunrise at Night.”
“I would love to see Sunrise Mall be turned into something like the Palladio, Fountains, or the El Dorado Town Center, all of which host regular live music and entertainment for all ages,” Lemert said. “That would be wonderful.”
Ava’s own original music and recordings have made the 2017 and 2019 Grammy Awards ballot a total of four times so far. In 2018, Lemert won two Akademia Music Awards for two songs in the R&B/soul song category for “Red Soul Shoes (which made the Grammy ballot) and “Get the Weekend On.”
The upcoming holiday season promises to be a busy one, she said. She often plays corporate events, private parties, receptions, and the winery circuit.
“I do mostly private gigs,” she said. “But I’m always ready to go and play, anytime, anywhere.”
Those interested in more information can visit www.AvaLemert.com, which features a current performance calendar and music samples.
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