Dulcet Tones


It’s a warm Southern California night in La Jolla, Calif., but nonetheless the fire in the seaside salon of the venerable La Valencia Hotel is glowing. It’s a perfect reflection of the cozy ambiance jazz singer Sacha Boutros ’02 creates as she eases effortlessly into a set of vintage love songs. Her voice is intoxicating and elastic, sometimes popping into weightless syncopation, sometimes smoothing one silky phrase into the next.

“The way you wear your hat … the way you sip your tea . . . ”

About 20 appreciative guests, tucked into sofas and armchairs, sip drinks and nibble hors d’oeuvres under the massive crossbeams of a brick-red Spanish ceiling splashed with painted flowers.

“I’ve always wanted to play this room,” Boutros says when she, her pianist, drummer and bassist take a break. “So I finally called them.”

What to say when hoping to land a gig at the famous “Pink Lady,” a perennial favorite of tycoons and movie stars? Just the basics: “I’m a Grammy-nominated artist who lives in San Diego. I tour all over the world, and I’d like to sing for you.”

Frankly, it’s hard to imagine anyone turning Boutros down. For starters, she’s beautiful; all dark hair and smoky eyes. She greets you with a warm hug, as if you’ve been friends for decades, since the songs she sings debuted. And her passion for music, especially classic and Latin jazz, is contagious.

“I just love the old jazz songs,” she explains. “Nowadays, it’s all so explicit. Back then they told love stories with insinuations. It was romantic and sentimental.”

Boutros never expected a career in music, though she’d loved singing since she was a little girl practicing harmonies in church with her grandfather. At home, she’d put on a hat and pretend to be Frank Sinatra. But when she left for USD, her parents urged her to study something practical.

Boutros chose business and took a first job in marketing. By 2005, she’d already had enough. She recalls her exact turning point: “One day I said, ‘I’m just going to do music.’”

Suddenly, Boutros discovered a better use for all those business courses. The strategy, the PR, the advertising — it all came in handy promoting herself as a jazz singer. She opened a booking agency, too, and then a production company.

“I’ve used every single thing I learned at USD,” she says.

But the fire, the grit, the drive? All pure Boutros. When she started out, she called a San Diego jazz club and asked for a performance date; she got it. Emboldened, she went to New York, told club owners, “I’m a jazz singer,” and they gave her a try.

“I just kept singing and singing and singing,” she says.

In 2008, Boutros submitted her self-produced CD, “Simply Sacha,” for Grammy consideration and earned a nomination for “best jazz album.” Doors began to open.

Now she tours in Europe, Japan and Hawaii, where last year she recorded her latest album, “Sacha, Live in Hawaii.”

Although she’s clearly savoring her jazz journey, Boutros does have a definite destination in mind.

“My goal is to be in every jazz lover’s house,” she says. “I want to bring them something very special. I want to bring romantic old music to their hearts, to make them feel wonderful things.” — Sandra Millers Younger