Hanna Rifkin sings and she means it. She doesn’t simply utter words written on a page, but breathes them into your brain. She knows when to pull back and give it a simple, short breath, and when to take a quarter note and make it seem huge. This is music; it is up for interpretation, and interpretation is one of Hanna’s favorite activities. No matter how many greats or not so greats have sung it, blown it, or fusioned it, she can take a “standard” and make it anything but that.
Humor is important, and it is not simply the music that Hanna can show you, but also personality, fit for the situation. Her smile is addicting and her frown utterly melancholy. She is a person, not just a singing machine.
When Hanna Rifkin steps on stage or even in front of you for a conversation, you feel her presence. A jazz vocalist doing songs from the 30’s to the 50’s, she brings the jazz standards to you as if they have been awoken. Hanna comes from the bay area and has been singing from disco to rock to jazz since she can remember. It was when a family friend passed along a duet album of Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Armstrong, that she started to get addicted. At first she imitated Ella without noticing it, and then she started to adopt her own style for each song.
Hanna loves that in jazz, there are these songs called “standards” that the greats, not so greats and basically everyone has already done. This does not make it boring, but instead makes it a challenge for her to bring her own spice to the song. She comes out with the quirkyness of Bjork, the confidence of Anita O’Day, the sadness of Billy, the smooth and clean sound of Chet Baker, or whatever else she happens to be feeling that day.
Hanna began searching to get her little paws on any version of these songs. With the repertoire she had to start, she hit the streets busking as a solo act up and down the west coast and over to western Europe where she sang for coins in Spain, Italy, Switzerland and France (that is until they kicked her out!) When she attended UC Santa Cruz, she lived in a house full of jazz students who thought it might be nice to teach her how to count off and basically, play with the band. She put herself in music theory classes, learned some basic piano, and followed the jazz improvisation class taught by trumpeter Ray Brown. Hanna stayed with those jazz friends and played regularly at the Dakota club and other small venues in Santa Cruz. She got her B.A. in Italian Studies (she also speaks Spanish and a bit of French) and spent the next year learning the scene in Bologna, Italy. She paired up with guitarist Francesco Lesi as a duo.
After having left for a few years, Hanna realized that her home of San Francisco is fantastic. She has since then returned and played at The Octavia Lounge, The Stinson Beach Grill, Amnesia, Café Trieste, and as a guest at Pearl’s, and of Lavay Smith. You might see her singing her heart out with a bucket on a street corner too. (You will hear a larger repertoire this way!)