Versatile violinist, vocalist, and songwriter Rebecca Zapen was named Jacksonville's Musician of the Year 2008, and recently received 5 nominations in the Just Plain Folks Awards 2009, in the categories of Best Vocal Jazz Song, Best Cabaret Album, Best Music Video, and 2 nominations for Best Cabaret Song. Zapen's career highlights include her recent performance as the musical guest on Public Radio International show "Michael Feldman's Whad'Ya Know?"; original songs in the YOU by Crocs nationally-distributed compilation "The Postcard Collection"; winning 2nd in the Bushman World Ukulele Video Contest and her resulting endorsement with Bushman Music Works; Finalist in the 2007 DiscMakers’ Independent Music World Series. Her voice can be heard on television commercials for Truvia sweetener. Other career highlights include appearances as jazz vocal soloist with the Hollywood Philharmonic Orchestra, and as the mandolin soloist in Jacksonville Symphony Orchestra's production of Mozart's opera Don Giovanni. She is an award-winning composer, earning the Silver Medal of Excellence in the category of “Best Use of Music in a Short Film” at the Park City Film Music Festival for her scoring of A Riverside Evening. As a session musician, Zapen has composed for and performed on recordings for soundtracks, television, public radio, theme parks, and various musical groups. Her music has been featured on NPR's All Songs Considered: Open Mic. Past performances include Florida Folk Fest, Gamble Rogers Fest, Jacksonville Jazz Fest, and venues such as Hotel Cafe, The Bitter End, and Paganini Auditorium (Italy).
Zapen's first musical memory was that of sitting under the baby grand piano as a toddler, her ears filled by the sounds of her mother playing Chopin, Beethoven, and Mozart. Her college years were filled with opera, orchestra, chamber music, and late night jazz jams. The journey continued to twist and unfold, rich in varied musical experiences: Tom Waits tunes via CB radio and Celtic harp, a four-year trip to the Old World in Klezmania, spoken word with eclectic folk, Gypsy jazz. She walks her present path as a performer of range and depth: a classically-trained violinist, a jazz crooner/violinist in quartet ZapStar, and an award-winning songwriter/composer. Rebecca's "dreamy, ethereal vocals swoon and sweep atop sublime melodies and infectiously charming lyrics, instantly hypnotic and effortlessly charming" (Subba-Cultcha UK). Accompanying herself on ukulele, guitar, and violin, Zapen's music is "mellow, creative, happy, and smart" (Celebrity Cafe).
Her beginnings were traditional enough, with a classical music education beginning at age 3 with the Suzuki Method, and culminating with her earning music and biology degrees while attending Florida State University on a music scholarship. Since then, her musical involvements have been with groups whose styles include jazz, swing, classical, klezmer, country, folk, rock, and spoken word. Zapen has performed with or opened for artists such as Vassar Clements, Big Sandy & His Fly Rite Boys, Tommy Womack, Trisha Yearwood, Chris Botti, Anathallo, and David Bazan, and has played in musical groups, symphony orchestras, and music festivals in U.S., Great Britain, Switzerland, and Italy.
Her versatile violin playing, pure clear voice, and ability to write nostalgia-infused music have earned her comparisons to Astrud Gilberto, Suzanne Vega, Leonard Cohen, and The Ditty Bops. Her influences include Stephane Grappelli, Antonio Carlos Jobim, Chet Baker, and Nick Drake.
Zapen founded her own record label in 2003, naming it Bashert, which is a Yiddish word meaning "destiny" or "fate". Rebecca's recordings include Japanese Bathhouse, released in Fall 2005 after a European summer tour, with songs about anything from pirate love gone wrong to bread crumb trails to nudity in foreign lands. Relix describes Japanese Bathhouse: "Nothing adequately prepares for the way in which her deeply personal album instantaneously envelops and never loses its grip.... The title song and others bring to mind no less than early solo McCartney and Brian Wilson's SMiLE.... One of those near-perfect hidden gems..." During ZAPENation Tour 2006, Rebecca's acoustic folk-jazz trio (including dobro and double bass) gave 22 performances during its six-week tour of the United States. Her discography also includes debut release Hummingbird (2003), laden with bossa nova and blending violin, voice, sax, marimba, and rhythm section into a warm spacious sound; self-titled folk EP Michelle Payne & Rebecca Zapen (2003); and Songs of Bother and Woe (2005) which gives a taste of her nostalgic indie folk-pop, with a sound that ranges from simple ukulele and vocals to lush arrangements of strings and brass, and musical accents from melodica and glockenspiel. ZapStar (2006), features the Rebecca Zapen / Gary Starling Group's interpretations of jazz standards and even a couple of Beatles classics via their combo of guitar, upright bass, and drums, with Zapen on violin and vocals. Her newest album is Nest, a collection of delicate, cinematic New Folk originals, foraying into Americana, bossa nova, and pop, slated for a January 2012 release.
Quirky talent: strong urge to turn T.V. show themes into bossa novas.
Unusual performing experience: Scrambling down a Mayan pyramid, running across a huge field, and hiking my way up another pyramid, to meet a violinist playing his Norwegian Hardanger fiddle. We met, and I played an American fiddle tune on it. It was rather surreal.