The Bay Area-based vocalist grew up in a musical environment in the former Soviet Union, where jazz was taboo but would nevertheless become a vital part of her life. Listening to classical records was her family pastime and the love she developed for music manifested in formative lessons in violin and piano. Yet it was always the human voice that drove her musical aspirations. When she first got her hands on Jesus Christ Superstar, she learned it by heart before she even knew what the words meant.
When Anya was introduced to jazz at St. Petersburg’s only jazz club, she learned that there was more to be discovered. The club was a luxury and provided an opportunity to hear this music in raw, live form. Anya’s classical training had sharpened her to the point where she could play a pop tune and figure out the changes by ear in no time. With jazz she couldn’t always tap along so easily. Following her life-changing initiation, Anya immediately got her hands on a bootlegged Ella Fitzgerald album and listened to it until she had internalized every nuance. This set her off on an artistic journey that included significant layovers with Billie Holiday, Louie Armstrong, Carmen McRae, and others.
Vocalists were always central in Anya’s early explorations, though over time she would find inspiration in key instrumentalists of the 1960s. In this regard, immigrating to the United States dropped her into a veritable ocean of musical possibilities. In 1990 and 1991, she shared a stage with Natural Gas Jazz Band and Chicago 6 on the West Coast festival circuit. This experience opened a world of choices, but with motherhood now taking priority she put her dreams on hold until the calling was just too strong to ignore: “I was just suffocating without music. Back home, even if I didn’t sing professionally, I always had a group of friends with whom I’d sing. That was a great outlet for me, and suddenly I didn’t have that outlet.”
It was then she learned of the prestigious Stanford Jazz Workshop and there worked with the legendary Madeline Eastman to hone her craft. Surrounded by music night and day, and among such fine instructors, Anya felt at home. At Eastman’s encouragement she began to work privately with Roger Letson. Since then, one of her greatest influences remains Miles Davis. “When I sing,” Anya confesses, “I often have Miles’s expressions in mind.” Naturally, she fell under the spell of Thelonious Monk, Fred Hirsch, Cassandra Wilson, Dianne Reeves, and Dave Brubeck, the latter of whom had been in her life since before coming stateside.
Anya has always gravitated toward sad and tragic songs, influenced perhaps by her ongoing love for Russian romances. For her, jazz ultimately lends itself to the intimate delivery in such songs, and this she brings with genuine heart to every note she sings.