“But now I’m working with a couple of well-known producers to get my original music and my name out there,” she continues. “I’m working with Ron Aniello, who has produced Barenaked Ladies, Lifehouse and Jars of Clay, on my country rock pop songs. I’m also working with Jimmy Haslip of The Yellowjackets and jazz fusion musician Jeff Lorber on my songs that blend country rock with rhythm & blues. Musical arranger/conductor Bob Rosario, jazz artist Laura Taylor and Nashville-based jazz pianist Pat Coil will be working with me on a series of recordings throughout the year, a mix of my own originals that lean more towards jazz and swing, along with my take on a few of my favorite jazz standards. I’ll be recording about four or five songs with each. My goal is to focus on the music that is speaking to me now.”
Kastel, who has been performing professionally since high school, comes by her talent naturally. Her mom used to sing and dance as a child and her father is jazz musician Dick Kastel. In fact, after being born in San Francisco and traveling around the country because her father performed with Big Bands, Kastel and her family ended up settling down in Las Vegas when her dad joined Harry James.
”I’ve appeared in many shows in Las Vegas as well as performing solo,” Kastel notes. “Performing is in my blood. I knew I wanted to be a singer at the age of four. I bought eight Frank Sinatra records from my father for fifty cents apiece with money I earned from cleaning house -- I was buffing our oak floors even at that young age.”
Kastel says that at first her father was hesitant to encourage a career in show business because he had watched his younger sister struggle through the rough times as a Big Band singer. It was her mother, seeing her love of performing, who encouraged her and even helped her make the gowns she wore for the talent shows, choir performances, and musicals in which Kastel performed in school.
Bearing a striking resemblance to both Naomi Judd and Bonnie Raitt, Kastel soon found herself as a contestant in the Miss America Miss Nevada Pageant. The first time she entered, she won Second Runner-Up. Then, two years later, having just returned from being on the road with her band, Kastel got a call from a former Miss Nevada, Sherri Lowe, who told her that the pageant needed someone with a strong talent and asked if she would be interested in competing again. Kastel took on the challenge primarily because she felt she had a strong chance at the title since the talent portion was worth 50 percent of the overall score. Kastel ended up winning the title of Miss Nevada as well as talent awards in both the Miss Nevada and Miss America pageants.
“I entered Miss Nevada because I felt I could win and I did,” Kastel says matter-of-factly. “I’ve got an outgoing strong personality and I’m one of those people who is always looking at the best in everybody and encouraging people to be the best that they can be. Everyone liked me but I was never the quiet, laid-back, overly friendly type that usually won Miss Congeniality. On the other hand, I have never been the kind of person to walk all over somebody to get somewhere. I've always felt that there is enough room for everybody.”
“The pageant took me into a lot of different experiences,” she adds. “I was already a professional singer but being a state representative was a different phase in my career. I had never really been a 'pageant person' but through my experiences I gained a lot of opportunities to meet people from around our state, work with children, and go to college. I recommend it to other girls who wish to further their education. The Miss America Program is one of the largest scholarship programs available to young women. Unfortunately, I never took it to the full extent and got my degree because I ended up getting a job with a show. But through my association with the pageant, I became involved with the Children’s Miracle Network, which I support to this day. Part of the proceeds from This Time Around goes to that organization.”
It was in the early 90’s that Kastel decided to add a different voice to the music business by writing her own songs. However, she got away from composing for a while when she met and married Harold Stout, who owned his own RV business in Indiana. They began commuting back and forth between the two cities and Kastel found that when she was in Indiana, surrounded by cornfields, there wasn't much to do. That's when her writing blossomed.
“Every time we went back to Indiana it was as if I was in this cocoon sitting at my piano writing for hours,” she relates. “ When I had a few of them finished, I recorded them with some musicians. It became this cycle. Even in Las Vegas, I started writing more, but each time we returned to Indiana I would record a few more songs. I noticed that most of my songs were country rock-based with elements of R & B and jazz. That is when I joined NSAI (Nashville Songwriters Association International).”
Kastel relates that the inspiration for her music comes from her experiences, from hearing conversations, or sitting down at the piano and being open so that something just comes to her. In addition to writing songs, she has been writing a musical over the past couple of years and is currently writing another one with long time singer and friend, playwright Dolly Coulter. She would like to go back to performing and touring this summer, something she got away from for a bit because of her traveling with art shows in regard to her sculptures. She feels that it is very important this year for her to identify herself with her songs and her music as a singer and songwriter – and also with her sculptures as an artist.
“My mom’s dad was a cartoonist and my mom has been sketching, painting and drawing all of her life,” Kastel explains. “I was always drawing pictures of buildings and women as a hobby growing up and I thought it would be fun to learn to sculpt someday. In 1998 the opportunity presented itself when my girlfriend, artist Tanja Nikolic, told me she was taking a new class being offered at the Las Vegas Art Museum. She asked if I would be interested. I was, so I signed up and started taking sculpting lessons from Roberta Baskin Shefrin and found that I loved it. One of the pieces I was working on evolved into an Egyptian princess.
“In the process of making the piece, I had a dream about her and I woke up and wrote down an eight-page story about this princess and her brother. I’ve never been to Egypt or read about any of this but I’ve had Egyptologists talk to me for hours about the symbology in the piece. An expert on Egyptian artwork, Fayaz Barakat, who owns the Barakat Gallery in Beverly Hills and buys authentic artifacts, told me that he believes I’m a descendant of Nefertiti.”
Singer…songwriter…sculptor…one aspect of Sandy Kastel so far unseen by the public is her juggling act, the one that has her balancing husband, family and friends with her career. Kastel, who says that it’s very important for her to spend time with her parents, admits that she weighs her time very carefully but that the scale tips a little towards her career when necessary. In her spare time, however, she likes to play golf and travel – and hopefully have a singing gig in the place that she is visiting.
“I love the rush of being on stage and I love making people laugh and smile,” Kastel sums up. “My positive attitude is my best asset. I’ve always been optimistic. That doesn’t mean that I haven’t gone through rough times. I feel that whatever happens, you have to pick yourself up and deal with whatever you’re going through. You have to learn from it what you can and take that knowledge into the next situation, take responsibility for your actions, try to keep yourself healthy, and follow your dreams.”
Color her bright.
Sandy Kastel's album "This Time Around" is available on CD Baby.