Katarina Pejak is a Serbian-born singer, songwriter, and pianist. Her original music combines various strains of American roots music filtered through her Balkan heritage and years of formal classical piano training.
Her clear alto delivers a sound that harkens back to the early and mid-20th century, and straddles the genre fence between barrelhouse boogie, swinging jazz, deep blues, roots rock, and cabaret tunes. As evidenced by Pejak's catalog, early Tom Waits and Bessie Smith are obvious points of reference, but one can also hear Otis Spann, Victoria Spivey, and even Norah Jones in her approach. Her debut album, 2010's Perfume & Luck, was released while she was still in secondary school. 2012's First Hand Stories was recorded while she attended the Berklee College of Music, and won her the department's Songwriting Achievement Award. The success of those two recordings at home in Serbia and in Europe at large paved the way for more recordings, and gigs on the European and Asian festival stages. Pejak migrated to Nashville after graduating, and signed to Ruf Records in 2017; the label issued her first globally distributed long-player, the Mike Zito-produced Roads That Cross, in early 2019.
Pejak has a classical background; she began studying piano as a child but was drawn to the mysterious sounds emanating from the stereo in her family home via her father's record collection. As a teen she began writing and singing her own tunes while continuing to study piano at Belgrade's prestigious Mokranjac Music School. After issuing her debut album, Perfume & Luck, she was admitted to the Berklee College of Music in 2011 on a scholarship, where she studied with Dave Limina (a longtime keyboardist for Ronnie Earl), Pat Pattison (an internationally acclaimed lyricist), and song-and-jingle writer Scarlet Keys. While attending Berklee, she delivered her second self-released offering, First Hand Stories, in 2012 and began to play gigs in New England and New York in her spare time. Her second album drew press and radio raves in Serbia. Upon graduation from Berklee in 2014 she won the annual Songwriting Achievement Award.
After more gigging, she established residences in Nashville (for touring the U.S.) and Belgrade. In 2015, she cut the live mini-album Old New Borrowed & Blues; it was released internationally in 2016 on Blues Time Records as she toured the music festival circuit in Europe and the U.S. Pejak signed with Ruf Records in 2017 with her own trio and cut her label debut late the following year. The Mike Zito-produced, Texas-recorded Roads That Cross, with a quartet that included Laura Chavez on lead guitar, was issued in February 2019 during her international tour. ~ Thom Jurek, Rovi