How did you first get into singing, and into jazz in particular?
If I’m honest, I can’t remember a time when singing wasn’t a source of escapism and joy for me. From childhood to present day music has been the way I process life.
When I was young I would listen to my mother’s CDs. She loved Motown and Soul; from Sam Cooke, Stevie Wonder and Marvin Gaye to Anita Baker, Toni Braxton, Brandy. While in my teens I gained an interest in the history of this music, I wanted to know where it all came from. And on that journey I found Jazz, I haven’t looked back since.
Which musicians or performers were your biggest influences growing up?
Anita Baker’s voice colours my childhood memories. I was infatuated with her because her tone is so unique. A huge range, a full deep round tone and elegant songs. With time, I’ve learnt more about Anita’s life. And I found out that as a child Anita was hugely inspired by the legendary Jazz vocalist Sarah Vaughan, whom I also adore. It cemented in my mind that there is connection through time to all good music.
At 23, you’ve already been a professional singer for seven years. How does it feel to be able to call something you love, your job?
Most of all I feel gratitude. I am one of few who had the encouragement of a supportive community, and access to the resources required to build a foundation in this career.
But it’s a complex feeling. Being a professional musician requires a lot of independent will power. At the times when the work is toughest or the circumstances seem bleak, it’s my responsibility to remind myself that I’m blessed to be working so hard at something that I want to do. All the failures and struggles become useful lessons.
You’ve already performed with some big names, do you have a particular favourite performance, you look back on fondly?
Hmm, good question! I’d say that being mentored by Dee Dee Bridgewater was a stand out. In June this year I was a part for the Betty Carter Jazz Ahead programme at the Kennedy Centre in Washington DC. On a course led by the pianist Jason Moran, 24 young composers were couched as we workshoped our original compositions. Dee Dee Bridgewater was such an inspiration! Her conviction, her knowledge, her kindness. I will never forget performing in her presence.
And do you have a favourite venue that you’ve performed at?
Performing in the Royal Albert Hall! I mean, what a venue, right?! So beautiful. I performed there as part of the 2017 Proms with Clare Teal and the Guy Barker Big Band. Such a privilege.
If you could perform with anyone, who would it be?
Bobby McFerrin. He is an improvising mastermind. I reckon performing with him would be a huge lesson in musicianship. He can create a masterful melody in a millisecond. I also think it would be a lot of fun.
And, after London Jazz Festival, what’s next for you?
I hope to release original music! If you join us on the 21 November at the Elgar Room, you’ll get a taste of what is to come. Watch this space!
More than just the home of Meltdown. Every year Southbank Centre presents live contemporary music gigs and performances that blur genre boundaries and showcase the best new sounds from across the globe.