5 Ways to Keep Musicians Coming Back!!

 

Hello Music Family!! It has been a while since my last blog entry, but I’m still alive. :)  I’ve just been busy living life. However, posting more frequently is definitely one of my goals in 2016 so wish me luck!

This particular entry is a result of my recently coming across an article entitled “5 Ways to Keep Musicians Coming Back (& your seats full!)”that truly spoke to me.  The process of booking gigs remains a frustrating and befuddling one.  I would like to say I “get it” and am a pro at securing gigs, but my recent experiences reminded me that plenty about the process still leaves me scratching my head.  This article took a different approach than other articles which generally provide suggestions to artists in how to book gigs.  This article is addressing club owners and promoters. It’s about time since it is a mutually beneficial dynamic! Therefore, I had to share this article in my blog entry. Please read it and share your feedback:

“We live in an age where DIY (Do It Yourself) is the name of the game. The music industry is no exception. Companies like CD Baby and Disc Makers along with music blogs, podcasts and websites such as “Ari’s Take”, “Indie on the Move” and “Music Think Tank” provide musicians of all genres with the dos & don’ts on how to navigate and succeed in the world of music entertainment. From songwriting to distributing their newly-recorded projects, the information is readily available.

What’s interesting is how most of the information found in these articles, blogs and/or posts are directed at only the musicians: what is considered correct ‘etiquette’ to use to successfully book shows and sell their recordings. Very seldom if ever, is attention placed on the owners, promoters and/or booking agents responsible for filling the seats at these venues featuring live music; and to keep these patrons coming back for more.

Well not this one!

Here are 5 ways that venue owners/promoters can not only bring quality musicians to their doors but can also build a relationship with them to secure their return.

#1 – RESPOND in a timely manner. Whatever method your venue uses to accept musical artists’ submissions and to communicate with them, answer their emails and/or voice mail messages. Whether you’re interested in booking them at your place or not, let them know! Vocalists/bands may contact several venues simultaneously in order to book gigs and fill their calendars. It’s first come, first serve! Whichever club offers them the most acceptable booking gets their attention and their confirmation for a performance! A musicians’ time is valuable too.

#2 – TREAT ALL MUSICIANS/BANDS THE SAME regardless of their popularity or level of fame. Don’t bend over backwards to cater to the Grammy Award nominees but barely recognize the local unrecorded musical artist. That same unknown could very well refuse to perform at your club once their notoriety builds.

#3 – Actually LISTEN to the vocalist’s or bands’ music before declining or accepting them to play your venue. You don’t know what great music you may miss out on presenting to your patrons. Also, how foolish do you look referring to a male vocalist as ‘she’ just because you haven’t bothered to listen to their music?

#4 – OFFER the musicians REALISTIC MONETARY COMPENSATION for playing your venue. Giving a four-piece band $40 to do a 60 – 90  minute set on a Friday or Saturday night is an insult to not only their talent, but to the use of their time as well.  Even though free meals, free drinks and/or comp tickets may be included, nothing beats being paid fairly. Nothing worse than trying to get something for nothing.

#5 – Once the decision is made to book a group at your venue, BE SPECIFIC AND HONEST about your venue and the upcoming performance without the band or their manager having to beg for it. Is the backline equipment operating properly? When will the venue be open for sound-check? Who will be the contact person? How will they be paid, cash or check? It makes the entire gig run smoother and lessens the chance for mishaps and malfunctions.

Remember, the club owner – musician relationship is one of mutual benefit: venues need artists to fill the seats and bring in the money;  artists need venues to perform in to assist in promoting their music and to be paid. One role is no more important or necessary than the other. In order to get and keep the venue’s seats full, there can be no room for egos or “superstar” bravado; only mutual respect.

Remember, MUSICIANS HAVE A CHOICE TOO!”

 

1 Year Anniversary of "Colors of Life"!

 

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Over two weeks ago I celebrated a major milestone in my music career….the one year anniversary of the release of my sophomore album “Colors of Life” on June 24, 2015.   Anyone who has followed my music journey the last few years is well aware of the long process to bring “Colors of Life” from concept to reality.  I still reflect on various steps in the process including my unsuccessful Kickstarter campaign. LOL  It’s important for me to remember everything, positive and negative, because I’m reminded to appreciate the end result and give myself some credit when I grow doubtful about my place in this crazy music industry.

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This past year after releasing the album has been a rewarding, eye opening one.  My new music has taken me on a beautiful trip around the country from Durham, NC and New York City to Orlando, FL.  One key performance for me occurred early this year at the California Jazz Conservatory in Berkeley, CA.  I actually paused briefly when I first stepped behind the mic at the CJC just to savor the moment.  I experienced a quick flashback to orientation when I entered the California Jazz Conservatory in 2009 as an inaugural year student.  I sat in orientation staring at the stage trying to calm my rising anxiety about having to eventually prove myself on that very spot.  Now fast forward to January 3, 2015, and I was standing on stage with musicians who I greatly respected preparing to perform music from my new album.  Life could get no better for me in that moment!  Talk about coming full circle.  Then how perfect was it that I started the show with an original tuned entitled “Finally”?!  For those who own “Colors of Life”, you can definitely understand what I mean.

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One of the best blessings that I’ve received as a result of my CD Release shows has been sharing the stage with phenomenal musicians who understood my creative vision and infused their individual talents/sounds into my music.  There is nothing more fulfilling than hearing musicians play your music and elevate it to other levels!  I’m not at the point where I have a dedicated band that travels with me so I’m always worried about hiring the right musicians when I’m on the road.  Thankfully that has not been a problem this past year promoting “Colors of Life”. In fact, I’ve been able to hire top musicians who normally play for other artists/vocalists I respect and are killing every time I see them perform including on stage with me!

Calandra and Jua at Cornelia Street Cafe

I can’t even begin to express how blown away I’ve been by all the love I’ve received from people, whether online or at one of my live concerts.  When the album was first released a lot of folks took pictures holding a copy of “Colors of Life” and shared with their followers on Facebook.  I’ve even had people share pictures with me of them proudly wearing JUA T-shirts.  Several people have reached out to me on one of my social media sites telling me about their favorite songs on “Colors of Life”!  I’ve spoken to a range of people at my live shows offering me positive words and encouragement.  I still think about my conversation with a family at the California Jazz Conservatory whose son was doing a report on my concert for school. He was a young musician and told me how much he enjoyed the show.  Speaking to him made my night because I knew he’d leave the concert with some inspiration that would help him on his own path.

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Another exciting result of the release of “Colors of Life”’ has been radio play on a multitude of radio stations ranging from Miami, FL to South Africa!   I was ecstatic to have my music being played on terrestrial AND online stations.  I owe a debt of gratitude to SO many DJ’s for giving a new, independent jazz artist like myself a chance on their shows.  One of the most supportive radio stations has been a local station, WNCU 90.7 FM in Durham, NC.  I’ve had the opportunity to meet several of the DJ’s who’ve played my music on their shows and do an in-studio interview.  It feels good to have the support of such a wonderful radio station in my backyard!

Additionally, “Colors of Life” caught the attention of several jazz historians, bloggers, writers, etc. which resulted in it being named to several notable “Best of 2014” Lists and some great album reviews:

  1. Ted Gioia’s “Top 100 Albums of 2014” –http://tedgioia.com/bestalbumsof2014.html
  2. WDEE-TV’s “Best Jazz CD’s of 2014” – http://wdee-tv.com/relaunch2/2014/12/04/best-jazz-cds-of-2014/
  3. AXS’ “Top 15 Jazzy Vocal Albums” – http://www.axs.com/top-15-jazzy-vocal-albums-of-2014-get-em-while-they-re-hot-35355
  4. W. Royal Stokes’ “Best and Notable New Releases 2014” –http://www.wroyalstokes.com/2014/12/31/best-notable-new-releases-2014/
  5. 36th Annual Jazz Station Awards/The Best Jazz of 2014 –http://jazzstation-oblogdearnaldodesouteiros.blogspot.com.br/2014/12/the-best-jazz-of-2014.html )
  6. The Jazz Chill Corner Review –http://jazzchill.blogspot.com/2014_05_01_archive.html
  7. Midwest Record Review – http://midwestrecord.com/MWR824.html
  8. The Examiner Review – http://www.examiner.com/review/jua-howard-feels-his-way-from-neo-soul-to-jazz
  9. Liner Notes Lounge Review –http://linernoteslounge.com/2014/07/01/artist-jua-releases-sophomore-album-colors-of-life/comment-page-1/#comment-215
  10. KUCI 88.9 FM in Irvine, CA Review –http://www.kuci.org/show_feature.cgi?id=1339
  11. The Jazz Page Review –http://thejazzpage.com/raves/2014/08/12/jua-colors-of-life.html/
  12. Jazz Weekly Review – http://www.jazzweekly.com/2014/09/xy-voices-paul-jost-breaking-through-jua-colors-of-life/
  13. Jazz Station Review – http://jazzstation-oblogdearnaldodesouteiros.blogspot.com.br/2014/08/vocal-jazz-cd-of-month-jua-colors-of.html
  14. Durham Skywriter Review – http://www.durhamskywriter.com/now-hear-this.html

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Overall the time since the release of “Colors of Life” has been a period of growth and enlightenment.  I am grateful for all the lessons I’ve learned, good and bad.  Each one has taken me a step further in my artistry and this industry. In addition, I remain thrilled about what else is in store for “Colors of Life” and me as an artist! Finally, if you have yet to pick up a copy of “Colors of Life” or just want an extra copy for a friend you can grab one at www.myiesstore.com/jua.  THANKS for your continued support.

 

The Sun Chronicles - "Human Connection"

 

I’ve been on a hiatus from “The Sun Chronicles”, but I’m back! The last few months have treated me well and I’ve enjoyed the opportunities to share my gift of song in locations ranging from Berkeley, CA to Durham, NC.  During my down time recently I reflected on warm memories from these experiences that centered on the breadth of amazing people I met along the way.

I still see the faces of the family who attended my concert at the California Jazz Conservatory and graciously introduced themselves to me afterwards.  The older son was writing a concert review for a class assignment and chose to come see me. I was extremely honored to say the least. He even told me he is a young musician and found some inspiration in my performance. Now if that did not make my night nothing else did!

Another memory that stays with me is from my gig with the Carolina Philharmonic Orchestra.  I had the unique opportunity to narrate “Peter and the Wolf” and sing a few songs to thousands of young kids. Their attentiveness, excitement and energy transferred onto the stage with me.  I found myself smiling often when I saw the visceral reactions by many of the students to the story or when they sang along with me to a beautiful song called “Twilight.”  After the conclusion of the show I got the chance to “Hi-five” the students as they exited the auditorium and their faces beamed.  I was instantly transported back to a time when I was an elementary school student attending a performance of “The Magic Flute” in downtown Chicago.  I remember sitting there in awe of the sheer beauty of the music and longing to be on that stage one day.  As I looked into the smiling faces of the kids exiting the auditorium, I prayed that “Peter and the Wolf” represented the same for them and I felt humbled to be a part of it.

Finally, I was invited to be a special guest in a class ran by a local blogger/music lover extraordinaire, Peter Burke, focused on “Jazz in the Triangle Area”.  Peter introduced my music/artistry to his mature students which included a mix of Youtube videos of my performances, songs from my album and a Q&A session.  I rarely watch my performances on video and/or listen to my own music, but I was amazed at the response from the students as they applauded and voiced their approval.  In addition, they asked me extremely thought-provoking questions full of depth which was a breath of fresh air for me.  Not to mention I was able to learn a lot about Peter’s students ranging from their personal backgrounds to their love of jazz.  I left the class inspired and grateful for being able to live my dream.

In conclusion, as a jazz artist I am primarily focused on evolving my artistry and musicianship, but an integral component of why I love what I do is connecting with other music lovers who happen to support my dream. Nothing is better than making eye contact with an audience member during a performance and sharing that sacred moment. However, it gets even better when I’m able to speak with that person after the performance and connect further.  It genuinely warms my heart every time.

 

The Sun Chronicles - "Individual Voice"

 

“Singers- nothing sounds like you.  For better or worse-there is only 1 of you.  Don’t homogenize your sound by making it just like the next.” – Lalah Hathaway

 

This quote on Twitter by one of my all-time favorite artists, Lalah Hathaway, was shared with me by my manager a couple of days ago.  It instantly struck “home” for me.  The fact that it was offered by Lalah who arguably possesses one of the most distinctive voices in the music industry carried much weight; but more importantly, this quote reflected a key component of my journey as an artist that continues to this day. 

I spent many years comparing myself to various artists whose music played constantly in my home.  Every time the thought of pursuing a music career came to mind I shot it down quickly by saying to myself, “I will never sound as good as Luther Vandross, Nancy Wilson or Nat King Cole. Their voices are SO unique. Who am I kidding?” Then when I did perform I would try to channel specific singers to fit the song instead of approaching it in my own original way.  I still continued to sing when an opportunity presented itself, but I viewed my singing as a hobby and my talent as mediocre because I did not sound like one of my music heroes. It was a tough pill for me to swallow. Even after completing and releasing my debut album “Anticipation” I held onto this mentality.  Plus it didn’t help when people would come up to me after a performance and tell me I sounded just like Will Downing or Al Jarreau.  That was the “kiss of death” in my book because I didn’t want to be a carbon copy of another artist, but felt my own voice wasn’t special enough to be labeled as unique. 

Fortunately when I moved to San Francisco Bay Area and began taking classes at the California Jazz Conservatory, I discovered a lot about myself as a vocalist and as a person. Not only was I challenged in the classroom by professors, but I was able to work with Raz Kennedy, a phenomenal voice coach, who helped me understand my instrument better.  I also met and befriended a lot of talented musicians and vocalists who provided me with inspiration and a supportive community that allowed me to learn and flourish.  I began to actually appreciate my tone and phrasing. I started to dig deeper into the nuances of my vocal abilities and experiment with how I approached songs.  This vital period of self-discovery shaped my artistry and vocal style infinitely.  I emerged from this training ground excited about and more confident in my individualism as an artist.  In fact, one reason I am so proud of my latest album “Colors of Life” is because it documents this self-awareness. 

Now I recognize why I love those timeless artists that I grew up listening to so much.  They were/are originals! There is no one else who sounds like them.  Their uniqueness ranged from the timbre of their voices to their phrasing to their various forms of improvisation.  Yes….I can sometimes hear the influences of others in these particular artists’ music, but they succeeded in taking the lessons learned from other masters and making it their own such as Little Jimmy Scott’s impact on Nancy Wilson’s vocal style. We, as vocalists, all stand upon the shoulders of others who have gone before us, but it is our duty to define our sound to the listening world.  “Thank God” I learned this life-changing lesson early in my career so I could shed the crippling shackles of self-comparison and stay focused on allowing my voice to ring through in all its individual glory! 

 

The Sun Chronicles - "Anniversary"

 

This week marks a very important anniversary in my life as a music artist.  A year ago I recorded my sophomore album “Colors of Life” at Tedesco Studios in NJ during a three-day recording stint from 11/11 – 11/13/13.  I still cannot believe it has been a full year since I stepped foot in the studio to tackle this benchmark point in my life.  So much has transpired in this past year that it doesn’t seem real that 12 months have literally passed since the recording session. 

I still remember when I first started brainstorming on the concept of a new album and figuring out what exactly I wanted to say.  I refused to just record some random songs that held no relevance to my life and did not speak to who I am as an artist.  It had to be just right since this album symbolized a rebirth of my artistry that would establish precedence for my listeners/supporters.  Therefore I took my time to select the right tunes to reinterpret and write original pieces from the heart.  I also cautiously selected the key players to help me bring my vision to life.  Did I have some road bumps along the way? Oh yea! Did I question if I was on the wrong path? Heck yea! However, did the project surpass my expectations? Hell yes! I could not be more proud of the end result that is “Colors of Life” and be more grateful to the gifted individuals who have contributed their time and talent to helping me share this project with the world.

Now it is has been a year since I stood in the recording booth and I am able to look back positively at all the blessings that have come my way as a result of the recording ranging from live interviews on the radio to new supporters of my music journey.  I am confident that the word will continue to spread about “Colors of Life” and my voice will be able to touch many more.  As an artist what else could I hope to achieve?  Filled to the brim with excitement, I look forward to the next year and what beautiful mysteries it holds for me and my music.  I hope you all continue to stick around so you can find out too! Thanks for the support. HAPPY ANNIVERSARY! 

 

The Sun Chronicles - "Respect Your Audience"

 

A recent article was sent to me by a couple of people entitled “It’s Finally Time to Stop Caring About Lauryn Hill.”  (https://medium.com/cuepoint/its-finally-time-to-stop-caring-about-lauryn-hill-e822d4dc22db)  I found it quite ironic when the article was sent to me because the day before I held a conversation about Lauryn Hill with my loctician and her performance in Raleigh, NC.  My first response after reading this article was “Amen!” It “hit home” for me not only as an artist, but as a devout supporter of musicians/artists and live music.   I was elated that someone finally shared my thoughts on this matter in printed form. 

I was one of those individuals who found Lauryn Hill’s gift for song and words simply extraordinary.  When her one solo album was released I found myself utterly speechless at the sheer brilliance of the material. I remember reshelving books when I was in college at the library on campus while listening to “The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill.”  I can’t lie and say I did not grow emotional listening to songs like “Ex-Factor”, “To Zion” and “When It Hurts So Bad.”  I, like many others, kept this album on repeat in my CD player and could not wait to see Lauryn Hill’s star continue to rise even higher.

She then started to take a completely different path than I expected including a possible mental breakdown, going to jail for tax evasion and a serious length of time with NO new music.  I felt a lot of sympathy for her because living a celebrity lifestyle is not easy for everyone and it seemed to be toxic for her.  For years I prayed she would be able to pull it together and reclaim her space in the spotlight with a healthy mindset and stellar music.

Unfortunately, reality did not mimic my hopes for her. Instead I heard repeated stories for YEARS about her unpleasant attitude towards others and horrendous live performances. At first I thought she was just going through a rough patch and would get better. Oh no!! She continued to arrive 1 ½ to 2 hours late to every performance and sing butchered versions of some of her most beloved hits that always left the audience upset and feeling as if their time and money had been wasted.  After all the stories I heard I decided that Lauryn Hill would never receive any of my financial support again. I’m all for giving someone a pass here and there, but not after years of continuous disrespectful behavior towards those who provide you with the means to put food on the table. There has to be a limit!  

To further solidify my stance on Lauryn Hill’s outrageous behavior, I attended concerts in the last few months of two of my favorite artists, Lionel Richie and Maysa Leak.  Lionel Richie is a music icon and Maysa is a veteran of the industry with over 25 years of musical excellence.  Both of these artists started their concerts on time, performed a string of hits and said “Thank You” more than once to the audience for their support. Now if both of these gifted and highly respected veteran can maintain a high level of professionalism and express gratitude to  people who support their artistry then surely Lauryn Hill could at least show up to one of her performances on time every now and then.

It boils down to gratitude and respect in my humble opinion.  No one expects Lauryn Hill to not have human failings and always be on top of her game.  However, those of us who have invested our hard earned money and sacrificed our time to support her artistry at least expect some simple expressions of gratitude beginning with showing up to concerts on time.  To continue to disrespect her audience in this way without any expressed remorse is a slap in the face.  I agree with the author of the article that it’s time for Lauryn’s fans to let go of the old image we have of her from when she released her groundbreaking solo album.  In addition, people need to stop supporting her until she learns how to display appreciation and respect to those who have held her on an undeserved pedestal for so many years.  Lord knows I blew up that pedestal a while ago! 

 

The Sun Chronicles - "Gratitude"

 

 

This month’s blog entry is a result of a couple of experiences that made substantial impressions on me recently. The first is a book by Brene Brown entitled “The Gifts of Imperfection” that I read and discussed as part of a book club I participate in with friends.  One of the major topics covered in the book is gratitude and the importance of exercising it to achieve a wholehearted life. I took what I read to heart and started being more purposeful in expressing my gratitude.  The second point of influence arrived via a “Gratitude Challenge” on Facebook. I was tasked to list three things daily that I was grateful for and the challenge lasted for five days.  It was the perfect outlet for me to put to use what I learned from Brene Brown’s book.  Therefore, I thought it would be a great idea to continue the “Gratitude Challenge” here in my blog since actively expressing gratitude on a consistent basis has already positively affected my life.

  • I am grateful for the opportunity to have performed in a new city and in front of new faces last week in Wilmington, NC.
  • I am grateful for the warmth and love expressed by the audience at the Wilmington, NC gig. 
  • I am grateful to the musicians (JC Martin – guitar, Kenny McKeown Phelps – bass, Donovan Cheatham – drums) who poured their soul into the music and helped me bring the music to life in Wilmington, NC. 
  • I am grateful to the responsible individuals at the Cameron Art Museum and the Cape Fear Jazz Society who offered me the amazing opportunity to start the JAZZ @ the CAM Music Series.
  • I am grateful for the gifted friends in my life who continue to inspire me to be the best I can be.
  • I am grateful for reaching a point of maturity where I can actively get out of my own way!
  • I am grateful that I have a passion that excites me to no end and that I am able to pursue it every single day.
  • I am grateful for all the love in my life.
  • I am grateful for the simple things in my life such as drinking coffee in the morning while I watch shows on the DVR.
  • I am grateful for my dreams that continue to drive me.

I’ll end this entry by simply suggesting that you make gratitude a daily practice in your life. I promise it will make a difference! 

 

The Sun Chronicles - "Check Your Ego"

 

The topic of this blog entry popped in my mind a few days ago after watching one of my favorite reality shows. YES…..I do watch some reality shows. What can I say? Anyway….this particular show follows the lives of a few R&B artists as they work together and take steps to revitalize/grow their respective careers.  I started watching the show because it features artists whose careers I’ve supported over the years. I hoped for no drama, some great singing and a little inspiration; but unfortunately that has not been the case quite often  I will say the latest round of drama served as a true disappointment for me when something quite ugly appeared once again among these artists……EGO! Now I am realistic and know that everyone has some level of an ego especially in the music industry, but that does not excuse people from not recognizing when their egos are out of order and need to be checked.

Over the years I’ve dealt with my fair share of artists/musicians who think they are the greatest thing since sliced bread and don’t mind telling you! I usually find it irritating and/or comical because it’s so absurd.  I do believe to deal with this crazy music industry one has to possess a healthy amount of confidence, but not to the point where it crosses over into “I Am God” territory.  I have an issue when artists buy into the hype and treat others as if they are better than them just because a few people purchased their album or came to their performance.  That type of support can shift quickly and does not speak to the value of you as an artist or person.  Too easily I see artists fall for this skewed reality which results in egotistical individuals whose behavior is often quite horrendous and offensive. I learned years ago that we are all on this journey together and should respect each other as musical equals striving for excellence and longevity.  Maybe I am in the minority on this one, but it is what it is.

On the particular episode of the show I mentioned, a couple of the artists have truly drunken the “Kool-aid” and act as if they are above doing certain things such as singing background vocals for another artist! I honestly was blown away at their behavior because some of the absolute best vocalists/artists in the game have held it down as background vocalists in recording sessions and live shows.  In fact, I just recently saw Academy Award-Winning “20 Feet from Stardom” again which truly reiterated the fact about extraordinary vocalists singing background vocals, i.e. Lisa Fischer and Merry Clayton. Shoot….one of my absolute favorite artists of all time, Luther Vandross, was a legendary background vocalist which led to his solo career. Singing background vocals is an art form all by itself that demands the utmost respect.   I felt the artists on the show should have been honored to share their talents in order to support their fellow artist who is one of the most respected, unique and sought-after vocalists in the industry even after being in the game over twenty years. What happened to camaraderie and sister/brotherhood?

After the episode was over I sat still shaking my head in disappointment.  Maybe my perspective is different on being a working artist/musician, which to me means you check your ego at the door and remain hungry for the opportunity to share your gift.  I do not mean randomly sing at the neighborhood back porch gathering or every time a family member asks you to sing!  A professional artist has to exercise some discretion, but when the opportunity arises to contribute to music of substance, background or leads, one should seize the chance and do their absolute best.  Not only will it possibly introduce you to new listeners/fans, but you never know who in the industry is listening/watching which may lead to additional work. Most people welcome the opportunity to work with an extremely talented vocalist, but the chances to secure steady work increases when people know you are professional, humble and cooperative. To possess this perspective one has to NOT buy into the hype and be consumed with being famous.  An artist needs to love singing, performing, writing, etc. and do it because you have a passion for it.  Those who only do it for the fame usually have quick, fleeting careers because their priority is not about creating timeless music and artistic evolution.

At the end of the day I guess we all get into this music game for different reasons. I undergo reality checks often to remind myself why I have been chosen for this life.  For me it’s for the love of music and to progress the art form, but I am probably in the minority these days.  I just hope those artists out there with serious talent learn how to remain humble, understand the necessity of paying your dues, and not get caught up in a false sense of reality that causes them to belittle others and not honor their blessing. The last thing the music industry needs is another artist with an inflated sense of self creating soulless music. We MUST do better!!! 

 

The Sun Chronicles - "Finally"

 

It has been almost a week since the release of my sophomore album “Colors of Life” and I had to take a moment to reflect. The fact that it has been released is still somewhat surreal to me. I find myself sporadically picking up a copy of the album and reviewing it as if to remind myself that it is not a figment of my imagination! Then as I peruse it I feel a smile form on my face every time because all the dots start to connect and I am reminded that this is MY new baby.

I feel as if I spent half of my life preparing to make this album. LOL I know that’s a bit extreme, but it feels that way just because my life has gone through so many changes since the moment I started thinking about recording a sophomore album a few years ago. I still remember contemplating not ever recording again unless as a guest vocalist on someone else’s project. I was at a crossroads about my music career and questioning if it was worth all the headaches I endured. Well……after this past week I can declare with the utmost certainty that all I persevered through to get to the point of releasing “Colors of Life” was worth it!

Every time I received some encouraging feedback from someone who purchased the album or hear it played on a new radio station I thank God and also those around me who are working hard to make this happen. There is NO way I could do this alone so I am forever grateful to those on my business team who devote their time, talent and wisdom to ensuring my album is a success. When I’ve found myself becoming anxious about how the album would be perceived or if anyone would actually purchase a copy I quickly think of these committed individuals on my team which snaps me back to reality.

Then to top it all off, I was able to share some of the new music this past Saturday at my first CD Release Concert at the Sharp Nine Gallery in Durham, NC. When I tell you the show exceeded my expectations, I am 100% serious! I am not a pessimist, but I was definitely nervous about having a good turnout. People will always say they are coming out to a show, but have found that many tell you that as if it is “the thing” to say, but tend to not follow through. However, I was pleasantly surprised on Saturday when I saw a lot of familiar and new faces in the audience ready to soak in the music. From the first song I could tell people were genuinely “feeling” the music. I saw heads bobbing to the rhythm, people sitting on the edge of their seats and eyes closed in rapture. What a beautiful sight to witness! I felt so privileged to have such a receptive audience at such a crucial show. Then I was super blessed because people also showed their support by actually purchasing copies of not only my new album, but also my first one. A brotha was floored! I can honestly say I left the venue on Cloud Nine pinching myself from time to time to make sure it was all real.

Though the journey continues and we have much more work to promote “Colors of Life”, I travel it proudly prepared for the mountains AND the valleys. Shoot….the valleys make one appreciate the mountains SO much more. The release of “Colors of Life” epitomizes this bit of wisdom perfectly. As a matter of fact, I titled this entry “Finally” after the last song on my new record. It captures my overall sentiment perfectly. Take a listen. THANKS for all the love for my new record everyone.

 

The Sun Chronicles - "Return to the Stage"

 

Last weekend proved to be a memorable one for me.  I performed for the first time at a venue in Raleigh.  It’s a wonderful café with a welcoming staff and some of the most delicious, fresh food that will make you hurt someone.  I honestly had some trepidation about doing the gig because it had been a while since I last performed and the gig was scheduled to last 5 ½ hours! Yes….I said 5 ½ hours! LOL That fact alone had me shaking my head a little beforehand, but I’m always up for a good challenge IF it makes sense.  Let me just say that I’m grateful I decided to do it.

I worked with all new musicians except for one who remains one of my favorite musicians to work with period.  We practiced a “truck load” of music during rehearsal so I was praying to God that we’d get through everything at the gig without “crashing and burning.”  Thankfully the guys jumped knee-deep into the music from the first note and breathed precious life into the songs.  We had several funny moments during our three 90 minute sets including being told a couple of times to lower the volume as not to distract the people eating dinner.  The beautiful part was that the patrons eating dinner WANTED to hear us play and even stayed for extended periods after they finished eating. I was amazed to look down and see some of the same faces at the end of the second set that I saw during our first set.  Not to mention people actually clapped for us without being prompted and then showed us the ultimate “Thank You” by filling up the tip jar. J 

One of my favorite moments of the night occurred towards the end of the second set when the wait staff cleared away the chairs and tables in front of the stage. Next thing I know there were a few couples dancing joyously to our rendition of Joni Mitchell’s “Black Crow.” I was pleasantly surprised to say the least. The musicians and I smiled to one another as we all agreed that we never considered that particular tune a danceable one.  However, it was heart-warming to see people so touched by the music that they HAD to get on their feet and dance.  That moment signified success for the band in my opinion.  We continued to play and have a consistent group of folks on the floor dancing. I think I smiled about 80% of the time watching them enjoy themselves.

Overall I had an extremely positive experience returning to the stage after my hiatus.  I was elated that my voice endured such a long gig and that the musicians eagerly joined me in infusing our souls into the music to transport the audience someplace special.  I ended my night with the booking agent for the venue asking me to pick a date to come back and perform again! I couldn’t ask for a better ending to a fun-filled night of swinging, honest music. 

 

 

The Sun Chronicles - "Honest Communication"

 

Most of my closest friends know that one of my guilty pleasures is reality TV. A few of my favorite reality shows follow the lives of successful recording artists.  A part of my interest is simply to see how they live their daily lives amidst a busy recording/touring schedule. Another key part of why I watch them is to learn. I am always trying to acquire new ideas/ways to conduct business as an indie artist and navigate the ever-changing music industry.  What has surprised me is that I’ve found myself repeatedly shocked at some artists’ behavior when it comes to communicating with individuals on their business team and not taking ownership of their actions.

The primary purpose of an artist’s team is to support him/her in their professional endeavors and help in executing the artist’s master vision.  However, for the team to operate efficiently and effectively the artist has to be crystal clear in communicating with them. The person who needs to understand the artist’s vision better than anyone is the manager who serves as the head of the team. What is astounding to me as I watch these reality shows is the confusing messages and/or lack of communication between artists and their managers.  I see managers attempting to do their jobs and artists who are not being realistic with their expectations.   It’s as if the artists are expecting the managers to not only read their minds, but literally move heaven and earth to reach an extraordinary goal.  To add insult to injury the artists refuse to take responsibility for their actions and blame the manager for every loss or failure.  Then at that point the artists usually are ready to “jump ship” and look for new management thinking that the “grass is greener on the other side” before thoroughly assessing the situation and holding an honest conversation with their manager.  When they show these scenes I always end up shaking my head in disbelief and checking the TV information to ensure I’m not watching a new episode of “The Twilight Zone.”

The key to any relationship in my humble opinion, including a business relationship, is effective communication.  My manager’s commitment and ability to execute my vision has repeatedly amazed me, but one reason is because our business relationship started with our having a direct conversation about our individual expectations of each other.  Have we had some bumps along the way…..Yes.  However, that is to be expected in any relationship. To resolve any issues that arise we hold a meeting, discuss the issue and then take the proper steps to solve it.  We don’t even always agree on the resolution to a problem, but that does not stop us from discussing it like adults, respecting one another and finding the best answer.  Our conversations can sometimes prove quite difficult because it forces me, the artist, to be honest with myself about personal issues including insecurities that stand in the way of progress.  However, I could not imagine having a manager who does not force me to ask those tough questions about myself that need to be answered in order for me to evolve as an artist.  Therefore, I have to do the work and take accountability for my part in MY dream instead of projecting my shortcomings onto my manager who is doing her best. 

Artists need to be “real” with themselves about what they want for their careers and if they are truly ready for key people on their team such as a manager. If they do not want to be managed then do NOT hire a manager and drag them through hell just do his/her job.  That is not fair to all involved parties.  I’m sure I’ll continue watching these reality shows since I obviously am receiving an education on the “Do’s and Don’ts” of the music industry along with some great laughs, but I sincerely hope that some of these highly successful artists “catch a clue” and start taking responsibility for their actions instead of blaming those around them who fight the “good fight” on a daily basis on their behalf. 

 

The Sun Chronicles - "Purposeful Changes"

 

 

As I reviewed a draft of the design/layout of the CD packaging for my upcoming album “Colors of Life” this past week I had a surreal moment. In fact, I had to look at the design a few times to ensure I was seeing what was actually in front of my eyes. I just could not believe I had reached this major point, not only in the creation of my album, but in my life!

To say I have sacrificed and undergone numerous life changes the past few years to reach this point in my music career would be “dead on” accurate. My address has changed more times than I can admit the last 6-7 years including 2 cross-country moves. I’ve had times when I questioned my thought process, but I always kept moving forward and remaining faithful despite not feeling a sense of stability. A song that I often perform in my live performances always captures the sentiment of my seemingly nomadic lifestyle, Joni Mitchell’s “Black Crow.” As cliche as it sounds I honestly feel as if Joni sat down with me and asked me to tell her about my life as inspiration for this powerful tune. However, when I look back in retrospect, I realize all my moving and life-altering decisions have been with purpose. Everything I have chosen to do has taken me a step further in living my dreams and meeting my goals.

The quote that I based this blog entry around struck me to the core because it is truth. Despite the crazy struggles and often-times baffling decisions we have to endure on a daily basis, it isn’t all for not. We have to remain committed to the bigger picture and trust in God’s plan for us because it usually is so much more than we can even comprehend for ourselves. In viewing the design for “Colors of Life” I suddenly understood that every single step I have taken the last several years had built up to the point where I am ready to release a musical statement that I am extremely proud to share with the world. My move from DC to the San Francisco Bay area and now to the Raleigh/Durham area all HAD to happen for me to understand myself better in order to artistically mature. In addition, the sense of stability I sought for many years was within my grasp because it boiled down to a shift in my perspective. Period. At the end of the day I am exactly where I need to be following the path meant for me. I just have to take things day-by-day so I can continue enjoying this beautiful journey and not be shaken when obstacles are thrown my way. Faith is PRICELESS!

 

The Sun Chronicles - "The Music 'Business'"

 

The last few months have proven to be a whirlwind of activity for me ranging from work on my album, gigging, checking out a LOT of live performances, spending time with new friends, and just living my life.  In addition, to these experiences I have been brought face-to-face with the business side of my music career.  I tend to discuss my creative process and inspirations on this blog, but I would be remiss to not address the business component of being a professional artist.  I’ve always prided myself on being quite resourceful when it comes to handling the “industry” aspect of the music industry, but some days it feels as if I’ve been thrown into a Music Business 101 course that threatens to kick my butt on a consistent basis.  What has helped me during these difficult trials is having a strong support system that includes individuals such as my manager to trusted friends around me who empathize with me because they have their own stories about the industry to share.  Does it blow my mind all the craziness we as music artists go through navigating this industry? Hell yes! However, it is a necessary process for anyone who plans to thrive in this industry because it takes the utmost determination, persistence and faith to weather the storms thrown your way.

After spending some time to thoroughly ponder and assess some of my recent experiences within the music business I have some key points/advice to offer:

  • Have a signed contract in place for any and all business relationships/agreements to insure clarity and to CYA!
  • Conducting business with friends can be a “slippery slope” that could prove detrimental to a friendship. It is crucial that both you and your friend are on the same page about expectations and what it means to provide excellent customer service!
  • Educate yourself about the music business as much as possible via books, classes/workshops, conferences, mentorship, etc.
  • Build a supportive team of advisors comprised of individuals you feel confident believe and support your artistic vision.  This is a MUST in my book because you need the right people in your corner to help you achieve success. You cannot do it all yourself. Plus, you need people who are committed to seeing your vision come to life and not what he/she thinks your vision should be.
  • Know when to shut your mouth and listen so you do not miss important information needed to grow and prosper.  
  • Accept the fact that you do NOT know everything and it is OK.  Just learn how to conduct the appropriate research and/or talk to the right people who DO know the answer to your question and do not possess an ulterior motive in sharing it.

The points above are by no mean the “end all and be all” of traversing the treacherous terrain of the music industry, but just some bits of wisdom I have learned the hard way in the past several months.  I can admit if my head was not so “hard” I might have avoided some things, but we all acquire information differently.  This proved to be my path of enlightenment. 

 

The Sun Chronicles - "A New Year"

 
It has been some time since my last blog entry so I am well overdue for this one. I hope everyone’s year has started on a great note and you’re making the most out of it already. 2014 has been a great year so far. I kind of figured it would be based on how I brought it in with family and friends watching the illustrious acorn drop in downtown Raleigh, NC. I had such a warm feeling of contentment on New Year’s Eve that I was ready to take 2014 by storm.

Despite the horrendous weather conditions, I found myself moving to my “home away from home” in Harlem, NY less than a week after NYE. It pays to have great musician friends who travel and offer you the chance to sublet their spot while they are gone.  Luckily, I was in the perfect place in my life to take full advantage of the offer. I basically hit the ground running once I arrived in NYC. My first week consisted of my attending the Jazz Connect Conference which is connected to the huge APAP Conference. Once again, I took copious notes at the breakout sessions I attended and handed out my business cards like a fiend. A brotha has to network, right? LOL I’ve kept in contact with a few awesome individuals I met at last year’s conference so I’m hoping the same this year. I was quite humbled when some people remembered me from last year or recognized me from my music. Those moments always remind you that you are on the right path.
As the conference concluded, I prepared myself to attend two full nights of the Winter Jazz Festival in the East Village. Man…I fell in love with this festival last year and it was no different this year. I will admit it seemed harder to get into certain venues this year like at Groove, but I still navigated successfully so I was able to catch a multitude of performances ranging from Somi, Gretchen Parlato and Rene Marie to Rudy Royston 303 and the Next Collective. As usual I spent the majority of that time with my eyes closed and head shaking as I digested all the amazing music hitting my ears. What made this year even better was the addition of a new set of friends I made on the first night of the festival while hanging at the Zinc Bar. I ran into a good friend and amazing vocalist, Whitney James, who I met while living in the Bay area who introduced me to two other extraordinary singers, Emily Braden and Michelle Walker. We ended up sharing a lot of laughs and music! Plus I also had the opportunity to meet a lot of musicians/artist whose music I own and highly enjoy. To say I was in heaven would be an understatement. One funny moment for me occurred when met an extremely popular pianist/producer who I successfully handed one of my business cards. I try to be calm and collected when meeting anyone, but some people’s sheer talent just throws me. I truly hope I didn’t look like a “deer caught in the headlights”. Oh well….hopefully I didn’t look crazy. LOL

Over the next week I found myself making the rounds at several venues checking out local/international talent and soaking in the NYC music scene. I think my average time getting home was 4 am and I could not be happier. Hey…this is a city that never sleeps and I am a jazz artist.

Then my trip took another positive step forward when I had the opportunity to perform with legendary pianist/arranger/composer Onaje Allan Gumbs and his New Vintage group at the BAM Café in Brooklyn. New Vintage is a collective group consisting of musicians, vocalists, spoken word artists, and dancers. Man…this was a new and rewarding experience for me. The caliber of all the artists involved was extremely high which forced me to be on my “A” game. Plus the venue was packed both nights so I had to bring the heat. The feedback from attendees was extremely positive so I left each night feeling on top of the world.

In the midst of all this I also had my final two sessions in the studio to finalize some vocals on my forthcoming album “Colors of Life.” Both sessions were frustrating at times, but extremely productive. I almost was in tears leaving the final day when it hit me what a monumental moment that was and that the next phase of this project was about to begin. I took some time to reflect on the last couple of years up to that point and had to shake my head in disbelief. So many times I did not think I would get to that point. Not to mention, I learned a lot about myself during the process including my weaknesses and strengths as an artist, but ultimately my fortitude in making this dream a reality. Lord knows it has not been easy!! I will always think long and hard in the future before working with friends of mine in a business capacity again. That can cause some SERIOUS issues. However, I am even more encouraged about releasing “Colors of Life” and letting the world hear what I have to say.

So anyone reading this can tell that I have been busy in 2014! I could not have asked for a better way to start my year and I more than ready to see what the rest of the year holds for me. I know one resolution of mine is to write my blog entries more consistently so I am informing all of you readers so I can be held accountable.  Don’t be afraid to call a brotha out if need be. Talk to you soon!
 

The Sun Chronicles - "Studio Time"

 
I figured it was time to post a new blog entry since tomorrow is Thanksgiving and I am thankful to have a platform to share my thoughts. A lot of great things have happened in my life since my last post, but recording my sophomore album easily tops the list. I still look back on the entire experience on a daily basis and shake my head in disbelief that it actually happened. As some of you may know, I literally spent years talking about this project with numerous people ranging from my momager to close friends to the extent where I was tired of discussing it. I just wanted it done! Therefore, you can imagine the expression on my face when I walked into the studio on the first day. To say I was a ball of emotion in anticipation of what would transpire over the next few days is an understatement.

Thankfully the recording sessions resulted in some heartfelt, honest music that matched my vision for “colors of Life” despite some time issues. Midway through the first day I looked around the studio and felt goose bumps arise on my arms from pure exhilaration of seeing world-class musicians share their talents to bring my music to life. Let me keep it real; I had extraordinary musicians who have played with the “Who’s Who” in the jazz world in addition to being successful band leaders: Onaje Allan Gumbs (piano/producer/arranger), Shan Kenner (guitar/arranger), Gregory M. Jones (bass), Vince Ector (drums), Roger Byam (soprano/tenor sax), and Gary Fritz (percussion). This fact alone had me cheesing from ear-to-ear and thanking God for His favor. Having this caliber of musicians on the recording sessions forced me, in the best way, to be on my “A” game. That is always the beauty of recording/playing with musicians on these guys’ level because one HAS to produce and will learn in the process. This has been the cornerstone of the jazz mentoring paradigm for years.

Back to the recording, as the sessions progressed I fell in love with the music over and over again. Don’t get me wrong, there were hiccups along the way, but everyone pitched in to insure the music soared. Even when I had a bad vocal take, I still pinched myself to confirm that I was in the studio singing this amazing material. It’s one thing when you write a song or pick a great tune to cover, but it’s an entirely different entity to actually record it in the studio with a full band committed to the purpose. Listening back to the rough mixes I found myself in utter bliss. I understood once again why musicians compare recording/playing their music to the birth of a child. It just leaves you filled with an overwhelming sense of joy, pride and gratitude for the gift of music.

Now I’m ready to jump into the post-production (mixing/mastering) so I can release this music to the world. I am overly excited for listeners to learn more about me through my music and hear my growth since the release of my debut album in 2007. I continue to say this album will serve as my rebirth as an artist so I hope listeners take the time to genuinely digest my music and allow it to become a part of their lives.
 

The Sun Chronicles - "The Final Countdown"

 

I will admit I’m a little behind with my blog entries for “The Sun chronicles”, but a brotha has been busy. I will promise to do better so you dedicated readers can know more about what I’m doing these days. The biggest and best news I have to offer is that after a few years of planning, praying and pulling my locs out; I have reached the final countdown to recording my sophomore project “colors of life”. The official dates of the recording dates are set starting on Monday, November 11. Wooohoooo!!!

Every day that I get closer to fulfilling this dream I reflect on the overall journey which has not been an easy one. I don’t know what the hell I was thinking as a teenager when I fantasized about recording a solo album and how spectacular the process would be as if watching a scripted movie. It is clear now that I knew a whole lot about nothing in reference to recording an album. There have been plenty of days where I questioned every single detail about the concept, selected songs, budget, involved parties, etc. I would venture to say I even talked myself out of recording this project a few times. Thankfully divine intervention continues to step in and provide me with guidance. There is nothing like faith and belief in your abilities to keep you on track. My intervention occurred recently during a trip to New York City to work on material for the album.

The second I stepped off the plane in NYC I felt different. It’s as if the electricity of the city shot right through to my spirit giving me a much needed jolt. I was instantly ready to get down to business. My next few days consisted of arranging sessions with the producer of my album, legendary pianist/composer/arranger Onaje Allan Gumbs or as I refer to him “Uncle.” As we worked through each song I was reminded how blessed I was to be collaborating with a master of music who was committed to making my album the best it can be. That helped keep my ego in check and also give me a reality check that I clearly was doing what I was supposed to be doing……preparing for the recording of “Colors of life.” I seemed to grow more excited with each new idea presented to give every single song a distinct sound. I literally saw my album starting to take more of a solid shape which put a huge smile on my face. Plus it didn’t hurt to be presented with an original composition by Onaje that has never been recorded that I get the opportunity to introduce to the world. God is good!

Then to top it all off, I also had arranging sessions with an extremely talented guitarist/composer who I’m fortunate enough to call a friend, Shan Kenner. I met Shan back in 2007 when I released my first album “anticipation”. He accompanied me at my album release in Harlem at The Shrine which I later found out was his first official gig in NYC after moving from the San Francisco Bay area. I asked Shan about playing on my new record, but by fate; he presented me with an original composition of his to consider for the album and it was right on time. I ended up writing lyrics for the tune and now it will be the title track of my album! My sessions with Shan were pure inspiration not only for the ease of our collaborating, but also his positive energy. I left our sessions feeling ecstatic about the music planned for my album and also grateful for the gift of song.

Now with less than a month before I take the mic in the studio in NJ to document my musical journey, I grow even more focused on bringing my dream to life and sharing my music. Despite all the obstacles over the past few years to complete this album, I am right where I need to be and plan on being the best I can be in the studio. I owe it to myself and all those who have supported my dream. Hang tight just a little longer and you all will have new music from me.

 

The Sun Chronicles - "Feels Like Home"

 

The month of July proved a busy month for me musically including an extraordinary trip back to the San Francisco Bay area. I returned to my previous home to be a special guest performer for the concert debut of gifted singer, Janeare Ashley. The invitation alone gave me a special sense of value, but the overall experience sent me back to Raleigh filled to the brim with appreciation and love for a community that believes in my dream.

Though I enjoyed spending time with friends when I lived in Oakland whether at a rehearsal or filling our faces at a local burger spot, I failed to grasp the reality of the community I belonged to. I’ll admit I was preoccupied with my own issues that sometimes blinded me from seeing the level of support staring me right in my face. There were numerous times I felt alone and isolated despite the countless invitations to take advantage of the plentiful splendors the Bay area had to offer. I also came to a point of questioning my place musically and if I was truly making any headway with my career. My trip in July reminded me that there is nothing like being removed from a situation/environment to return at a later point with fresh eyes and a renewed spirit to change one’s perspective.

My revelation started from the moment Janeare picked me up from the Oakland airport with her generous heart and continued later that night as I practiced with the musicians for the gig. As I looked around during the rehearsal I saw familiar faces of individuals who I not only considered friends, but who I respected as talented musicians who consistently provided me with a creative space to feel free. I remember taking a brief moment to thank God during that rehearsal and dove head first back into the music.

During my few days in the Bay area I reconnected with friends over several delicious meals and heart-felt laughter. I was privileged enough to steal away a few moments with an elder at the Jazzschool whose invaluable wisdom always leaves me feeling enlightened. I also conducted an extremely encouraging songwriting session with a supremely gifted musician/composer who I am fortunate enough to call a friend who is lending his talents to help me craft beautiful music for my next album, “Colors of Life.” My trip concluded with one of the best concert experiences of my life. I was in good voice, the band was killing, and the audience shined with overwhelming support and positive energy. I left the stage feeling as if I had won the lottery based on all the love surrounding me.

As I sat in the airport the following day waiting on my flight and replaying my trip in my head, I reached my epiphany. I did it! I succeeded in building a lifelong community while living in the Bay area which included friends and my music family. This was not just any group of people. This was MY community which nurtured me and provided me with personal and creative safe spaces that allowed me to be me. Having this level of support is priceless to an independent jazz artist like me working daily to define my individual voice and be heard by the world. I am forever changed and grateful for being blessed with this realization. I can’t wait for my next visit to the Bay area.

 

The Sun Chronicles - "Produced By Faith"

 

I recently decided to refocus some of my energy to reading more. I grew up reading books like a fiend hungry for information, but have slacked off immensely over the last few years. Fortunately I started on this new path with a book that blessed me exponentially. In fact, I found myself so engrossed that I would pause from time to time as if savoring every bit of knowledge coming my way. The book I am addressing is movie executive/ inspirational speaker, DeVon Franklin’s “Produced by Faith.”

I happened to run across an episode of “Super Soul Sunday” on the OWN network a couple of months ago with Oprah Winfrey interviewing DeVon Franklin. I remembered hearing or reading his name from someplace so I decided to watch it. Needless to say, I was speechless (a rarity LOL) in the best possible way. The wisdom shared that day was THE TRUTH. The result was my ordering Mr. Franklin’s book to see what else would be revealed to me. I can say that my expectations were not only met, but exceeded. I found myself spiritually full and even more excited about my future. Therefore, I wanted to share a little bit of the wisdom that stuck with me from this book that relates to my life and musical journey.

One of the first points that “hit home” is God has His plan for me despite what I think is best or desire. Mr. Franklin compares our lives to the movie-making process with God being the director. I loved the analogy because it made the concepts even more tactile for me. As the director, God clearly knows what is necessary for us to be our best self. Though I’ve known this for most of my life, it’s always been a tough pill for me to swallow because I like being in control. This is one reason I drive myself crazy questioning a litany of things such as not hearing back from a promoter or individuals not following through as promised. I was reminded that everything happens for a reason and what I perceive to be something negative or a failure is truly a blessing in disguise. My responsibility is to remain fortified in my faith and continue fulfilling my purpose because working myself into a crazed fit will solve NOTHING. Not to mention, God always has something better in the pipeline even though I may not know what that may be.

Attached to the concept of accepting God’s plan is a deeper level of patience. Everyone’s “development” phase is different so he/she reaches “production” at various points. This has been another internal battle for me because I cannot count the number of times I’ve known I was ready for something, but I was not given the opportunity such as landing an ideal overseas gig. What I gained from the book was a clearer picture of God keeping us in development mode until we are prepared to excel in those key moments in our life such as being promoted to president of a company or performing at the Monterey Jazz Festival. What if I get on stage at the MJF prematurely not prepared or equipped with the necessary tools to perform at the height of my abilities? I may look/sound like a fool and leave a lasting impression to the audience that will ultimately damage my career. I have to slow down and understand that what is meant for me will come my way at the right time. It is my job to continue perfecting my craft so when God blesses me with the chance to step on the main arena stage at MJF my star will shine because I have done the necessary work to give a stellar performance.

Another key lesson re-emphasized to me from “Produced by Faith” is the toxicity of self-comparison. I spent the better part of my life comparing myself to others and wondering why I did not have certain material goods or was not blessed with certain opportunities. I’d ask God why didn’t my voice sound like a particular singer’s or why someone else’s music career exploded when mine appeared to be stagnant or even why someone else appeared to be more financially stable than me. Man….I used to wear myself out which would consistently restrict me to a negative space. DeVon’s book illuminated the fact that God only wants me to live MY authentic, unique life and be the best ME I can be. Shoot, if I sang just like someone else how would I carve out my own distinct sound?! Duh?!?! LOL

After completing the book I felt such overwhelming gratitude for having acquired such life-altering wisdom. My faith is an integral part of my life and success as an independent jazz artist. Currently I am at a crucial point in my career as I prepare to record my first jazz album and strive to build a loyal fan base. It’s not easy and there are days I question my decision to go this route, but “Produced by Faith” brought me back home. I now feel more secure with my chosen path and invigorated about doing all I possibly can to fulfill God’s purpose for me in sharing my gift with the world.

 

The Sun Chronicles - "Respect the Moment"

 

I took a brief hiatus from my blog, but I am back ready to share. This particular topic has burned on my mind for the past few months. I thought it wise to address it so I can move on to greener pastures.

It started with an exchange on Twitter with someone regarding concert attendees respecting an artist’s request for no flash photography and videotaping at a live performance. I honestly thought this was a “no brainer” and my perspective was the clear way to go. Sadly, we did not share the same view. The other individual felt adamant that if someone purchases a ticket to attend a concert, he/she is entitled to do whatever he/she desires, including videotaping a performance DESPITE the artist’s sincerest request in opposition. Though I failed to be shocked at this response considering the source, I found myself deeply disheartened and saddened at the blatant disrespect. I consciously decided to remain hopeful on this matter and view this opinion as a rare occurrence.

Fortunately the stars aligned allowing me opportunities to attend concerts of some gifted artists the past couple of months. Though these wonderfully creative beings delivered emotionally charged performances, I could not ignore the inconsiderate, rude behavior of numerous audience members. In one example, one artist clearly requested that people not videotape the performance, but folks continued doing so on their smart phones and tablets!!!! I shook my head in disgust and irritation more than once. It angered me as a music artist to think that someone coming to supposedly support my artistry would disrespect it at the same time. How much more offensive can you get?

Anyone who knows anything about the music industry knows the importance of an artist controlling his/her image. In an industry obsessed with the aesthetic, fantasy, and perception; an artist must assert control over how he/she is portrayed to build a solid brand that resists the constantly fluctuating whims of the market. It is imperative! That’s why I find it ironic when individuals who claim to be music lovers and diehard fans disregard the basic request from an artist to remain in control of what pictures/videos are put out to the world.

To go even further, I read an article by Lalah Hathaway that presented the concept of “The Moment” that individuals are missing when they spend the entire concert videotaping it on their phones. This seriously hit home for me. The “moment” occurs when the music being played/sung reaches a point of pure divine bliss when everyone on stage is on one accord. I long for these sacred “moments” as a performer and avid concert attendee. There is something so indescribably pure when this happens it strikes to the core of the soul and proves the existence of a greater power. That might sound somewhat esoteric, but it is my truth. It is the transcendental quality of music that unites all mankind.

Therefore, how can someone wholeheartedly bear witness to such a special musical experience if he/she is more focused on videotaping a performance to post on Youtube?!?! The answer is they do not. They miss that flash of brilliance achieved by gifted musicians connecting on a deep level. In my eyes, the guilty individuals are cheating themselves of something potentially life-changing; not to mention the value of the money they spent on tickets. In all honestly, I attend concerts for the sheer fact that I might be blessed to observe/feel just a brief explosion of this musical rapture.

In staying true to history’s relatively cyclical nature, I pray that people “catch a clue” in the near future and go back to the time before smart phones and Youtube when people went to concerts simply to hear some good music and escape to an aural heaven. In addition, I challenge people who call themselves devoted fans to stop disrespecting artists’ intellectual property rights and support their artistic endeavors in appropriate ways. Get with it folks!!

 

The Sun Chronicles - "Changing Times"

 

Let me begin by saying that things truly change with time. As one grows older and experiences those occasional “Ah Ha” moments, life reveals itself to be quite humorous in its irony.

I had an enlightening conversation a couple of weeks ago with a good friend of mine discussing the never-ending developments in the music industry over the last few years. Both of us being music artists we are constantly paying attention to all the changes occurring so we’re not left behind. One topic that arose was the rise of popular new artists popping up daily who are being played on commercial radio, selling millions of albums, and winning major awards like Grammy’s. We both realized that after watching tv shows such as the American Music Awards and the Grammy’s that we had little to NO clue who most of these artists were. LOL I know that’s sad to say considering we are both artists, but it is the absolute truth. This realization led me deep into thought that inspired this blog entry.

I remember listening to a lot of popular R&B and pop music back in the 90’s. I would save my money from my jobs so I could tear up a record store buying tapes and eventually CD’s. I’d listen to the radio while driving and sing along with what was hot at the moment. I’d always want to introduce my mom to new songs/artists. I recall asking her, “Mama! Have you heard this new song from ………? Isn’t it slamming?” Her response about 90% of the time was, “Who? Who/what is that? What do they sing? No, I haven’t heard of him/her.” Then if I succeeded in having her take a listen to whatever I was listening to she’d normally respond with, “Mmmmm….he/she sounds just like.......” or “Boy please! I don’t want to hear anymore of this mess.” There were a few exceptions like the group Arrested Development, which I discovered to my utter surprise one afternoon when I returned home from school to hear her blasting “Everyday People” in the kitchen. Anyway, I typically looked completely shocked by her ignorance of the latest music. I just could NOT believe she did not know any of these supposedly groundbreaking artists, and even more incredulously, had no desire to!

Now fast forward to 2013 and my evolved 34-year old musical sensibilities. Nowadays it seems the majority of the time a friend of mine asks me if I’ve heard the latest song by newer popular artists today I have the same response. Guess what it is? “Who? Who/what is that? What do they sing? No! I haven’t heard of him/her!” Then most of the time if I take a listen I comment, “Mmmmm….he/she sounds just like.......” When the reality of my answers struck me I shook my head in disbelief. I sounded exactly like my mom. Had this day finally come? Had I turned into the male version of my mother?

After I stopped being a drama king, I came back down to earth and gained clarity. My mom grew up in a time period when timeless music was created whether slow jams from the O’Jays to the innovative sound of Rufus and Chaka Khan. In all honesty, my love and appreciation of music developed as a result of her exquisite taste. She was the one blasting Luther Vandross, Anita Baker, Incognito and Angela Winbush during my childhood on Saturday mornings as we cleaned our apartment. Every single note and chord I heard during those years added up to my firm decision to be the artist I am today. All those signature sounds filled me with such joy that it only seemed natural that I would want to share my gift of music with the world so I could hopefully inspire the same feeling in others.

Based upon this epiphany, I quickly got over my “pity party” of feeling old and out of the loop. I realized that my mother had blessed me with an unparalleled gift of a discerning ear. Granted some of the artists that I listened to in the 90’s were questionable, but many are still jamming today like Faith Evans and Eric Benet so I wasn’t too far off base then. More importantly, as I’ve grown older and as an artist, I’ve fallen back on the lessons my mom taught me on those Saturday mornings about what “real” music is. I’ve held firm to what serious talent combined with unyielding hard work sounds like. Mediocrity is NOT acceptable.

I finally came to the conclusion that it’s “OK” if I sound like my mother when friends ask me about the latest songs on the radio or new artists performing on 106 & Park. I am careful not to generalize because there are some extremely talented new artists who are being recognized by the mainstream audience, but I stand by the notion that the majority of what is highly revered in the music arena today is lackluster and “run of the mill.” I refuse to have my ears muddied with uninspired songs that threaten to frustrate me and make me question why I choose to be involved in this industry. Instead I’ll stick with artists, veteran and new, who I KNOW exercise the utmost integrity in their musical expressions and are not afraid of being original. There are still some shining stars out here. I could not be more grateful for those weekly gifts on Saturday morning. Lesson learned. Thanks mom!

 

The Sun Chronicles - "Community"

 

I’ve been reflecting on my recent experience in New York City the last week or so as I’ve perused the various business cards I received from a multitude of jazz vocalists and musicians at the Jazz Connect Conference. I am still on a natural high from my entire trip starting with the Conference that provided me not only with invaluable information from first-hand sources, but also put me in contact with gifted jazz artists on the same grind I’m on daily. I was in my own heaven as I sat there with my coffee and pastries (only $3.50!!! Bargain LOL) listening to veteran musicians discuss the importance of mentoring young artists to respect the craft or actually hearing what a presenter looks for in booking a jazz artist at a festival. It was as if I was in Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory having the time of my life. The information being offered inspired new ideas on how to approach my artistry and reach more listeners, but I also felt a warm feeling of pride because it reiterated the fact that my business manager and I are on the right track! It’s a tough road so it feels damn good when you know you’re doing positive things to elevate your career.

Of course I had my “fan” moments when I met a few artists whose music I am into. I always try not to come off too cheesy when complimenting someone whose work I respect, but still giving the appropriate props. That being said, I know I smiled from ear-to-ear when approaching these folks. Ah well……LOL I actually ended the conference having an amazing conversation with a veteran vocalist who gave me the “real deal” about a lot of things in the music world. Thought I shared my personal experiences, I sat there like an eager student in the classroom soaking in every single word spoken to me. It hit me during that conversation how blessed I was to have this chance to be privy to such wisdom. Priceless…..I couldn’t have imagined ending the conference in a more poignant manner.

Then as if the conference wasn’t enough, a close friend of mine surprised me with a ticket to attend the NYC Winter Jazzfest in the East Village. I was thrilled because I had wanted to attend this particular jazz festival for a few years, but never had the funds to make it happen when I lived in California. I went out that Saturday night with eager ears ready to catch ever titillating note played or sung. I wasn’t disappointed!!!! I was blessed to witness new artists I’ve never heard before and see artists whose albums I own, but have never had the opportunity to see perform live. My feet were killing me the next day because I rocked, swayed, “two-stepped”, and grooved my way through all of the performances. Sheer bliss!!! I will admit that I said a prayer that night for the opportunity to share my talent one year in the Winter Jazzfest. It would be my honor.

I topped off my trip by attending a record label showcase that I was invited to by an extremely talented vocalist whose album I dig who performed on Sunday. My friends and I thoroughly enjoyed everyone who jammed that night. It was an intimate setting which added to the flavor in my opinion.

As I sit here now reflecting on my trip I still possess an overwhelming feeling of exhilaration and contentment. It has taken me a LONG time to become comfortable with the notion of what it means to be a professional music artist versus it just being a passion/hobby. It took even longer for me to consider myself a professional artist though I love my gift. After attending the conference, the Winter Jazzfest, and the showcase; I felt part of a sacred community that is clearly meant for me. I knew my calling to be a jazz artist was not a fluke and that my place in this community was well deserved. Plus I understood that this path I’m on is so much bigger than me which excites me even more because I understand my responsibility to uphold the legacy of this art form. The beautiful part is I get to do it my way which goes to the heart of jazz, individual expression and improvisation. What a life-affirming epiphany.

 

 

"The Sun Chronicles" - "The Lessons Lie In The Journey"

 

I’ve been thinking more about completing my sophomore album and what a daunting process it’s been. I literally have pondered, thought, planned, and prayed about this album for at least 2 ½ years. It took me forever just to decide on the concept and title. I honestly didn’t think I would ever settle on anything, but the “light bulb” finally turned on as a result of conversations with close friends and music colleagues. Once I knew those key things, I felt I had it all figured out. I’d raise all the necessary funds through a successful Kickstarter campaign, record the album, and have it released by now to global praise. Sounds perfect and simple, right? Has it happened that way? Absolutely not!!

Despite my best intentions to have recorded/released my sophomore album and be on the road with a working band by now, that has not happened. I’m sure some of you are familiar with the phrase, “If you want to make God laugh just tell him your plans.” One could not have told me a year ago that I’d be in North Carolina (not NYC) heading into 2013 working diligently to secure the funds to record “Colors of Life.” However, what I am learning every day is that God has His plans for me; which may not always match up with what I expect/hope, but are ALWAYS what I need and occur when I need them. There have been days when someone asked me about the status of my album and I grew extremely frustrated because things have not moved at the pace that I initially expected, but I’m starting to gain a stronger appreciation for the journey itself.

This revelation came to me recently through a Facebook chat I had with a talented, young musician friend of mine who mentioned how much he was enjoying the journey of developing his musicianship. His words were quite profound for me and inspired me to take a deeper look at my life. During this new phase of my life back on the east coast I’ve had the luxury to chisel away at the concept for “Colors of Life” to ensure it captures my truest voice. I seem to review the song selections on a daily basis questioning if I’ve pulled together the best assortment of tunes. I've actually changed two songs within the last week and a half as a result of my quest for perfection. What can I say? I want to get this thing right, but I’m finding the challenge exciting. I think about the immense talent that will contribute to my album and I grow quite giddy. LOL Thoughts of signing a contract to secure my releasing “Colors of Life” through an indie record label that “gets me” puts a huge smile on my face. Even working on original tunes at my keyboard provides me with a new-found sense of empowerment. Once again, I’m learning to enjoy the journey instead of agonizing about not reaching the destination yet.

I can’t lie and say I’m not ready to have this album done, but I am actively putting more effort into taking every day as it comes so I don’t miss the treasures on this special voyage. I think that’s a healthy way of approaching this process as I move into 2013.

Happy Holidays!!

 

The Sun Chronicles - "Reality Check"

 

Recently I’ve been slipping with my practice routine and furthering my music education. It has been almost impossible to schedule a daily block of time to practice, whether that be working on new repertoire, composing, or even organizing my messy chart binder. I wake up with the best of intentions every day, but realize I fall short of what I honestly want to accomplish and what really is accomplished by the day’s end. Somewhere between the morning while watching “Matlock” reruns and the late night episodes of HGTV’s “House Hunters”, I completely fail in being the practice warrior I aspire to be. Granted I’ve managed to learn some heartfelt Christmas tunes in case I land a lucrative holiday party gig, but nothing groundbreaking. I also acknowledge the fact that I’ve had a lot going on outside of my music career, but that sounds like an excuse when I’m honest with myself. I’ve simply got to switch into “shedding” mode to push forward.

The reality of my procrastination hit me straight in the gut yesterday when I ran across an article entitled “How To Be Mediocre.” Though the article was quite comical it held quite a bit of validity because TOO many people are “OK” with being mediocre musicians or generally living a life of mediocrity. One of my favorite lyrics of all times from a Seal tune comes to mind, “In a world full of people only some want to fly. Isn’t that crazy?” What a brilliant lyric! I’ve always pondered the same thing when I witness how many people are willing to do the absolute least in order to just “pass” or “get by.” I simply shake my head in disbelief when I see it because life is worth SO much more. The legends of this art form refused to accept mediocrity. They dedicated their lives to not only mastering jazz, but pushing its boundaries so it would continue to evolve.

After reading the article I KNEW I had to make some changes in order to jump back on the path of excellence and artistic evolution. I started digging through my bins and yanking out some amazing reference books ranging from vocal technique and breathing exercises to playing rootless voicings on the piano. I even found myself writing down a detailed daily rehearsal schedule. A brotha felt like he was doing something. LOL

The bottom line is I prayed for more time to devote to my music career and artistic growth several months ago. What happened? My prayers were answered. Therefore, I need to get down to the business of taking purposeful steps. There’s no time to waste. I’ve got an album to make and a career to build.

Happy Holidays!

 

The Sun Chronicles - "Unified Force!"

 
Over the last week I’ve been bombarded with the horrific images of Hurricane Sandy’s destruction in the NJ/NYC area. It’s somewhat surreal to me considering the fact that my manager and I barely missed being caught in it ourselves. Every time I see pictures or videos of the flooded subways I think, “Lord….that could have been us caught down there!” My heart aches for people who lost loved ones, homes and personal memorabilia. I cannot imagine how that feels so I just continue praying for all affected by Sandy’s wrath.

One bright spot in this catastrophe is the strength of NJ/NYC residents. People seem to have joined together to not only help one another with food and shelter; but also to uplift each other’s spirits during a dark period. Rescue groups are traveling to the area to lend a helping hand to their fellow man. Celebrities are hosting telethons to raise money to that will be used in the forthcoming months/year to help rebuild. Is NJ/NYC area forever changed? Yes! However, that does NOT mean that the region will not return stronger and better, as long as people remain unified in bringing it back to its full glory. After I sat back and thoroughly pondered what to take away from the aftermath of this natural catastrophe, I realized the primary lessons I learned in relation to my life as an indie artist is being resilient and the power of teamwork.

When I left the east coast in 2009 to relocate to the SF Bay area I was frustrated and upset with the music industry. I honestly questioned if I’d ever sing professionally again because I was tired of encountering individuals who talked a “good game”, but never delivered. Granted I knew what I was getting myself into when I considered a career in the music industry, I thought things would be somewhat different in the indie scene, but I was sadly mistaken. Fortunately my time in the Bay area, starting with my stint at the Jazzschool Institute in Berkeley, offered me an invaluable chance to grow and find my voice. After discovering my voice and realizing what it meant to others, as well as me, I decided it was time to throw my “hat back in the ring” as a music artist.

Once I decided to bring my music career back to life, it made complete sense that I approach it differently than when I was on the east coast. I realized one of the key things I needed to do is assemble an effective team. Most books about success in the music industry discuss the necessity of a team to support a music artist. The team usually may consist of a manager/business manager, entertainment attorney, booking agent, and a publicist. I considered hiring these players years before, but thought as an indie artist I would never be able to afford them. A brotha didn’t have any money to payroll these folks! LOL However, I figured if I was going to do this “thing” then I needed to go the extra mile and do it RIGHT!

This solitary decision has been one of the best I have ever made. I started with securing an excellent manager who is 110% behind me. It doesn’t hurt that she’s my mother, but her work ethic and dedication to the development of my career is unparalleled The other players are appearing one-by-one as I move forward with recording/releasing my sophomore project.

The weight of my decision “hit” me at the conclusion of my house concert in Raleigh, NC last month. One of my friends who attended the performance sent me a text message the next day expressing the extent of his enjoyment of the concert. He stated that my manager’s welcoming nature transformed the house into a “home” for the audience. He was EXACTLY right! My manager’s hard work in preparation for the house concert blew my mind; including setting up chairs, baking cakes, preparing cider, and greeting everyone with a warm smile. Our collaborative efforts resulted in a magical night of music and love for all involved. One cannot ask for anything better.

At the end of the day, I cannot travel this music road alone. I cannot achieve my dreams of performing at the Monterey Jazz Festival and Newport Jazz Festival alone. It will require a collective effort from me, my selected team members, fellow musicians, and fans of my music. I am just grateful to find individuals, like my amazing manager, who believe in my talent and vision. Teamwork can be a wondrous blessing.
 

The Sun Chronicles - "Faith is taking the first step even when you don't see the whole staircase."

 

This serves as the first entry for my blog “The Sun Chronicles.” I’ve been at a crossroads for weeks deciding what I wanted to address in my introductory entry. There has been substantial change in my life recently due to my move back to the east coast from the SF Bay area. As a result I experienced a serious mental block because how could I possibly write a blog dealing with the “ins and outs” of my life as an independent artist when I was constantly questioning what the hell I was doing?!?!

My epiphany finally arrived during my first rehearsal in preparation for my upcoming house concert in Raleigh, NC. As I sat listening to the guitarist solo beautifully over the jazz standard “I Just Found Out About Love” it all became clear to me. I am doing EXACTLY what I am meant to do. I didn’t get to this point in my life by accident or chance. Every step and misstep has been ordered for me to fulfill my destiny. My path just so happens to be a musical one. Singing and interacting with the musicians flowed as naturally as the air I breathe. Not once did I think about the consequences of leaving my 9-5 job or my dwindling account which is a major feat for the grown a** Capricorn man that I am! I found myself lost in the ebb and flow of the music as I savored the opportunity to share my gift one more time. It just felt right!!!

So after my “Ah Ha” moment I knew my decision to leave the SF Bay area and branch out from the nurturing community I grew to love was necessary for me to achieve a new level of artistry. In addition, I knew it was time to start my blog sharing my personal journey as an independent jazz artist. I clearly have something to say so why not?! Plus I hope my story can inspire others also working hard to achieve their dreams while holding me accountable to myself in the process.

At the end of the day my recent move marked a significant phase in my growth/development as an artist, man, and human being. Those of you reading this who believe in my vision stay tuned for an honest look into my life as I strive to achieve the greatness meant for me. I’m sure it will be quite a ride!

 

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