February 27, 2024

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Interview with Tracye Eileen: The intellect comes into play when thinking about rhythms, lyrics, rhymes and storytelling: Video

Jazz interview with Jazz and Soulful R&B singer Tracye Eileen. An interview by email in writing. 

JazzBluesNews.Space: – First let’s start with where you grew up, and what got you interested in music?

Tracye Eileen: – I grew up on the Southside of Chicago, IL in a neighborhood not far from where Michelle Obama grew up. Singing has always been a part of my life. My first performance was at 8 years old in a third-grade play of “The Wizard of Oz.” That’s when I also discovered that singing gave me life.  I auditioned for the role of Dorothy, but due to my inability to speak loud enough, most likely as a result of a childhood trauma, I didn’t get the part. However, when the faculty heard me sing, I blew everyone away! They ultimately decided to re-write the play and have me appear to Dorothy in a dream as a fairy godmother to sing “Somewhere Over The Rainbow.”  I sang it in all three casts.

JBN.S: – What got you interested in picking up the jazz vocal? What teacher or teachers helped you progress to the level of playing you have today? What made you choose the jazz vocal?

TE: – At a very young age, my mother ensured we all got music lessons. She also played many albums and I became very attracted to music by Nancy Wilson, Ella Fitzgerald and Dionne Warwick early on. These fantastic female vocalists became my first inspirations in choosing a jazz vocal. Later in high school I became a part of my high school jazz band as a vocalist.  In college, I joined the JSU Singers, a performing class at Jackson State University, and joined the JSU Jazz Band as a vocalist.  After graduating, I began a corporate career, but continued to sing in the church choir as a soloist and a couple of other performing groups, while also taking periodic vocal lessons.  During this period, I also did a 10-city gospel tour in Switzerland.  Once I decided to finally pursue my dream and passion of becoming a professional jazz artist, I took a year-long course with The Bloom School of Jazz in Chicago and went from amateur to professional as a jazz artist.

JBN.S: – How did your sound evolve over time? What did you do to find and develop your sound? 

TE: – Even at a very young age, I had a very mature sound influenced by the popular female vocalists records my mom used to play.  Singing gospel at church and in my college and high school Jazz bands developed my voice even more. However, my studies at the Bloom School of Jazz helped me to find my authentic voice.  Performing with my band over the past 7 years and connecting with audiences helped me to trust myself even more into really expressing and interpreting lyrics and emotions.

JBN.S: – What practice routine or exercise have you developed to maintain and improve your current musical ability especially pertaining to rhythm?

TE: – I have a residency at Buddy Guy’s Legends in Chicago where I play once or twice per month.  This allows me to regularly work out new rhythms and expression of various tunes.  It keeps me sharp and connected to my audiences.  I also on occasion take vocal coaching to maintain my edge.

JBN.S: – Which harmonies and harmonic patterns do you prefer now? You’re playing is very sensitive, deft, it’s smooth, and I’d say you drift more toward harmony than dissonance. There is some dissonance there, but you use it judiciously. Is that a conscious decision or again, is it just an output of what goes in?

TE: – I would say it is part of the output of what type of story I’m telling in a song.  It reflects the emotion I’m trying to communicate when singing a tune.  I definitely have more of a harmonious, contemporary sound in my jazz vocal.

JBN.S: – How to prevent disparate influences from coloring what you’re doing?

TE: – My music director and I determine what new tunes we add to the set.  I have to connect to the music I perform. Additionally, when I’m writing new music, I have to connect with the musicality to write the lyrics which are also stories and experiences from my own life.  Also, if I am performing a cover, I only like to listen to a recording of it once or twice and I listen to various interpretations so that when I perform it, I know I am hearing my own voice.

JBN.S: – What’s the balance in music between intellect and soul?

TE: – An interesting question. My music must have a soulful feel, which in my opinion is the only way to be authentic and really connect with my audience. The intellect comes into play when thinking about rhythms, lyrics, rhymes and storytelling. As far as balance, I would lean toward being more soulful.

JBN.S: – There’s a two-way relationship between audience and artist; you’re okay with giving the people what they want?

TE: – I definitely believe in giving the audience what they want.  They often help define you as an artist. You have to be yourself as an artist, but you also have to be willing to open up and give your all to the audience. That is what is needed to really connect and develop a relationship. Even in introducing new music, you want to make sure you play the favorites your audience came to hear. I am very grateful for those people who enjoy my music and make it possible for me to continue to share it.

JBN.S: – Please any memories from gigs, jams, open acts and studio sessions which you’d like to share with us?

TE: – Opening for Babyface was an experience. He was very friendly.  Mary Wilson was very motherly to me, when I met her after opening for her at the Arcadia Theatre. She was very professional on being clear with what she wanted from the sound and stage staff. She also provided me with tips on make-up and taking pics and invited me to her private dinner after the show.  Buddy Guy is an extraordinary man. To be over 80 years old with the strong voice and presence he continues to bring to the stage is pretty amazing. I love playing in outdoor venues whether at jazz festivals or places like Navy Pier on Chicago’s lakefront.

JBN.S: – How can we get young people interested in jazz when most of the standard tunes are half a century old?

TE: – I think younger people appreciate smooth jazz – a more contemporary sound.  I think we should play and create more of that music and mix standards in. It may be good to also rearrange some standards to a more contemporary feel. We’ve done a successful job of that with the song “Misty” in my band.

JBN.S: – John Coltrane said that music was his spirit. How do you understand the spirit and the meaning of life?

TE: – The musician and especially artist like Coltrane are expressing a gift given by God. It comes from the spirit – both the sound and creativity in delivering it.

I definitely understand music as a spiritual gift to be shared with others. You can tell if this is your spiritual gift by the effect your music has on others. If people come up to you and tell you that your music has touched them in some way, you are spiritually gifted with your music. Music has always had a self-healing quality for me as well. Music fills me with a sense of purpose, joy and deep connection to others and God. When I hear a melody in my head or new lyrics, I know that this creativity comes from Spirit.

JBN.S: – If you could change one thing in the musical world and it would become a reality, what would that be? 

TE: – I would make it more affordable or create more avenues for independent artists to have their music heard and appreciated.  I would ensure music artist were paid fairly for the content they produce and record.

JBN.S: – Who do you find yourself listening to these days?

TE: – I love Lizz Wright, Jill Scott, Diane Reeves, Gregory Porter. I also listen to Amy Whinehouse, Anita Baker and Sade.

JBN.S: – Let’s take a trip with a time machine, so where and why would you really wanna go?

TE: – A time when my ancestors where living joyfully and prosperously in Africa. Before the transatlantic slave trade.

JBN.S: – I have been asking you so far, now may I have a question from yourself…

TE: – I’d like to know more about your attraction to jazz and soulful R&B. What you think are the best ways of artists like myself to be known and tour in the European market?

JBN.S: – Thanks for answers. For this you need to collaborate with web sites like us, which you did not want, this is your solution.

JBN.S: – So putting that all together, how are you able to harness that now?

TE: – Not sure I understand this question.

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