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.

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.

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!

Anniversary!

1384276013820This 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!

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!

Gratitude

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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!

Check Your Ego!

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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!!!