One of the things I’m able to do more of during this pandemic is discover new music. 😊
Artists don’t (and likely won’t) stop creating, and that can be a good thing.
One such artist is jazz pianist Cheryl Ann Spencer. “The pandemic allowed me to rest and explore new voicings for jazz,” she admits.
“I used the pandemic to learn the drums and bass guitar. I aim to be well-rounded and knowledgeable about other instruments too.”
But that’s just her. What if she wants to collaborate with other artists and musicians as well?
Cheryl made it all work, and the result is Singapore jazz band Evolution Quartet’s debut jazz album, Reflections.
Evolution Quartet is made up of Cheryl, pianist and band leader; Fabian Lee, bassist; Tamagoh, drummer; and Rit Xu, flutist. The album also includes contributions by guest artist Alex Sipiagin, trumpeter.
“Alex is based in New York and Rit Xu was in New York pursuing his Masters degree,” Cheryl notes. “It wasn’t easy to get everyone together, but we made it eventually!”
The finished product is proof. “The whole album is about the joys, heartaches and excitement in life,” she muses.
“I would recommend ‘My Favourite Things’ to those who grew up with the Sound of Music. Then, I would recommend ‘Shoe Shopping’, ‘Rainbow (Arco Iris)’ and ‘My Papa’ for first-time jazz listeners.
“‘Reflections’, ‘Evolution’ and ‘Magic Carpet’ have more complex harmonies, and are great for seasoned jazz listeners who appreciate modern jazz.”
The long road
Given the current situation, it’s amazing how Cheryl and the band were able to reach this point and finally have the opportunity to share their work.
“It has been a surreal experience pursuing jazz music formally – even producing an album while attending to my duties as a mother with two kids,” she reveals.
“I was a full-time banker in London before I left the profession to take care of my family. In this endeavour, I had to forgo lots of leisure time for practice sessions. My kids also go out less because I need to sit by the piano and crunch my way through. The first six months to one year were particularly difficult. I would practice till midnight every day, but my family and Christian faith kept me going.”
So did her fellow bandmates. “I had to produce good compositions, and I needed to turn these compositions into reality. I spent a lot of time writing out the scores and harmony,” Cheryl relates.
“I wrote different compositions featuring different instruments. My band had to test the harmony, rhythm, tempo and melody as well.
“My musicianship improves whenever I allow myself to face the real challenges of playing and recording music with good musicians,” she emphasises.
“It is not easy to record an album; you need to open your ears big and wide, and you need to improvise on the spot as well. Therefore, the brain must be sharp and alert.”
Now that they have Reflections on their hands, there’s one thing left to do: perform the tracks (plus Cheryl’s own jazz pieces). That is, when it becomes possible.
Where would Cheryl love to play? (This would also give us an idea of where we might catch them soon.)
“It has lots of history, and I would love to perform there as well,” she states.
“My father used to bring us to Victoria Concert Hall all the time. I really have great memories there.”
“I would like to perform the pieces at the Esplanade Recital Studio in an intimate setting. This would allow me to connect with my audience.”
#3 Shaw Foundation Symphony Stage
This is located at the Singapore Botanic Gardens. “I love the lush greenery,” Cheryl says.
“This is a premier jazz club in the Dempsey area.”
“I love the colonial setting and it suits jazz.”
What have you been listening to?
Love Reflections? If you need other suggestions for your playlist, look at Cheryl’s. 😊
“I’ve been listening to Brad Mehldau, Chick Corea, Herbie Hancock, Aaron Parks, Kenny Barron, McCoy Tyner, Barry Harris, Robert Glasper, Sasha Mashin, Keith Jarrett, Debussy, Rachmaninov, Tchaikovsky... it’s endless!”
Playing them often keeps her feeling good and grounded. “We need to feed our brains with the right sounds in order to play good music,” she observes.
“Jazz harmony runs deep in my veins. It awakens my senses and I feel so motivated and joyous.”
And it’s not just that. Cheryl also realised a few things throughout her journey and with Reflections.
#1 Hard work works
“We need to be patient with ourselves. It cannot be rushed. Improvements will be visible at every six-month mark if you practice hard and daily.”
#2 It’s okay to fail
“Life is short, live it to the fullest. Failure makes us stronger,” she adds.
“We won’t know the outcome unless we try, and I believe in doing everything with my utmost excellence. I do not compete with anyone but myself.”
#3 Be kind to yourself
“We don’t need to be someone else. I finally found my own sound and touch after three years.”
#4 Believe in yourself
“People will criticise your playing and style, but you need to be confident to know if it’s true. If it is, take it positively and improve.”
#5 Surround yourself with positive people who support you
Cheryl has her family and bandmates. And because of that, we now have Reflections to listen to and enjoy. 😊