I have always sung from a young age and first started attending singing lessons aged 13. I was a Choral singer for my teenage years, performing as finalist for the BBC Radio 2 Chorister of the Year competition held in St Paul’s Cathedral (London). I even intended to enter the Musical Theatre profession for a while. Therefore I only decided to pursue a career in Jazz when I was a little older, aged 18, and it is then that I started my training in the genre.
Vocalist Olivia Castle
Located in the UK
Years Playing: 9 years
School/Major/Degree: First Class Honours Degree in Theatre Studies from Royal Holloway, University of London
Who are some of your influences? Who have you studied with?
My greatest musical influences in the current music industry are Michael Buble, Jamie Cullum, Jane Monheit, John Mayer and many others. However I have a particular fondness for classic Jazz artists who are no longer with us; Ella Fitzgerald, Nat King Cole, Sarah Vaughan, Sammy Davis Jr and Frank Sinatra to name a few. I learnt the skills of the genre under the expertise of Jazz pianist Laurie Holloway (MBE) who accompanied me on my debut album, Siren Song.
Who or what gave you the confidence to pursue music as a career?
I attended a summer course led by the Montgomery Holloway Music Trust and worked with esteemed professionals in the world of Jazz recording and performance. It was these individuals, the overall experience and the continued support of Laurie Holloway that encouraged me to pursue a professional career within the genre.
What are your thoughts on what it takes to be successful as a performer? Do you think any other skills are needed aside from the ability to play your instrument well?
Of course musical ability is key to achieving success in the music industry however I definitely feel there are other qualities that are essential. Being humble and open to working with other people and valuing their ideas will always make you nicer to work with. Being gracious when receiving input from others can be incredibly valuable as you never know how they will be able to help you improve your performance- as artists we should always be learning. I also think stage presence and etiquette are very important and for a singer that means trying not to use music, engaging with your audience, microphone technique and thanking your band properly.
What are some of the things you did before your career as a performer became as successful as it is today?
During my years as a Choral singer I was a runner up in the BBC Radio 2 Chorister of the Year final, performing to a panel of judges which included Hayley Westenra, and an audience of 1500 in addition to radio listeners. I was also part of the National Youth Choir of Great Britain which meant I performed for the BBC Proms at the Royal Albert Hall with greats like Daniel Barenboim and Gustavo Dudamel for two consecutive years. In 2011 I was also awarded the Diploma in Musical Theatre (dipGSA) from the Guildford School of Acting and completed my Grade 8 in Singing. Finally I was a Choral Scholar for a little while at Royal Holloway University.
Aside from those great experiences I have been gigging and performing to get as much experience as I possibly can, which includes taking part in theatrical shows. When I was 17 I played Dorothy in a production of The Wizard of Oz, which is where I first met the celebrated composer Denis King. This experience remains special to me and is a significant reason why Over the Rainbow features on my first album, Siren Song.
What are some of your goals musically for the future?
My long-term aim is to become an established recording artist. I treasure the process of putting together an album; choosing tracks, making arrangements, the meticulous recording procedure and then being able to distribute your sound around the world. I think it is a great joy of the modern era that creativity can be so easily shared nowadays.
Through doing this I would love to bring Jazz back to a contemporary mainstream audience. I believe the genre has so much to offer and definitely deserves a more prominent place in the current music industry. I am a big fan of crossover Jazz artists and I think this approach is a great way to make the genre accessible for a wider listening audience.
What inspires you to continue to pursue music? Have you ever come close to giving up and if you did, how did you overcome it?
The happiness I derive from music, singing in particular, is what keeps me going. However, although getting personal satisfaction is very important, it is also the enjoyment of an audience or a listener that is rewarding. Singing is something I absolutely love to do, more than anything in the world, and so in my opinion, you only live once and should use this precious life to do something you really enjoy.
Since embarking on a career as a professional singer I have fortunately not been in a situation where I want to stop yet. However I was definitely dubious about starting such an unpredictable venture. It was the interest from a London music producer that gave me the confidence and the belief in myself that I could achieve my dream.
What are some of the things you enjoy most about your career as a performer/recording artist?
I love meeting and working with other talented musicians; it is amazing what you can create musically when you pool resources and individual ability. I also like the adrenaline rush of performing live and the accompanying delight in making an audience smile as a result of singing. It doesn’t get better than that.
Do you write music? Where do you get your inspiration?
I have not written any of my own repertoire yet but I have a great young Jazz pianist I am collaborating with soon and we intend to attempt writing some songs.
What was your lamest gig and how did you learn from it? What was the best?
I’m not sure I have ever had gigs that have completely flopped but I have no doubt that will come- it is a rite of passage for every performer. I have performed Jazz music in a couple of churches and as you can imagine, with large English stone churches, it didn’t sound right at all. My best gigs are always when I perform with Laurie Holloway and his trio. It is such a thrill to work with someone so breathtakingly talented.
Hobbies other than Music:
I have a qualification in Wedding Planning in addition to my degree, so I love everything to do with that industry. I also like reading, scrap-booking and I do charity work from time to time.
What would your advice be for an up and coming, young musician?
Give it your best shot while you can- don’t live with regrets. Also be gracious when people want to help you- some of my most valuable musical progressions have emerged from constructive criticism.
I have just launched my debut album so no new recordings in the pipeline at this moment but give me a few more months and I’m sure I will be itching to get back in the studio. I am taking part in some music festivals in England this summer.
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Shannon Kennedy is a vocalist and saxophonist living in Southern California. She is author of "The Album Checklist" and the founder of Teen Jazz. She has been contributing articles to music magaizines and websites since 2004.
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