Friday, 22 October 2010

Jazz on the Airwaves

Yesterday I attended the relaunch party and one year anniversary of UK Jazz Radio.  It was so wonderful to see the support for what is sadly one of the few media outlets for jazz in this country.  There was great music from Digby Fairweather and his band and guest spots included appearances from the excellent Geoff Eales, the fabulous Tina May and a wonderful singer I'd not heard before called Val Wiseman.

BBC Radio does a fairly good job but obviously they need to cater to all tastes and can't be expected to play jazz 24/7.  Here's a useful page where you can find a summary of the jazz on BBC Radio. Looking through this list though we can see that they've also included blues in this list and also that a lot of the programmes are general music programmes that aren't averse to adding jazz tracks to the playlist rather than playing jazz exclusively. 

Then there's Jazz FM...  After the demise of theJazz - a new station that only lasted 2 years - I was so excited to hear in 2008 that Jazz FM was back on the airwaves after its ambush and takeover by Smooth FM.  Sadly, however, it's no longer available on FM (regular radio) and can only be heard online or on DAB (digital radio) in restricted areas.  On a positive note though, apparently it's available using iPhone or Google android apps too. 

So with the lack of dedicated jazz on the radio,  I'm really hoping that all lovers of jazz will get behind and give massive support to UK Jazz Radio - a new internet radio station - that devotes itself completely to jazz and has already attracted 600,000 listeners worldwide.  Founder and one-man operator Brian Soundy has worked tirelessly to get the station up and running and the presenters have given their time to promote and support jazz in the UK.  Please listen to the excellent programmes and most of all SPREAD THE WORD!

(I have to declare an interest here...  I'm one of 9 new presenters to the station and will be starting my "Juliet Kelly's Vocal Zone" programme soon to highlight the wealth of vocal talent on the current jazz scene.  It goes without saying that we are all indebted to the icons of the past like Ella, Sarah, Nina and Bille but I'm hoping to introduce listeners to singers who are currently continuing the tradition and/or pushing the boundaries to contribute to the vibrant and evolving jazz scene today.  I'll post details of the first programme soon.)

In other news...  I've been a bit slack recently with working on the tour but during the last week I've:
  • Worked on the press release - almost finished.
  • Confirmed all dates with promoters (apart from one. this late stage it's doubtful that I'll be able to replace it as I did with the other two.)
  • Previewed the material at the Pizza Express.  Just a few rough edges that need to be sorted before we take it on tour.  On the whole though I'm very pleased!
Next week I'll be:
  • Making sure that I've sent all necessary information to each promoter/venue for brochures/websites/programmes.
  • Researching contacts for local newspapers and radio stations for the areas I'll be visiting.
I'll also be recording my first radio show and working on another couple of new projects.  More news soon.

If I've missed any jazz radio programmes on other independent stations please feel free to post them below.  It would be great to have a comprehensive list of all the jazz radio shows in the UK.

Tuesday, 12 October 2010

Getting the Word Out

I've had a good, although very busy, week.  First of all disaster struck on Wednesday when two of the gigs I'd had pencilled for the tour fell through so I had to frantically search around to replace them.  This was obviously made a lot more difficult as they had to be on the exact date of the lost gigs to fill the slots and also be geograhically feasible.  Anyway, the good news is that I managed to fill both gaps!  It will mean we'll be doing a lot of travelling but I think it will be worth it. 

I've edited my blurb for the tour down to a 100-word paragraph and chosen the photos but I still need to write my press release to send to local newspapers and radio stations.  I've started sending the brochure copy off to the arts centres as they print these so far in advance.

I've also started researching the local press but will be contacting the individual promoters to ask for their list of contacts as it's always good if you have an actual name rather than just the name of the publication or radio station.  Most local papers are weekly though so I won't need to send that info off until nearer the time but for the national periodicals like Jazz UK and Jazzwise, I'll be sending the press release (when I've written it!) off fairly soon as their deadlines are much earlier. 

I had a bit of a shock this week when one of the arts centres sent their publicity request through and they require 750 flyers and 50 posters!  The funny thing is that so often I've sent off reams of flyers and posters months before only to arrive at the venue for the gig and find that not even ONE poster has gone up!!!   But I've found an excellent company that does reasonably priced flyers and it's a lot more cost-effective to produce larger numbers so it probably won't impact on my slender budget as much as I'd thought.

Hotels were also on my list this week.  Saw an ad for mega cheap rooms in Travelodge or Premier Inn if you booked early enough.  But when I looked at the actual hotels in the areas I need they looked a bit grim so I spent hours trying to find cute, rustic B&B's near the venues.  I've found a gorgeous one in Berwick upon Tweed where we'll stay for our gig at The Maltings.  After travelling for hours and arriving at a picturesque location, I think it would be rather demoralising to end up staying at a Travelodge.  It may cost a little bit more but I think I've made the right decision... at least I hope so!

Also had some VERY exciting news this week connected with a new project.  But I'll leave that until another time. :-)

Tuesday, 5 October 2010

10 Tips to Improve Your Voice and Become a Better Singer

I came to singing quite late compared to most.  No school or church choir for me.  So when I started studying jazz singing at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama, I became very quickly aware of just how much I didn't know!  But I was a quick learner and soon got to the stage where I was passing on my newly acquired knowledge in workshops and adult education classes as well as private singing lessons.  I stopped teaching a couple of years ago but am often asked for lessons from singers who have come to see me perform or visited my website.  I don't really have much time for teaching these days so thought I'd pass on these tips to help singers and would-be singers improve and make the best of their voices. 

1.  Breathing:  I know it sounds boring but breathing really is the cornerstone of all singing.  Or maybe I should phrase that differently...  It's really all about breath control.  The most common mistake seen with novice singers is that when they take a deep breath, they end up with their shoulders around their ears.  Most of the expansion should take place in the lower part of the chest and this is known as diaphragmatic breathing.  Sounds complicated but in simple terms it is just making sure that your lungs fill up from the bottom first and on no account should those shoulders be raised.  Also be careful that you're not holding your stomach in.  So often we try to flatten our stomachs by holding them in (especially if there's a bit of excess baggage in that area!) but to breathe correctly, especially at the beginning, we really need to let it all hang out!  A good exercise is to practise deep breathing whilst lying flat on the floor which prevents shoulders from raising as we breathe in.  After you have mastered diaphragmatic breathing you will then move on to controlling the flow of air and soon you'll be able to impress with those super long notes!

2.  Mirror:  I could also have called this tip Posture but I've called it mirror because if you're on your own you'll need a mirror to check your posture and the position of your mouth and jaw.  Shoulders need to be relaxed and down, weight ideally balanced (no hunching and no putting most of your weight on one foot!) and the mouth needs to be open fairly wide with the jaw relaxed.  This is the position that should be adopted for vocal exercises.  We'll come to those later.

3.  Relax:  This follows on from the point about the shoulders - keep them back and down.  But the throat, jaw and chest also need to be relaxed.  I know - it's easier said than done!  If there's tension in your throat you'll end up straining your voice.  In most cases, if your throat hurts when you sing, then you're doing something wrong.

4.  Listen:  It always surprises me how little time singers who are just starting out devote to listening to other singers and instrumentalists.  In jazz this is doubly important - in fact I'd say it's mandatory.  As I mentioned earlier, I starting singing quite late and I'd never listened to jazz much before I started singing it.  But I made up for that by listening to the greats like Ella Fitgerald, Sarah Vaughan, Carmen McRae, Billie Holiday, Nina Simone etc etc for hours upon end.  I also listened to instrumentalists like Horace Silver, Miles Davis, Cannonball Adderley, Lee Morgan, Herbie Hancock and many more.  Most importantly, get out and go and see today's artists performing live.  On that note (ahem), this link takes you to a list of my upcoming gigs. :-) Juliet Kelly Live  And if you're a jazz singer, please remember that you also need to go and listen to instrumentalists as well as singers. 

5.  Record Yourself:  I know it's painful sometimes but it really helps A LOT to listen to recordings and or videos of yourself singing.  It helps you to hear where you're going wrong as it's sometimes difficult to tell "in the moment".  And if nothing else, it will be a record of how much you've improved a few months down the line!

6.  Lyrics:  For me, performance is equally as important as vocal technique.  And as a singer, if you only pay attention to the melody, tone and rhythm you may sound amazing but this may be at the expense of making a connection with the audience.  Of course your technique matters and a great tone and a beautiful sounding instrument is important but as a singer you have the bonus of being able to communicate to the audience with lyrics.  To make the most of this, think about the lyrics and the meaning of them and use this to inform the choices you make about your tone and phrasing.   

7.  Find A Teacher:  This is not always absolutely necessary but if you intend to sing professionally, I would advise going to see a vocal coach or singing teacher at some point.  It's probably most useful at the beginning as it stops you getting into bad habits but can also be useful later on to move your technique to the next level.  Always get a recommendation as, like anything else, there are a lot of bad teachers out there as well as good ones.

8.  Quit:  Okay - I know this won't be popular but if you're a smoker, it really will help your voice if you quit smoking.  There are a lucky few who can smoke 50-a-day and still have a beautiful tone and powerful lungs but these are very few and far between.  Why not quit for 3 months and then if you really don't see any improvement in your breathing, your range or tone then start smoking again... ;-)

9.  Find Your Own Style:  When we first start out it makes sense for us to emulate the singers we love and that's totally fine.  But there will come a time when, to stand out from the crowd, you'll need to develop your own style.  Everyone has a different physical and psychological make up - why not make your unique sound your strength rather than trying to sound like someone else? 

10.  Practice:  Couldn't leave this obvious one out!  Little and often is more effective than getting all enthusiastic and doing 3 hours one day and then leaving it for a couple of weeks. Try to do at least 10mins a day to start off with.  There are some excellent free videos on YouTube.

Wow!  That turned out to be a lot longer than I thought it would be but I hope you've found some useful information here.  Please feel free to comment and/or add your own tips.  And please don't hesitate to ask any questions and I will do my best to answer!