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Saxophonist YolanDa Brown Q&A
"At age 13 I found the saxophone and never looked back! It felt like such a natural extension of me"
YolanDa Brown gets ready for the London Saxophone Festival 2018. She's on stage at the Jazz Cafe in London on May 25
Thank you for talking with us YolanDa! First of all, can you tell us a little about yourself - where are you from?
Thank you, it’s great to talk to you! I am a saxophonist and broadcaster from London, England. My parents are originally from Jamaica.
How did you first get into music, and in particular playing the saxophone?
I started playing the piano at age 6 and went on to add the violin and drums. At age 13 I found the saxophone and never looked back! It felt like such a natural extension of me and I loved how I had to use my breath to create music. It felt like a much more personal and very therapeutic experience when playing the saxophone. The instrument allowed me to express myself in music a lot more freely than the others I had played.
The sax is a really versatile instrument and blends so well with a variety of different styles of music - what styles do you particularly like to play?
Very true, I have been able to collaborate with artists across a whole host of genres including classical, gospel, hip-hop, country and the list goes on, it’s a wonderful thing! I particularly like to play in reggae, jazz and soul.
Proving that versatility, you've played with some big names; Billy Ocean, The Temptations, Diana Krall, Courtney Pine, Beverley Knight and the Jools Holland Orchestra among many others - do you prefer playing solo, collaborating or are both just as enjoyable?
For me both are just as enjoyable but in different ways. I love to collaborate and play duets with other artists because it is a musical moment that is special for that time. There is a thrill in knowing that it’s a unique space and that you are creating something special. I also feel creatively free and really happy when playing solo with my band and playing my music. Its a narrative I feel I have more control of and as a result there is a lot more freedom and scope for something truly organic to happen.
You'll be performing as part of the inaugural London Saxophone Festival, appearing at the Jazz Cafe on May 25th. How did you get involved in the Festival?
I’m really excited to be performing at the London Saxophone Festival and indeed to be the Artistic Director of this celebration of the saxophone. It’s been an idea that has been in the making for a good few years and it’s been wonderful to see the huge amount of interest from audiences, participants and saxophone brands wanting to a part of it.
Congratulations also on recently being announced as the new chair of Youth Music! Through the Sax Festival and other projects, how important is educating and inspiring younger generations through music?
Thank you, I am really enjoying my new role and it’s an organisation very close to my heart. I think it’s very important to provide inspiration and education for younger generations as they start on their life journeys. Who best to share knowledge and give advice than those who have been through it and can shed more through light through engaging projects. I have always said you don’t have to be a multi millionaire to give back, we should do it anyway! Every young person should have access to making music no matter their circumstances.
Last year you performed on a special British Airways flight across the Atlantic to New Orleans for Mardi Gras! How was it joining the 'Musical Mile High' club?
It was an experience I will never forget!! 30,000 feet in the air, New Orleans cocktails, seatbelt sign off and all the passengers (and crew!) on their feet wearing Mardi Gras beads as I ran up and down the aisles playing a mix of reggae, jazz and soul on my sax! I think every flight should be like that, I can’t wait for the next one! New Orleans was fabulous also...!
Speaking of flying to America, you've recently announced your first US tour! How excited are you to be touring in the States where Jazz has such an important and evocative heritage?
I am really excited! I have had a taste of playing in the States and loved every moment. The audiences were amazing and really open to having a good time and hearing my music. I keep getting messages online saying "When are you coming to America?!" And so now the time has come. I can’t wait to spend 4 weeks touring across the country and introducing myself and my music to the audience there, so I called the tour "YolanDa Brown - Coming To America".
If you could play with any musical figure from the past or present, who would it be?
If I could choose past and present it would be Bob Marley and Sting. Both artists have such a presence and a unique approach to communicating music that really appeals to me.
What do you hope visitors to your concert this May and the London Saxophone Festival will take away from the experience?
The London Saxophone Festival is a week long celebration of the saxophone across genres and musical approaches. I hope that visitors come and enjoy seeing the different ways that this amazing instrument can be enjoyed. From the range of different style concerts that are on offer to watching a movie featuring the saxophone or checking out the Sax village where they can see different brands, accessories and even try playing one themselves!
With my concert, come and enjoy a delicious fusion of Reggae, Jazz and Soul...
Finally, what's the best thing about being YolanDa Brown?
I think it’s that I get to do all the things I love and enjoy. Play music, travel, meet amazing people and I get to be inspired to do new things every day. I am very thankful for all the support I have on this journey and count myself very blessed and hugely grateful.
YolanDa Brown will be on stage at the Jazz Cafe, London on May 25 as part of the London Saxophone Festival. Find out more details on YolanDa, including her upcoming US Tour, at www.yolandabrown.co.uk.