|Deelee Dubé. Photo credit: Eddie Aidoo Photography|
South London-born vocalist DEELEE DUBÉ recently won the 2016 Sarah Vaughan International Jazz Vocal Competition, where the judges included Dianne Reeves, Christian McBride and Sheila Jordan. As John Schreiber President and CEO of the New Jersey Performing Arts Center tweeted when she won the prize: “Authentic, swinging, soulful: Here’s to Deelee Dube, NJPAC’s 5th Sarah Vaughan vocal comp winner! The Divine One is smiling from on high!”
In this interview Deelee talks about her singing, tells the story of how she got involved in the competition, and how she walked away with the top prize, and looks forward to January 4th at the 606. Interview by Laura Thorne (*)
LondonJazz News: First, naturally, many congratulations on your win Sarah Vaughan competition? How does the competition process work?
Deelee Dubé: Thank you very much. I am delighted! There were three preliminary rounds before the finals which also served as a build up and preparation towards the final stage. For the first round applicants were asked to provide three audio samples of their performances, including one Sarah Vaughan cover song. The selection of songs had to adhere to a certain criteria and format in the order to qualify for entry into the competition. I submitted a ballad, a medium tempo standard/blues, and an up tempo standard which included an (10 bar) scat portion.
Once the songs were submitted, there was a period where voting took place which mainly involved social media platforms such as Facebook, Instagram and Twitter, so at this stage the public were entitled to vote for any applicant of their choice. This year I have learned that there were over 7,500 votes cast and a total of 145 were deemed eligible submissions from 23 different countries! I think the most testing moment for me was the waiting period where all applicant submissions were under review, although I felt quite relaxed and reassured within myself, I often found my inner perfectionist questioning my vocal approach about areas of improvement of performance and fine tuning. I have always been a sturdy self-critic, and it has often worked to my advantage.
Then it came as a wonderful surprise when I suddenly received the message that I had been selected as one of the five finalists.
LJN: What happened once you had got through that first phase?
The next stage, the ‘social vote’ consisted of an even more challenging task, but also fun in all respects! As a finalist, I was expected to share and promote one of my tracks on social media platforms and gather up as many votes as possible, where friends, fans and family were allowed to cast one vote each day. All finalists were asked to do the same, and this in my opinion served as a lead up toward the actual competition, because it highlighted many aspects related to the nature of the competition and what really mattered most- the potential of all the contestants’ vocal ability, and the overall appeal of how well the contestant was able to sell themselves, generate interest and awareness and gather momentum about the competition through appealing to the audience through social media.
LJN: How did you first find out about the competition and decide to enter it?
DD: I actually came across this great competition via social media, and joined all the way back 2012. I have made previous attempts to enter, but hadn’t focused enough in order to go all the way. This time around, I focused and made an effort, with no real expectations at all but just to be myself, and just found the whole experience to be both positively challenging and exhilarating! I also knew where the competition really mattered most which was onstage before the real judges and audience, and although I’d consider myself to be quite an uncompetitive type of person main the reason why I entered in the first place was to challenge myself where it mattered most- out there, onstage in front the audience and the lights.
LJN: The judges included jazz heavyweights Christian McBride, Dianne Reeves & Sheila Jordan. How did it feel to perform in front of such accomplished jazz artists, what was going through your mind?
DD: Jazz heavyweights indeed! To be honest, most of the time when I am onstage I happen to be in a state of total immersion where I’d become completely engrossed in the performance and the song itself, and in doing so I engage with the audience in a way which causes me to blank out! So I am often unable to remember what I was thinking or whether I was thinking anything at all. If anything, I do not think, I just ‘feel’. It’s such a poignant moment that as an artist performer you either become the song in order to connect and engage with the audience, and this is the moment where I feed off the energy from the audience, almost as if its a form of a reciprocated and recharging experience which enables me to give more, and I feel good in doing so..
LJN: Traditionally, jazz is thought of as an American music form, but the UK has a thriving jazz scene. What is your take on that?
DD: I love to listen (to music) and learn, and in doing so I feel that I am honouring the greats that came before me. Jazz is a beautiful American art form which lends itself well to transcending boundaries, because it holds no limits and is open to interpretation respectfully. The heart of Jazz lies in the soul, and I believe that jazz is about freedom and individuality, it does not discriminate although it’s foundations belong to the African American culture because jazz stems from blues and soul, and its roots are instilled in the African American culture and people. That’s not to say that it cannot be transcended, because it evidently can, but that can only be successfully achieved through meticulous listening and study with passion and sincerity. What makes jazz inherently American is the way of life from which it stems, and the way in which its cultural elements merge, the rhythm, the spirit, passion, the sassiness, the swing and the nuances of life and the freedom that it renders an artist in order to allow them to be as real and individual as they ought to be is what jazz is all about.
Also the improvisational characteristics of Jazz derive from a heritage of and tolerance, resistance and freedom. Life experience is expressed through jazz and through its raw intensity the listener engages and draws into the inspiration of the given moment. The effect of jazz music is nuanced by the social, cultural and political situation of its time/ listeners- the people, and it is an international phenomenon which has a rich artistic heritage, a product of cultural collaboration and a universal language, which serves as a conversation that any skilled artist and musician can become involved in.
LJN: We understand that you attended the Brit School and have credited your teacher Clare Foster and others as being important contributors to your development (LINK)?
DD: I have always been partial to continuous learning through studying my craft in order to further enhance my professional development. It is an on-going journey.
I took lessons with Clare Foster whilst studying my degree in music, but previous to this I also had taken singing and musicianship classes with Anton Browne whilst studying at the Brit School.
I often attend Estill Voice Training courses which used to take place at the Royal Academy of Music, and for the past couple of years I have been mentored and taught musicianship through acclaimed tenor saxophonist Renato D’Aiello whilst also receiving lessons every now and then from renowned Jazz vocalist Rachel Gould.
LJN: As part of the Sarah Vaughan Jazz Competition win, you have been awarded a record deal with Concord Music Group (as well as a cash prize). We imagine that all of this is still sinking in…
DD: Yes, well it is beginning to sink in ever so gradually now as time progresses and things happen. I feel honoured to have won this amazing competition, and has been an amazing experience, one which I’ll always have fond memories of as part of this journey of mine. I am also privileged to have been the first British Jazz artist to have won the first prize and honoured to be continuing this great legacy of authenticity that reflects in Sarah Vaughan’s artistry. I hope this will inspire other aspiring [jazz] singers to be fearless and daring in their approach, and to utilise the stage as a platform to gain as much experience and exercise as possible, be open minded and learn from your surroundings as well as the musicians you work with, hang out and enjoy the ride! To quote Sassy’s very own words “Get on that road and work, and you believe me it’s good exercise out there onstage.” Jazz is life, and its is what it is.
LJN: Finally, please tell us about the January 4th gig at the 606…
DD: The line up will be Renato D’Aiello on Tenor Sax, Gabriel Latchin on piano, Jay Dervish on double bass, and Alfonso Vitale on drums.
LJN: And what music will you and the band be performing?
DD: We’ll be paying homage to Sarah Vaughan and I’ll be singing arrangements from the Great American Songbook
LJN: Thanks – we’re looking forward to this!
(*) Laura Thorne is marketing manager of the 606 Club