Almaty, Kazakhstan - Recently, Jazz Vocalist Michelle Walker returned from completing a 12 city tour across Kazakhstan. While there she got a chance to sit down with journalist Roman Raifeld for an interview that appears now in the April 2017 edition of Esquire Magazine KZ. Below is the English translation of her interview.
"The Rules of Life": Interview with New York based Jazz Vocalist Michelle Walker.
MY PARENTS: My parents. If they had their way, I would be sitting in a nice office somewhere reviewing the latest trends in economic forecasts, not singing jazz. I followed my dream. It's hard for my family to understand my unwavering passion but they support me.
MY BUSINESS LIFE: I may be in the middle of life, but I feel like it's just the beginning. When I arrive in a new city, I typically and barely have enough time to communicate with the new jazz musicians I will be playing with and set the sound check in the new room I will perform, rehearse and prepare for the performance. I want to change this so that I have time to talk with ordinary people. The lovely locals folks attending the show to understand their life and see how life is for them. I am visiting many parts of the world most Americans will never visit. I want to learn as much as I can as a world traveler. Music is not just business, it's an adventure and fun for me.
MY PERSONAL LIFE: I think I consist of two parts; One half of me is artistic, the other is analytical. I need to consistently find ways to feed them both. When I can find the time, I like to blog. Years ago, I was an active blogger. I started to blog not only to educate people about politics and policy positions but to deeply investigate ideas and stories to learn all about it myself. This is another part of my life. I write about the problems both social and health issues relating to women, I encourage women to support each other.
MY FAMILY: I am the fifth child of six. I come from a big family. For the most part I think we grew up as happy children, we had very clever parents who found interesting ways to keep us occupied. My father was a military man and my mother insisted that we all the family always move with him from base to base around the world. Most of my childhood memories are related to the packaging of things. I had to learn how adapt quickly to new schools and friends. Couldn't dwell on the past and the loss of friends because new friends were just around the corner. I think this is why my older Sister is my best friend, I think she'd say the same of me. There is no day that I do not receive an email from her, SMS, a Skype call or a greeting in Facebook. She is our family's little general. I love her most of all on this planet, except maybe my mom.
MY OUTLOOK ON LIFE: I try to be positive, but the new president and his vice-president do not have much respect for women so that worries me as they come into power. What can you say if the vice-president comments on the women's protest marches with the phrase: "Why did husbands let their wives leave the house for this march?" It's a level of ignorance and social insanity I did realize existed.
MY OUTLOOK ON LOVE: We need to love. Love is one of the most important things that you can experience in your life. It is learning to love and not some fancy degree you earn in college, that can allows you to feel part of humanity. Like I wrote in one of my new songs, Human Touch, it's all about human "connectivity". So, If through my songs I will be able to achieve this idea, to reach out to people and connect with them, I will consider my mission accomplished on Earth.
Love has changed me. I was an ordinary young American, going through the motions of life working hard at University, studying music, preparing for good citizens life of work portion of my life, etc. until I met a man who seemed to jolt me awake from some hum drum slumber. Looking back, it was like I was some sort of robot, with work blinders on, nothing seemed to touch me; I felt no feelings. And although the relationship was not successful, it taught me a lot. I will never return to that robotic mentality that I had before.
MY LISTENERS: I am a singer and I must constantly think about the audience. Yes, there are some instrumentalists that do the same but for the most part I think almost all singers think about their audience. Once I talked to this one drummer, and I asked him: when was the last time you looked at the in public eye while onstage? Never. Why? His answer was not surprising at all, just what I expected but nonetheless it felt "off putting" to hear him say they came to listen to me, not him. That he doesn't have to build an instant relationship with them like l had. I wonder how many others feel this way?
MY UNIQUE GIFT: I am not sure I am unique. I think I like to say I like to share my gift of song. Not sure it's overly unique but It's all I have to give. Sincerely, I believe that we singers have an amazing opportunity to make people feel a large array of emotions. I had a terrific teacher - Mark Murphy. He once said: "You have a wonderful timbre of voice, it can affect people emotionally. You have to reach every pair of eyes looking at you, penetrate their bodies and grab their hearts!"
In spirit, I am a little bit of a hippy. I was born too late to enjoy that timeframe. I do recognize my hippy self gives me freedom of mind, spirit, personal freedom, in which I try to destroy all the walls separately me from family and friends. Walls that separate you from real feelings, emotions. My philosophy of life is When you meet a friend, try to hug him/her so tightly, as if this is the last time you see them alive. It draws you closer to them.
MY OUTLOOK ON THE MUSIC INDUSTRY: How do I assess the situation in the music industry as a whole? It totally Sucks! It's all a shitty situation that most artists don't have a clue how to navigate. The industry does not appreciate the idea or phenomenon an musical artist. It does not recognize that live performance is itself an art form that has high humanitarian, intrinsic value. All that the industry respects today is the budgetary framework.
Today I earn exactly the same amount of money as I did 15 years ago. This music market should grow at the same pace as the cost of living. Most working musicians I know are the working poor class. But, like many of the musicians I know, in the end of it all, Art is more important to me than money. This music life, this is a conscious choice. Many musicians will tell you that they did not decide to play jazz, that jazz called them. They did not choose their instrument, their instrument chose them.
MY OVERALL RULE OF MY LIFE: Interesting question. I sometimes think about how I got here, becoming a singer. When I was a small child, believe it or not, I was too scared to talk for a long time. Mother took me to the doctor, and he, after having examined me, said: try getting her to sing, maybe, then after singing, she will start to talk. It worked for the most part. I performed in many plays as a very young person. It lead me to go a school for drama. When I was about 13 , I was heavily engaged in ballet. I came back to singing. No matter what I did, I always seemed to comeback to singing. It is the biggest lesson of my life to just listen to what is going on inside of me and stop trying to appease others and fulfill their vision of what they think I should be.
In the end of my life I hope I can say I was an adventurous, pioneering person. Most people want the opportunity to visit popular cities like New York, LA, London an Paris. I enjoy and have enjoyed performing and visiting places such as Kazakhstan, Mongolia, Russia, Israel, Belarus and Indonesia. I'm a jazz pioneer, well, I feel the tiny pioneer in me anyway and keep my suitcase partially packed at all times for the next call.
Learning to enjoy your own life is a truly difficult task I think. Not enjoy a few things here and there but the whole ride of life, the ups and downs. That I think is important to me. To recognize the process is meant to enjoyed.
If I manage to find myself in some off the beaten path township halfway around the world where English is not the language, and can somehow still touch a person so deeply with my voice and the music that they begin to shed tears, open up their soul, Breathe more deeply, well, then you can assume that I brought something into their life that they didn't know they needed. That's all I can hope and pray to do with my life.
Michelle Performs live at Smoke Jazz Club May 11, 2017.
Listen, Purchase and Download tracks from Michelle Walker's latest CD Love Misery available at Amazon.com. https://www.amazon.com/Love-Misery-Michelle-Wa.../.../B0153W5R4S