Sunday, October 25, 2009

'Sax sounds like me’, say YolanDa Brown

By Rachel Wakefield
The Guardian

YOLANDA Brown may not be a household name when it comes to identifying popular saxophonists yet, but she beat Courtney Pine to win Best Jazz artist at the MOBOs last year. And then she did it again two weeks ago at this year’s ceremony held in Glasgow, Scotland.

“It’s just wonderful,” she gushes. “I’ve now got two bookends.”

This cheeky sense of humour is indicative of YolanDa’s charming personality. The former head girl at Beal High School in Redbridge continues. “Gaining this award is very prestigious and to be nominated for a second time and win thanks to a public vote is overwhelming. As a musician you want people to hear what you’ve created; but you also want to know that they like it.”

What’s even more stunning is that this 27-year-old Gants Hill resident, born to Jamaican parents, has not even had an album out yet. The votes were all to do with her live performances; and judging by the clips on the internet this 5ft 3in “without my heels” musician really does give her all, playing the tenor saxophone which is nearly the length of her torso.

She references jazz, Afro-jazz, gospel, reggae, salsa, hip-hop, R&B, with consummate ease, even going back to Mento (Jamaican folk music) throughout her performances, but her style and phrasing always remains her own.

“Learning to play the saxophone was a natural thing for me,” she says. “I was searching for an instrument that came from within the soul.”

It all began for YolanDa at 13, when she was given a Yamaha student sax “and I played it all over the Christmas holiday. I just couldn’t stop. My family were really understanding that year.”

YolanDa got to Grade 4 in the first year of playing and then stopped the lessons. “For me it was never about getting grades,” she says. “The saxophone sounds and feels like me; it’s a very soulful instrument. I’m not a singer but the sound of my tenor saxophone feels like it’s coming from me. It’s been very therapeutic especially when I was growing up. It was an outlet for me to let my emotions flow. Now I use it to help connect with the audience when I’m on stage.”

It’s easy to see why the public rate this very personable performer; but it’s not the Champagne lifestyle that YolanDa is now looking forward too. She is currently in the final year of her PhD at the University of Kent. Prior to that she completed a Masters in Management Science, as well as a Masters in Social Research Methods, and her undergraduate dissertation was on: “Combining SSM (soft systems methodology) and DESM (discrete event simulation) in an athletics club.”

Not only that, she has her debut album coming out in spring next year.

So how does YolanDa balance her time as a professional musician with concentrating on her career-busting studying? “It’s not easy,” she states. “I’ll not glamourise it. If you have a passion for something, you will find the time and push yourself.”

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