You can hear her wailing on the soprano sax, digging into the music with a fierce flute or singing from the spirit that moves her: Joyce Spencer is all that plus a jazz radio host. Crediting the support of her husband and family members as well as her strong faith in God, she never forgets the long list of those who helped her career and were wonderful to play with.
Her “Many Colors” CD shows depth and flavor, from jazz and funk to ballad and zydeco.
Did you always want to play sax?
No. I just wanted to be “in music” or in the band like my older siblings. Besides, in the small town where I grew up, there weren’t a lot of extracurricular activities available other than sports, and no private lessons were available.
I started playing clarinet in the 5th grade and saxophone in the 12th. After my first year in college, I switched majors from radio and TV broadcasting to instrumental music education. Later, I added flute and theater.
Your family was supportive?
After I graduated from college, I had to face the harsh reality that there was not a demand for female saxophone players and I refused to “sell my soul” to make it, so I went to work in the retail business and married this wonderful man, LaDarien.
Later, after corporate America and children, I pretty much gave up on my dreams; however, my husband would not let me sell my saxophone. Thank God for him encouraging me to hold on because in 2010, I decided to “light the fire” again and the candle has been burning ever since!
He has been acting as my manager with help and assistance in bookings, critique of live shows and professional recordings, sound engineering, roadie etc. He has also taken the burden of working two jobs while I pursue my career. He is definitely a blessing from the most-high God!
How do faith and gospel inform your music and your style?
My life experience and exposure to multiple musical genres form my musical style. And I believe that it is forever evolving, as I am forever a student of life and music.
Since I’ve had such a variety in terms of challenges and victories, the music I play is anywhere from traditional to contemporary jazz, R&B, funk and fusion, gospel/Christian and some blues, pop, and classic rock with one genre bending and crossing over to another genre.
Everything I do is under the auspices of faith and gospel, which is an uncontested journey of faith and love of the Gospel.
Other instruments – and do you sing?
I play soprano, alto and tenor sax and flute. I also sing.
Which embouchure was hardest to master- sax or flute and why?
Flute, because a lot of the air escapes over the lip plate. I was dizzy for about two weeks before I finally got the embouchure and aperture right.
I never got dizzy on the clarinet or saxophone. I had a great flute teacher in college, Dr. Patricia Bulber, who taught me how to angle the air and place the flute on the bottom lip correctly to control air flow and achieve good tone quality.
Which is your favorite instrument?
What’s the music scene like in Texas now? Were venues affected by the hurricane?
The music scene is very much alive in Texas in cities like Houston, Beaumont, San Antonio, Austin, Dallas and surrounding areas with large and small music festivals and other venues from bars or restaurants to arenas or coliseums; however, I believe all cities in Texas were directly or indirectly affected by the hurricane.
I felt I had no choice but to suggest canceling my event in the Beaumont area after talking to local supporters about the damages suffered by so many people. The venue and I agreed that it was best to postpone the event. Even in the Dallas area where the hurricane did not reach, one of my events was cancelled due to the gas shortage that resulted from the natural disaster.
Why isn’t jazz promoted more in mainstream culture – like in movies, TV, advertising, etc.?
I think it’s all about the dollar. The media is a business and will tend to cater to areas that provide high ratings or sales. The only solution I can think of right now is to encourage jazz lovers to spend money by attending jazz shows, buying jazz music and merchandise. If a jazz artist can pack a venue with an audience like Taylor Swift, Beyonce, etc. can, I assure you it would gain more respect and become more mainstream. Your local venues would cater to jazz if their small- or medium-sized club or restaurant would incur record sales and repeat customers.
But we also have to keep in mind that music has been developing and evolving since the Gregorian chant. Even classical composers included the culture of that time into their compositions from the Middle Ages to the modern or 20th century era.
If we remain in a horse and buggy world, we will be left behind as the modern cars speed by you. Yes, there is still a place for a horse and buggy, like a romantic ride in the park, but the mainstream streets and highways are filled with motorized vehicles with a much faster speed.
When and why did you get involved in online radio, specifically GHP Indie Live Spot?
I’ve known the owner/founder Gary Fuston of GHP Radio for about seven years, but joined the crew as a co-host in February 2017. I created a profile on his radio’s social network where I uploaded tracks from my first CD (2010), and he has been playing my music ever since.
In the interim, I’ve been a guest on the show a few times, and Gary and I have performed on the same bill at live shows in Texas and Oklahoma.
I absolutely love how GHP Radio continues to support the music of independent artists and provide a platform where we can come together and celebrate our music, achievements and accomplishments. So, when I was asked to join the crew as a co-host and report entertainment news, it was definitely an easy and resounding yes!
Where do you source the entertainment news to report on at GHP?
I am constantly on the lookout via social media and other media sources from CNN and Fox News to several online media sources.
Talk about your background in radio/communications.
I studied radio and television for only one year in college. I was always told that I had the “gift of gab.”
Now I wasn’t sure if that meant you actually have a gift or that you simply talk too much, but I do find that I enjoy interacting with people and celebrating their gifts and accomplishments. I also co-hosted another radio show for about 18 months before GHP Radio.
How did your experience in corporate America help you become a better musician and self-promoter?
When I was working in corporate America, I certainly missed music; however, I was comfortable with that, as my family has always come first. I entered corporate American with the self-discipline I had already achieved from obtaining a college degree that involved music history, theory and analysis, along with education courses and classical and jazz studies on saxophone and flute.
I was in the orchestra, choir, marching band, wind and jazz ensemble and a variety of stage plays and musicals. I even managed to join a social sorority (Alpha Kappa Alpha) and a professional music fraternity for women (Sigma Alpha Iota).
I found it’s much easier to work long, hard hours on something that you love. Yes, I poured that same discipline into corporate America, as I have always believed that one should give their best. I had a guaranteed income, but in music I have guaranteed joy and fulfillment. And I rely on faith in the most-high God to make it all happen.
Where do you go in your head when you play?
I go to my heart and soul except when I’m playing a song for the first time or that I’ve never heard before. Then I’m in my head analyzing the key signature and/or chord changes, form etc.
What inspired your “Many Colors” CD and what’s your favorite track?
I have a difficult time with labeling or choosing one genre, as I enjoy, perform and write several styles of music. I’ve been influenced by classical, rhythm & blues, jazz, funk, zydeco, pop, reggae, rap, hip-hop, gospel, etc. and have a tendency to mix, blend and bend the styles.
That’s why I titled my last jazz CD “Many Colors”—-the many colors of music under the auspices of jazz.
This CD blends the musical styles from traditional to contemporary jazz and R&B, along with a hint of neo-soul, funk and zydeco. The most played tracks from “Many Colors” are “ACDC” (a Billy Cobham cover), “Serenity,” “Our Love” and “I See You.”
My favorite is “The Rose of Sharon” because I wrote it in memory of my cousin, Sharon Fontenot-Williams, who won the battle of cancer in her heavenly home. I wanted the track to sound like heaven. The beige rose I received from the cemetery is still intact after six years. Sharon and I were reared like sisters and her death impacted me on so many levels.
Talk about the personnel in your current band.
The current core band members are H. Tyrone Walls (keyboard), Robert Green (bass), Artis Brackens (drums) and on occasion I have a few lead guitar players I call on like George Bond. When a larger band is required, I reach out to Lewis Fluellen (keyboard), Don Roberson (keyboard/vocals) and/or Cedric D’vine (keyboard/lead vocals) and a host of other musicians in my network.
What are the hardest elements of being an indie artist?
Major label artists have a team of trained experts handling every aspect of the artwork, development, business affairs, distribution, marketing, bookings/touring, public relations, CD promotion, studio recording set-up, etc. And, of course they usually have great entertainment lawyers.
Well, we independent artists wear all those hats. Just recording a CD project is such a major deal with both the logistics and financial challenges. It’s such an incredible journey you go through to sell a track for 99 cents! We spend countless hours learning the various laws, securing contracts, building a home studio, learning graphic arts, etc.
Surviving as an indie artist on any level is definitely a sign of sheer determination, strength and character. Over 95% of what we do is rejected, but that 5% is enough to keep us moving forward.
Which musicians have you particularly enjoyed performing with?
I have always enjoyed playing with H. Tyrone Walls (keys). We’ve been performing in the same church choir and jazz/R&B bands for about ten years. When he and Lewis Fluellen (keyboard) are together, there is even more excitement.
Of course Robert Green is not only a great bass player, but he is very entertaining and fun on the stage, along with lead guitarists Bin Lee, George Bond and Joel Cross. Don Roberson (keyboard/vocals), Artis Brackens (drums) and Kevin Vaughn (bass) are some of the greatest musicians here in the Dallas area. Recently, these guys came together with my playlist on short notice and gave a fantastic show.
I was humbled that great local and world-renowned artists like Joe McBride, Dee Lucas, Gabe Meadows, Andrew Jr. Boy Jones with Kerrie Lepai, Freddie Jones, Candy Williams and Don Diego invited me to the stage. I also so enjoyed performing with world-renowned and local legends like Yarbrough and Peoples, Bernard Wright, Liz Mikel, Breggett Rideau, Rachella Parks, Ernie D. Shelby, Judy Bonk, Lala Johnson, Lucky and Tamara Peterson, Lori Dawn, Rob Holbert, Linney Nance, Damon K Clark , Kelley Fletcher, Peggy Hornea, Shelley and Verb Carrol, Carolyn Lee Jones, Jimi Towry, David McLorren, Sam Hankins, Gary Fuston, Jerome Roy, Norman Williams and Yvonne Jay.
I love great musicians, but what I especially love are great musicians with great character that are fun to be around—-especially on stage. I’ve also performed with great drummers in my band like Tony Key and Jay Stixx.
In my earlier years as a band, I also enjoyed playing with James Ward (bass), Harry Jackson (lead guitar) and Rudolph Valentino Parks, Jr. (bass), along with Liekeshia Jackson, Elbert Taylor, Stanley Glen, Rick Rigsby, Linda Lee and Eric Willis. I love the fact that I have a video journal of playing with all of these fabulous musicians.
There is a host of up-and-coming artists who I’ve had the pleasure performing with like Dahveed Ben Israel and Phyl Morgan. There are so many more names I could list here like these awesome drummers Jaelum Washington, Andrew Griffith and Jamil Byrom.
I have to admit this was my hardest and most enlightening question. I’m grateful that all of these phenomenal artists whether named or unnamed allowed me to be part of their musical journey.
Venues you would like to play that you have not yet?
Spaghettini, Yoshi’s Blue Note, Martini Blu, Skullers.
Performances lined up for the rest of 2018?
My manager is currently working with two promoters for 2018, but no contracts are signed yet. One thing I learned from him is “don’t count your chickens before they hatch.” Even with secured dates, things just happen. I cancelled a very important event at Jazz and Jokes due to the hurricane, which is completely understandable and the right thing to do. The venue was in total agreement and the event has been rescheduled.
My plan is to release my next CD project in 2018 and schedule more performances outside my geographical area. I’ve received many inquiries from the East to West coast. We hope to make that happen very soon.
I am truly grateful to the many radio stations and other media outlets, along with family, friends and music lovers who support my music and live shows.
A special shout out to Jazzy Mann and Apostle Heloise Gibson who were two of the first to show support seven years ago. But, no other support is greater than my creator, the almighty God. I’m grateful to my Lord for being a source of strength, guidance and correction. I’m forever a student and forever learning to be a better musician, but more importantly, a better servant.
Photos courtesy of and with permission of the artist.
(c) Debbie Burke 2017
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