We managed to snag an interview with the highly successful DJ, producer, and singer, Setareh Zenouz, who performs as Stella Key.
With over 20 million song streams, Ms. Zenouz is a globally-recognized musician whose achievements have surpassed borders and entire continents.
Her music has become a staple on some of the most respected Spotify music charts.
She has also had a serious impact on the live music scene. Zenouz has performed at IBoatNYC’s summer concert series, attended by thousands of guests, and she's also played sold-out shows at The Meadows in Brooklyn.
Noting her achievements, top labels across the globe have signed Zenouz, including Magic Music Records, known for representing the best artists in electronic music, and Soave Records in the Netherlands, which owns some of the most widely listened to playlists on Spotify.
Jam Addict had the chance to ask Zenouz about numerous aspects of her life as a prominent musician and performer, including her setup, how she approaches sets, and how aspiring DJa can make their mark in a challenging music landscape.
Jam Addict (JA): When did you start playing DJ sets? Can you tell us about some of your best live performances?
Setareh Zenouz (SZ): I started out as a DJ three years ago, right before the pandemic. When the pandemic hit I couldn't perform live as I had planned to. But this gave me the opportunity to really work on my skills and put great set lists together.
After the pandemic and moving to NYC, I started playing live shows and I truly fell in love with DJ-ing for a crowd. One of my best performances was in summer 2022 at the IboatNYC x Crustnation event. This is the biggest party cruise ship in NYC and hosts some of the biggest names and events in the world.
I got the opportunity to play an opening set for one of the biggest electronic dj/producer duos, DVBBS. This was an amazing experience.
Another great experience was playing a sold-out show at The Meadows in Brooklyn. This event turned out to be much bigger than I expected, with some big names in electronic music headlining the show such as Ace Aura. I got the chance to meet so many amazing people and have a really good time.
JA: Do you tend to change up your gear/setup over time? Or not so much?
SZ: I’ve pretty much been using the same equipment, I’ve added more items as I felt the need. For example, I started with an AKG C214 mic and now I use the Antelope modeling mic, and I’m planning to upgrade to a U87. So if my work requires better gear for better quality, I switch or level up.
As for DAWs, I’ve always used Ableton, for almost six years now. I’ve also worked with the company itself, which is one of the biggest music software companies in the world. My work with them includes assisting in music production workshops and masterclasses and coaching upcoming artists.
JA: How far ahead of time do you prepare a particular set? Is there room for improvisation as well?
SZ: I used to put more time into preparing a certain set list in a certain order, but now I put most of my time into putting together good music for a particular vibe. That means most of my sets are improvised and are purely based on the crowd’s reaction, the mood, and what I like to play.
JA: What's something you've discovered about playing shows that you didn't realize at first?
SZ: Things don’t always go as planned, every venue you perform at is different. It’s very important to be prepared, for example having multiple USB sticks to back up your sets, bringing the necessary cables and gear, and basically being prepared for any technical difficulties. At the end of the day, you have to make it work and play a good set, no matter what might go wrong. It took me some time to realize this, it’s something that comes with experience.
JA: Do you have any advice for any DJs getting ready to perform for the first time or trying to improve?
SZ: I would say be as prepared as you can be and don’t forget to have fun. It’s okay to “mess up” as long as you pick yourself back up and don’t let a small mistake ruin your experience. Interacting with the crowd is another important thing to keep in mind.
Here at Jam Addict, we've had the chance to interview quite a few composers, and it's been great every single time. What can we say; we like talking to professionals who know their stuff, and each guest has a unique way of composing music.
It takes serious skill to even qualify for a composing job, and getting a foot into the door of the entertainment industry is basically a job all its own.
But our guest, Shiyu Chen, is a masterful composer who has overcome all this and more. She's one of the most adept composers working in the industry today, and recently she's been working with Rob Cairns of Rob Cairns Music on big-name television and streaming shows like Love Death + Robots, The Bachelor, and The Bachelorette. Oh yeah, and Chen has also composed music for major video game trailers for properties like Warframe and the much-lauded Elder Scrolls Online.
We talked about these projects during the interview, but I also really wanted to get a feel for Chen's approach to making it in entertainment, and that led us to some other interesting topics like networking, daily workflow, and communication.
In other words, there's a lot here, and I'm happy to share it all with you. Be sure to keep an ear out for more music from Chen in the near future.
Jam Addict (JA): Have you always had an interest in movie scores? How early were you hoping to pursue a career in composition?
Shiyu Chen (SC): I've loved to watch movies since I was a kid. Every Saturday night, I would just sit in front of the TV and wait for the China Movie Channel to play. I remember the first time when I watched the movie The Curious Case of Benjamin Button. I was so impressed and amazed by the music score composed by the French composer Alexandre Desplat. That was the first time I realized how gorgeous his music was and became interested in music scores.
After that, I started to learn piano and composition and wanted to pursue a music career. But the most important film and music score that really influenced me and made me want to become a film composer is The Last Emperor, which I first saw when I was in high school.
JA: What was your gateway to professional composition? What was the professional opportunity that really started your career?
SC: When I was still studying film scoring at Berklee College of music, I went back to China for summer break and joined the Xigua Music Company, which is the biggest music composing company for film and TV in China. I started to compose professional soundtracks for TV series including The Glory of Youth and Dance of the Phoenix.
After I went back to Berklee, I was still composing tracks for them. After I graduated, I moved to LA and started to look for composer opportunities, and that's when I met Rob Cairns. I started working for Rob in 2020, and together we've worked together on projects like The Bachelor and The Bachelorette for ABC, Love Death + Robots season three for Netflix, the Warframe game trailer from 2021, and The Elder Scrolls Online: High Isle trailer.
JA: What inspired your relocation to the US? What was it like looking for career opportunities in composition here in the States?
SC: The Hollywood film Industry is definitely the best and the most diverse film industry in the world. I moved to LA right after graduating from Berklee College of Music in Boston because you learn more from the composers, projects, and film people in the industry. Looking for a career in composition in the States is very competitive because there are so many great composers who love music and film, and I am lucky to be working here.
JA: In your line of work, is the ability to collaborate essential?
SC: Definitely! Being a composer for film, writing music is obviously important, but working with directors, producers, and music editors is far more difficult and important in the process of making a film or TV series. The ability to collaborate and communicate is very essential.
JA: To what extent has networking been a part of your career, if at all?
SC: Networking is the first thing I did after I moved to LA. I started to email composers, friends, and Berklee Alumni to get in touch with people who were already working here. It's very important to continue networking with people in the film industry because the more people you know, the more opportunities you will have.
JA: Have any aspects of your current work surprised you at all, particularly in terms of scheduling or workflow?
SC: Sometimes, a change of the footage or a note from the director or producer will change the day's work. For example, if we just finished the first version of the music and sent it out to the director and producer, the next day we get the feedback. The whole team will be jumping from composing and producing to conforming and editing. The workflow is always changing, and we just have to adjust to it.
JA: What's something about your current role that you've really come to appreciate?
SC: Working with Rob, I really appreciate that I have the chance to compose and orchestrate music for my favorite show, Love Death + Robots. It was my dream in college to work on shows like Love Death + Robots. And I've learned so much from Rob, not only about composing and producing high-quality music fast but also communicating and collaborating with other people.
JA: If you were starting your career over, is there anything you would choose to do differently?
SC: The one thing I would choose to do differently is to start networking as early as I can and meet more new people back in school and try to remember that the more people you know, the more chances you will have.
When you decide to go to a concert, it's easy to take it for granted that artists will have merch for sale. For smaller bands, that will most likely mean a few t-shirts, some physical media, and some stickers.
But for larger artists embarking on world tours, the variety of merch and the logistics required to produce and distribute it to thousands of eager fans is a whole different ball game. It takes real skill and teams of dedicated personnel to make it all happen. Today, we're lucky enough to have with us one of the top merchandising managers working in music today.
A globally-recognized merchandising manager, Imogen ray has proven time and again that she's more than capable of achieving impressive sales success for major artists, including world-famous Grammy-winning artists like Madonna, BTS, and Harry Styles.
Ray was recently nominated for Best Merchandising Manager by the organization Women in Live Music based on her outstanding success in the field. Ray was also interviewed as an expert by BBC 6, the sixth-largest radio station in the UK.
In our interview with Ray, we tried to tackle some of the biggest tours and projects of her illustrious career so far, and we also closed things out by asking for her opinions and advice on how bands and artists just getting their start can capitalize on the benefits of merch sales.
JA: Thanks for joining us. So to start out, we heard that you were nominated by the prestigious organization Women in Live Music for Best Merchandise Manager. This is a significant nomination as this is an esteemed organization with over 5,000 members. Can you tell us about the accomplishments that led to this nomination?
It was such an amazing achievement to be recognized by the incredible international organization, Women in Live Music. Women in Live Music is a European-based nonprofit organization whose mission is to help increase and stabilize diversity backstage as less than 5% of people working in the live music industry are women.
To be picked out of the whole of the UK and European music industry was an overwhelming and very proud moment for me. There are many events and tours that I managed that led to the nomination. However, the most significant events that I have had the opportunity to work on that contributed to the nomination include, first of all, being the Merchandise tour manager for the Brit Awards Rising Star nominee and New Music Entertainment Group award winner Beabadoobee, UK tour 2021.
This was my first tour out of Covid and so the outcome of merchandise sales was dubious as spending habits had likely changed due to the result of the global pandemic.
Despite this, I managed to achieve absolutely astonishing merchandise sales for an artist who was relatively new, but also considering the economic climate of the time. After the first show, I had to re-forecast the whole tour to ensure we could capitalize on sales, which led to achieving some groundbreaking spends per head for a new/breakthrough artist.
Another was MTV, Kerrang, and multi-award-winning Japanese Band BABYMETAL, their European tour in 2020. This was my biggest selling tour I had worked on and involved a higher level of management and a much larger team of people to manage. Pre-tour projections were almost doubled on some shows and I am yet to work on a tour as high grossing as this. It was incredible to work on this tour and be exposed to this level of sales and it really impacted my skill set and took me to another level in my work.
Lastly, the Billboard, Brit Award, and Grammy Award-winner Harry Styles' London pop-up shop in 2019, where we promoted his American Music Award-winning album ‘Fine Line’. This is the largest, internationally known artist I have worked with and to be a part of the pop-up shop was a great experience.
This worked very differently from a tour, and as it was aiding the release of an album, it was really interesting to be involved in first-week album sales and be a part of aiding chart position for such a world-renowned artist. The turnout for this week-long pop-up shop was phenomenal and every day we had a queue all the way down Camden market of fans waiting to come in and spend money. Ending the week with a secret show in London as well, this was a record-breaking week for sales.
JA: Based on your experience, which items tend to sell the best, or does it depend on the artist?
It can depend on the artists a lot, but generally, a tour t-shirt with dates on the back sells really well. People want merchandise to prove they were at the show and if that becomes a legendary show, all the better for having a t-shirt! Vinyl has also been selling really well in recent years and people will much more likely buy vinyl than a CD. I love working with artists who do something a bit different for merch. Either they just have a cool design or have a really random item. Baseball hats are always surprising sellers, but only if they have been designed well and aren’t plain.
That being said, sales also massively depend on the success of a show itself. Perhaps the artist that was most impacted by media coverage was Beabadoobee. She had a viral song on TikTok which launched her into the music world, with her live shows and tour announcement being covered by NME, a British music, film, gaming, and culture website and brand that garners almost 16 million online readers per month. Coverage from this huge media mogul undoubtedly led to an increase in ticket sales, which also lends itself to an increase in merchandise sales at the shows.
JA: Can you tell us about your outstanding work managing merchandise for the Slam Dunk Festival, which is the number 1 pop music festival in the United Kingdom with over 50,000 attendees?
It was a large festival to manage merchandise sales for, with over 60 bands and artists from all over the world, including the UK, USA, and Australia.
My work here involves managing and selling the festival’s own branded merch, which is usually a range of 5-10 tees, a hoodie, and other small bits. It also involves selling and managing some of the artist's merchandise. The festival sees over 70 bands and artists perform each year and most come with merchandise to sell. At the festival, we have two merchandise locations on site and so we split staff across the two and then manage which merch goes where. If we have the time we move merch between the stands if one has sold out, but often it’s so busy it’s not possible.
At the end of the first festival, we count everything up, pack it all down, and then take it to the next site overnight and do the whole thing again! It’s a lot of work, but I do enjoy the festival season, working in fields with lots of good people.
Managing merchandise here gives a platform for bands to sell and make money on their merchandise, but the main aspect of the job is managing and selling festival merchandise. It always blows my mind the enormity of sales that we do at this festival, just selling festival merchandise. It’s even more impressive considering the festival is only on for two days total, at two different locations in the UK.
JA: You also managed the BTS pop-up shop in London. BTS is one of the most recognizable bands on the planet with endless Billboard and American awards and millions of fans globally. They are featured in almost all music publications, including Rolling Stone regularly, so there must’ve been a tremendous demand to manage. Was this a hectic project?
Hectic is a great word for it! BTS is perhaps the biggest K-Pop band to reach worldwide success. Due to all of this success and global coverage, I was prepared for a very busy couple of weeks. This was a new one for me, as although it was merchandise management, it was outside of a show or tour setting.
This was more retail than I was used to, and so we had to set up a whole shop, put rails and clothes and products out, set up an ordering and pager system, and set up photo opportunities and Instagrammable parts of the store.
There was also a huge amount of stock constantly coming into the shop. We started with a large amount of stock, and during the week got continuous deliveries. I have never worked something so continuously busy! From prep to opening to the end. There were lines 3 hours long for people to get into the store and every day when we opened, people would just run in screaming.
The store worked by giving every customer a pamphlet with all of the merchandise options. Customers would circle what they wanted and hand that into an ordering desk and receive a pager that would buzz when their order was ready to collect and pay for. Behind the ordering desk was a packing station. All of the merchandise had been organized and laid out in a way that enabled staff to grab a bag and then grab each item the customer wanted. As the packing station was right behind the LED screen it was incredibly loud and on top of excited fans screaming on entering the store, it was certainly very hectic!
We had a system in place that worked well and all of the staff were very diligent, and so we encountered very few issues, it was just a very fast-paced work environment. It taught me a lot about working under pressure in extremely busy environments with excited fans.
At the time, this was the largest-selling artist I had worked with and this pop-up shop was no disappointment.
The sales daily and weekly were astronomical! This didn’t even include sales of merchandise at Wembley Stadium, which has a capacity of 90,000. The pop-up shop traveled around the world, as did the band, and the London store was the highest-earning pop-up store of the tour.
JA: You were interviewed on BBC 6 Music Radio interview which holds an audience of millions as its one of the largest radio stations in the United Kingdom. Can you share with our audience the subject of the interview where they chose you clearly based on your impressive achievements as a merchandise manager?
They reached out to me to ask me to discuss the impact that Brexit and Covid have had on the touring industry, in particular its impact on merchandise sales. It was a really important moment for me and my career to be recognized by such an institution in the UK music industry and for them to value my experience and opinion.
JA: Can you share with aspiring music merchandise managers how you dealt with particularly difficult challenges and how you overcame them to exceed projected sales?
Ideally, everything is managed and sorted in advance, but yes, you do need the ability to solve problems on the spot. If the tour is going well and sales are going well you may need to re-order stock. Depending on where you are in the world this can have its various problems. Especially now with Brexit, touring between the UK and EU has extra complications.
If stock is ordered and made in the UK but is needed in Europe there are now different tax and VAT numbers that are needed. These things are hard to plan in advance and you have to be able to think on the spot and come up with a plan pretty quickly to ensure stock is shipped and meets you at the relevant venue in the relevant country. It could also be something as small as the card machine going down. Now that most people pay on their cards this can cause a loss of sales so to be able to fix it/come up with a solution quickly so you don’t lose sales is a big one.
JA: You've worked with so many world-famous artists. Have you ever felt intimidated, or is it just part of the job?
I get less intimidated by the artist than I do by the crew. I always want to impress the people I’m working with and make good work connections that will pay forward in my career. Of course, occasionally I get booked for a big gig and there is a bit of excitement, but realistically the bigger the gig, the busier I will be so more of my focus is on the job than the artist.
Essentially, if I impress the crew or the tour manager or management that will get me more work or even spread my name around, more than it will if the artist likes me.
The reason I get the gigs that I get is because I have a track record of producing amazing sales and exceeding sales predictions and also being able to quickly and efficiently forecast tours on the go and ensure we have appropriate stock levels to guarantee successful sales. The number of high-selling artists I have worked with and high grossing tours I have managed means that management and merchandise companies trust me to deliver the sales they expect, and oftentimes exceed them. An example of this is the 2021 UK tour with Beabadoobee and 2022 tour with Courtney Barnett, both of which exceeded sales expectations and a rather quick turnaround of re-printing was needed.
JA: You've also expanded into tour management. Did this present challenges?
The main challenge was believing I could do it. I am a confident person and tour management has always been my end goal in touring, but I think I definitely held myself back for a little bit, worrying I wasn’t ‘ready’.
Entering the industry at the age of 16 and dreaming of being a tour manager, it always seemed so far away, and for a long while nothing I ever felt like I was ready to do just yet. I spent a long time in merchandise management just wishing for the day I was ready to tour manage.
In reality, I probably wasted a lot of time thinking I wasn't ready. When it comes down to it, tour management isn't that hard. It is a lot of work but it's all organization, logistics, coordinating people, and most importantly it's how you get on with people: people skills.
I think as it was something I always aspired to do, it seemed like such a big role and so important, I didn't want to put myself in it and do a bad job. In reality, you learn the best in this industry by just doing the job and making mistakes. As long as you're not repeating the same mistakes, you're learning.
JA: What should small bands and performers keep in mind to achieve successful merchandising?
I think what’s important is to make merchandise that you like and you would actually wear. I see so many terrible or boring t-shirts with a logo slapped on. Merchandise is such an important aspect of an artist's income, and if done well, so much money can be made. Make merchandise that you like and that you would wear. So much of it looks the same nowadays, so make something that is different, and something that people will wear outside of the gig. It’s promotion if you get people wearing your merch outside of the gig too.
The worst thing is managing an artist you love who has terrible merch and every night you hear how disappointed people are. I always think the winner is if you design merch so good that people who aren’t fans want it just because they like it so much or have seen someone wearing it, then they get introduced to you through your merch.
There is so much potential to make a lot of money through merchandise, don’t take that lightly.
As our readers know, music composition is the art of creating music through the use of various elements such as melody, harmony, rhythm, and timbre. It involves combining these elements in a way that evokes emotions, tells a story, or conveys a message. Music composition is a highly creative process that requires both technical skills and a deep understanding of music theory. It can be done for various purposes, such as for film, video games, theater, or purely for the enjoyment of the listener.
Today, we will be exploring the world of music composition with renowned composer Antonio Ibrahine, whose career has spanned more than 10 years internationally. With a refined style, influenced by both classical and Brazilian music, he has worked on a myriad of productions, from film to games, theater, and video art.
In 2018, he scored the music for the independent movie The Audience, directed by Tasya Martin, which received four nominations at the Feel the Reel Film Festival, including Best Original Score for its music. The score featured an unusual combination of big band’s traditional style mixed with elements from Sound Design, showcasing Antonio's unique musical talent and creativity.
The Audience is my favorite movie experience while living in Berlin, Germany. I was able to experiment so much and come up with something that both the director and I found unique.
That was a great challenge for me since both styles are so contrasting to each other. The early Jazz influence came from a “cabaret” ambience of the movie and from the movie’s audience characters. In the second part of the movie, we felt the sound design elements would be able to bring all the grittiness evoked by the main character when he shows up in the real world.
Because of the limited budget, we had to work twice as hard to achieve an impactful sound produced mainly “in the box.” That means, almost everything you hear in the score was programmed and not played by live musicians.
When you score a movie, it’s important for the music to highlight the main elements of the story. In the case of “The Audience,” there are two main elements that need special attention – the protagonist interacting with the audience and the protagonist in the real world. Each of them has its own theme, as well as its own style. However, the styles are not entirely contrasting since there are similarities between both parts of the movie.
The Audience was one of the projects I was able to experiment with the most. I started brainstorming themes that were associated with the main concepts given by Tasya, and from there, we kept meeting and creating variations that would somehow lead us in the direction that we felt was going to resemble the best with the ambience and narrative of the movie. That’s why, very interestingly, we started with a more Balkan-based sound and ended up with a mix between classic big band and sound design.
Taysa was very important in determining musical choices for The Audience. It felt like traveling somewhere with a map that was given by her, but still with a lot of freedom of choice by my side.
I think The Audience is the type of movie that doesn’t work without music. The characters are almost dancing, and the rhythm of the cuts induces us to feel an upbeat groove. So I believe part of the positive reception of the movie in the theater was because of the fabulous work done in the pre- and production stages. The other part was due to the music that made it shine even more!
What did you learn from working on The Audience that you have applied to your other projects?
My compositional process tends to be very structured. I believe with The Audience, I started being more flexible in my approach or at least learning when to be more structured and when to relax and let it go as if the score was developing by itself.
We have with us today an immensely talented singer-songwriter: Noa Bar.
Noa has been working as a professional recording artist and performer for a few years now, and already she's made a major impact on the music world in her home country of Israel, here in the United States where she now lives, and in many other countries where listeners are connecting with her music on a deeply personal level.
Before we go any further, we need to mention Noa's debut album, UNFILTERED, which is slated to release later in 2023.
Noa trained with Nira Gal, possibly Israel's greatest vocal coach, and she's performed with major Israeli artists like Avi Sungolda and Nadav Guedj.
If you'd like more details on Noa's influences, collaborations, and what she's been listening to recently, then you're in the right place.
You'll find our full interview with Noa Bar below, and if you're curious to hear her new work, be sure to follow her on your favorite music streaming service.
Jam Addict (JA): We'd like to ask about some of your influences and collaborators. Has there been a single biggest musical influence throughout your career?
Noa Bar (NB): There are a lot of artists I listen to on a daily basis or work with who inspire me so much. But my biggest inspiration of all, the singer who made me want to become a singer, would have to be the one and only Amy Winehouse.
Her picture is framed in my studio, and when I got to spend time with a person who knew her, he told me that when he watched her perform live “she took his heart, broke it, and put it back in the way that she wanted.” The fact that she could do that with her voice is truly inspiring to me.
My other influences would have to be Leon, Dua Lipa, Frank Ocean, Stormae, Mahmood and BLANCO, Kendrick Lamar, SZA, Jazmine Sullivan, and many more. I've been listening to Italian and French pop lately, too. Inspiration is everywhere nowadays.
JA: When exactly did you start training with Nira Gal? And what was the experience like?
NB: I actually started training with her a week after I finished my military service in Israel in 2018. Nira was training the vocal coach I had at the time, who was so good that I had to find the woman who taught her and learn from her directly.
Nira is the best vocal teacher I’ve ever had and will probably ever have. She is truly incredible. She teaches the top singers in Israel and is considered one of the best vocal coaches in the country. She rewired my entire body and the way I sing.
One particular part of my training was holding my tongue with a towel while doing a three-octave scale, or riffing while going up and down the stairs. She was very tough! She never gave up on the smallest detail and always told me I could do anything and hit any note. She would send me home with homework and I loved every minute of learning from her.
We’re still in touch and she’s excited about my upcoming album too. She was also one of the people who told me I should move to Los Angeles.
JA: What was it like opening for Nadav Guedj at the Israel Independence Day celebration?
NB: It was a day I’ll never forget. Nadav was and still is one of Israel’s biggest stars, as well as the Eurovision representative back in 2015. I was in high school back then, and it was my first big performance. I was performing in front of ten thousand people and it was my seventh show of that day because, in Israel, Independence day is a day full of performances and music.
I was accompanied on stage by six instrumentalists and over forty dancers. My parents and best friends were smiling at me from the first row, and it was a very exciting moment for me and maybe the moment I realized I had to experience this kind of adrenaline again. There are no words to explain how exciting it was to be 18 years old and performing on a big stage with fireworks, dancers, instrumentalists, and ten thousand people. It was magical.
And Nadav was the reason I started working with my first producer on my songs. He produced Nadav’s song for the Eurovision contest and the first three singles I ever released.
JA: What do you look for in a potential collaborator?
NB: What a great question. I look for someone who has something deep and honest to say to a listener. There are songs that I hear in languages I don’t even understand and I still cry when I hear them. Because when the emotions are there and you feel like behind that collaborator there’s a person that’s trying to deliver their absolute best to make our listener’s heart feel something, that’s all that matters.
It’s not about me and the collaborator, it’s about what’s best for the song and for the listeners’ ears and hearts.
JA: You also moved to Los Angeles last year. What has the transition been like?
NB: It’s been amazing so far. So many things have happened in one year. I recorded an album, met my amazing managers, got to work with so many amazing artists, producers, and writers, and met people from all around the world. So many miracles happened to me and it’s pretty amazing to think about how people come here from so many different parts of the planet, all for one reason. Just like me, they’re chasing their dreams and being themselves in this world.
It’s not always easy, though. My family and my best friend are still living in Israel, and I miss them a lot. I had to learn how to live seven thousand miles away from the place I called home for twenty-one years. But if I couldn’t do it, I wouldn’t have the courage to pursue music. I feel like I’m here on a mission to make people feel something through music and make the world a better place. So I am very grateful for everything I have and for being able to do what I love the most every day. I enjoy the journey and love LA. It feels like home and I love it.
JA: Who are some other contemporary artists you've been listening to lately?
NB: So many good artists are out there! Including friends of mine that I love listening to. But if I could name just one of them it would definitely be Leon, who’s such an amazing singer from Sweden.
Frank Ocean, Jazmine Sullivan, Dua Lipa, Alessia Cara, Mahmood and BLANCO from Italy, lots of UPSAHL lately, Stormae from France, Raye from the UK, Eddie Benjamin, Lennon Stella, Kendrick Lamar, Broadway musicals, and honestly, I just love to keep searching for more great music. There are so many incredible artists, and isn’t it amazing that anyone can put their craft out there for the world to listen to?
JA: Is there anything you'd like to share about your upcoming album release?
NB: There are so many things to share, it’s something that I’ve been working on for so long and with so many talented people I love. But if there’s anything that I’m truly happy with it's that this is the first time I’m letting my songs truly show who I am. I'm honest, real, authentic, and I speak to real-life stories and the imperfections in me that I’m learning to love.
There’s a real story behind every song. This album is about my eating disorders and how I healed from them, learning to love my imperfections, being sick of talking about the weather and not going deeper, my trust issues, fear of commitment, and much, much more. You’ll have to hear it yourself later this year!
I’m an open book, and I hope it will encourage people to be more honest, real, and authentic, and ultimately, love themselves the way they are. If I can make even one precious soul do that, then I've won.
You're probably tired of hearing about those age-old pandemic restrictions by now, but for musicians all around the world, it's hard to forget just how different life was when live music simply wasn't allowed.
It almost sounds like something out of a dystopian sci-fi novel or a prog-rock concept album, but for nearly two years, it just wasn't possible to put on a concert, at least not in the usual sense.
Even so, pioneering musicians and organizers found ways to recreate the concert-going experience, at least to a certain extent, through virtual performances.
And now, long after those restrictions have been lifted, musicians and audiences alike have gone back to live concerts, and they're loving it.
Karen Shiraishi, a renowned Japanese-British jazz pianist and composer, has been there through it all, and we asked her all about it: what her live music life has been like lately, both during and after the pandemic.
Shiraishi was raised on jazz, and she's been playing it ever since, often with notable artists from around the globe, like Donald Harrison, Jr., Trevor Watkins, Jeremy Davenport, and Shannon Powell.
That's really just scratching the surface, but thankfully we have a whole interview here, one in which Shiraishi talks about some of the most significant performances and collaborations of her highly accomplished career.
Jam Addict (JA): As a performer, has it been exciting to return to live shows following pandemic restrictions?
Karen Shiraishi (KS): Even though the pandemic was rough on musicians, I feel like I made the most of a bad situation. I spent some time at home in London in 2021, and I was grateful to have been able to perform for my audience via live stream at Ronnie Scott’s and at World Heart Beat. Reuniting with my musical community and support system back home helped me get through the pandemic and it made me realize how centering and grounding it is to have music as an outlet.
Nothing beats performing for a live audience though. I’m lucky that pandemic restrictions were mostly a thing of the past by the time I moved to New Orleans in January 2022, although locals tell me that the music scene has not yet fully recovered.
JA: Do you think audiences have also been looking forward to the return of concerts?
KS: As someone who makes and consumes live music, I’m happy to see that live shows are back. Especially in a city like New Orleans where music is one of its main attractions. Live music listeners in this city are serious about their music.
I performed at the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival last year as part of Trumpet Mafia, who recently won the Offbeat Best of the Beat Award for Best Emerging Artist. It was the first Jazz Fest in two years since the prior festival was canceled due to Covid, and the crowd was going wild. Getting to experience the festival both as a performer and audience member, you could feel just how viscerally excited everyone was about hearing live music again.
JA: Can you comment on receiving the Countess of Munster Musical Trust Award for Jazz?
KS: I applied for the Countess of Munster award in 2021 during the pandemic to help towards my last year of studies at Berklee College of Music. The award was for an “exceptional jazz musician looking to fund their final year of a performance-based jazz undergraduate course.” The award is meant for those studying at a UK university or conservatoire, but they very kindly made an exception for me. They are a highly regarded trust in the UK with a distinguished panel of trustees, so I’m very grateful to be a recipient of their jazz award.
JA: You also headlined Ronnie Scott's Jazz Club in London. What was that like? Would you do it again?
KS: Yes, I performed at Ronnie Scott’s while at home in London during the pandemic. The show was part of their “Lockdown Sessions” and was live-streamed since there were restrictions on venues at the time. I’m so glad I got to spend some time playing music with my community back home and that we could keep live music going while everything was shut down.
It was also just a huge honor and a milestone to headline one of the most renowned jazz venues in the world. I was excited to perform my original music on a stage that’s been graced by some of the biggest names in jazz. I had Jas Kayser, Jazz FM Breakthrough Act 2021 and Parliamentary Jazz Newcomer of the Year 2021, and Tony Kofi, two-time BBC Jazz Award winner, on the gig.
Tony teaches at the World Heart Beat Music Academy and Julian Joseph Jazz Academy where Jas and I studied music as high schoolers. Then she and I both ended up at Berklee College of Music after that. It all felt like a full-circle moment playing with them both back home in London. I was proud to be one of the few women instrumentalists of color to headline there as part of the Lockdown Sessions. I had so much fun performing at Ronnie’s and I would love to do it again, next time with the audience in the room instead of behind a screen!
JA: Can you tell us the story of how you became the resident pianist of the Davenport Lounge? And how was it performing at Jazz St Louis?
KS: A friend of mine plays a solo piano set in Davenport Lounge at the Ritz-Carlton and invited me to perform. That’s when I met Jeremy Davenport, who the lounge is named after. He had heard about me prior since I was relatively new to town and was playing a lot. He told me he needed a lead pianist for a couple of dates so I made those gigs, then after that, he hired me to be the pianist in his quintet.
Rashawn Ross, who plays in the Dave Matthews band, sat in with us recently, and Nicholas Payton has also sat in on numerous occasions. I’m at the Davenport Lounge in the Ritz-Carlton four nights a week so come and see me! The band also travels. In November, we went to St. Louis where Jeremy is from and we performed two sold-out shows at Jazz St. Louis, previously known as Jazz at the Bistro. It was my first time in St. Louis, and I was excited to be playing at a venue that’s seen so many well-renowned musicians. I had a blast.
JA: You’ve performed at some big festivals globally, can you tell us about the Lionel Hampton Jazz Festival and Jazz at Lincoln Center?
KS: I performed at the Lionel Hampton Jazz Festival in Moscow, Idaho last year as part of the Grammy Museum Affiliate Collective. We opened for Dee Dee Bridgewater one night then for Chris Potter another night. I was thrilled to open for such prominent names in jazz. During my week there we also gave some workshops for local jazz students in the area. During our workshops and Q&As, I received a lot of questions from female students about navigating a career in a male-dominated field such as music, particularly jazz, and I was really moved to receive feedback saying that they found my advice helpful. My favorite part about performing in different places is getting to connect with different kinds of people.
I performed at Dizzy’s Club in Jazz at Lincoln Center as part of Ralph Peterson’s GenNext Big Band in 2019. It was for the band’s record release for “Listen Up!” It was a dream come true for me to share the stage with a legend like Ralph, and I’m forever grateful that I got the opportunity to learn from him before he passed away in 2021. The second time I performed at JALC was for the One Hundred Black Men (OHBM) Gala in 2022.
OHBM is a non-profit that provides scholarships, educational support, economic empowerment, mentoring, health and wellness initiatives, and an overall voice for the African American community in New York. I mentored OHBM students over zoom for eight weeks leading up to the gala, where they also got the chance to perform and apply the things they had learned. I was stoked to play at the iconic Lincoln Center, not least because they’ve always been huge advocates for jazz, culture, and arts education.