By David DeRocco Passionate fans of jazz music will tell you listening to jazz music is good for the soul. As it turns out, it’s also good for your brain. A study conducted at the John Hopkins University School of Medicine determined that the brains of jazz musicians engrossed in spontaneous improvisational musical conversation – instrumental exchanges free-form jazz players call “trading fours” – showed robust activation of brain areas usually associated with spoken language. The results of the study suggest the brain uses these syntactic areas to process communication, whether you’re communicating through language or, more importantly, through music. Bottom line – the brain gains when tuned to Coltrane.
That’s just one more reason to get out and experience the vocal jazz stylings of Niagara’s own Khea Emmanuel. As if seeing a talented, sultry young jazz singer on the cusp of a brilliant career wasn’t a good enough reason to find your way to one of Khea’s many local shows this summer, there’s clinical proof that you may just walk away from the experience slightly smarter than when you arrived. At the very least you’ll walk away entertained, as performing is in Khea’s DNA; her grandmother was an opera singer, her grandfather a violinist, and her father just happens to be Motown legend – and long-standing member of Niagara’s own LMT Connection – Leroy Emmanuel. If anyone was bound for a career in music, it was Khea.
“My earliest musical memories were my dad sitting me on his lap at a very young age, maybe even as an infant, and doing these conga rhythms,” reminisces Khea about her early exposure to music. “He would kind of take my little arms, and do rhythms with me. Not exactly sure what it was, I just remember loving the rhythm and the music. I was introduced at a young age.”
With her Atlanta-born father earning his reputation playing with the likes of Marvin Gaye, Stevie Wonder, James Brown and blues legends like John Lee Hooker and Sonny Boy Williamson, Khea’s musical education was rich in blues, soul and R&B. However, she knew she’d found her calling in jazz music upon hearing one of the genre’s most distinct female voices.
“When I got into music, I was quite influenced by my dad,” says Khea. “He had a lot of different CDs like T-Bone Walker and Diana Washington, so I’d put those on. But when I was 15 I found Sarah Vaughn, I just completely fell in love with her voice and her sound. It got me completely into jazz.”
Knowing you love to sing jazz and actually being able to do it competently are two different things. Luckily for Khea, she had a mentor close by with an ear for music who helped discover the talent she tried hard to keep hidden.
“My dad actually discovered a tape of mine he wasn’t supposed to discover,” laughs Khea. “He approached me and asked if it was me singing on the tape. And I was like ‘you weren’t supposed to find that.’ He said ‘you’re good but you need to work on this and this and that.’ He’s extremely influential in my life, but like any artist that he’s teaching he’s very serious about the business and he says ‘if you’re serious about it you’re going to work on your craft.’ So he’s not my dad at that point, he’s the teacher.”
Khea quickly channeled her distinct vocal talents into an all-consuming passion, writing, performing and recording a CD of jazz standards she used as a musical resume to secure gigs and announce her arrival on Canada’s jazz scene. Following the path carved by Vaughn and such jazz contemporaries as Betty Carter, Nat King Cole and Shirley Horn, Khea Emmanuel has a deeply rooted vision for her five-year plan, setting her sights on nothing less than world-wide success as a jazz superstar.
“I would be traveling the world,” responds Khea when asked to envision the dream scenario for her career. “I would be doing huge concerts, stadiums, with jazz lovers and people who don’t even know that much about jazz who would love to learn about it coming to see my concerts. That’s definitely a goal of mine. Hey, it’s not impossible. That’s my dream; I’m pushing for the stars and nothing less. That’s just how I focus on my career. There’s nothing in between. In this business you can’t be in-between. You have to know what you want, and you have to know what you’re going for. And you have to believe in it, because no one else has to believe in you. You have to believe in yourself.”
Although her mind is focused on the dream, Khea the artist is very tempered by the reality of the hard work involved in making it in the music business, especially considering her choice of musical genre. Despite the international success achieved by Canadian jazz superstars like Diana Krall and Michael Buble, Khea recognizes the challenges that come with being a Niagara-based singer trying to establish a name for herself in broader jazz circles.
“Yes, it’s a difficult genre of music. But it is a difficult genre of music because a lot of people don’t really understand it or they’ve never been exposed to the music. There are many people that are really starting to enjoy it and learn more about the roots of jazz. They’re being educated and starting to love it. People like Michael Buble and even Amy Winehouse have a lot of people my age, people in their 20s and 30s, falling in love with jazz. And they’re like, yes, jazz is cool now.”
With plans to release a new CD of all-original music in late 2015 or early next year, Khea is busy writing, recording with musicians, practicing, meeting with labels and trying to align schedules with her father so they can collaborate on some music. With her mature approach to the “business” of being an artist, Khea knows all this hard work is part of paying her dues, although she’s appreciative of the support she gets from friends and family.
“I think a lot of people don’t really think about how much work goes into that. There’s a lot of money that goes into producing CDs. There’s marketing, there’s people who do the artwork, the photography. It’s a whole package of work that you have to do and continue to do. Then there’s social media involved so you can continue to be successful and connect with your fans. It is a difficult industry period. So it is good to have somebody or someone to back you up.”
Regardless of where her road map to success eventually leads, Khea Emmanual plans on channeling her exquisite vocals and lyrical expressions into a career as an ambassador for jazz music, especially with performances at the Niagara Jazz Festival (July 23 – 26) on the horizon. And for those uneducated music lovers who still don’t understand the appeal of modern jazz, Khea offers up her own definition to consider before attending one of her shows.
“It’s a feel. It’s creative. It’s a natural inbred art. It’s like creating an oil painting. You create it in your mind, your heart, your body and your soul and you put in on a canvas. That’s kind of what jazz is. Jazz comes from the heart, it comes from the soul. You need to feel it. That’s jazz.”
For more information, vist Khea’s website: http://www.kheaemmanuel.com. For information on the Niagara Jazz Festival, visit http://niagarajazzfestival.com.