If I could offer one piece of advice to young women looking to leave their mark on the music industry, it would be this: The world doesn’t need another Cardi B or Ariana Grande. If you truly want to make an impression on the next generation, you should aspire to be more like Vanessa Collier.
The 27-year-old multi-talented blues sensation earned dual degrees in Performance and Music Production & Engineering from the Berklee School of Music, toured under the tutelage of Bay Area legend Joe Louis Walker, and continues to find time to teach private saxophone lessons despite maintaining an ambitious solo career.
Her latest release, “Honey Up,” is a monstrous leap forward in terms of confidence and creative command, but it’s the electricity of her live performance that continues to make her one of the most compelling artists on the scene. I had the pleasure of speaking with her recently in advance of Sunday’s show at Buffalo Iron Works, so, if you’re unfamiliar with her work, there’s no better place than here and no better time than now to get acquainted.
MNOD: Who were some of your early influences?
VC: On sax, I would say Cannonball Adderley. I was also into contemporary stuff like Norah Jones and later on I discovered Bonnie Raitt. I was even a jazzer early on, so Ella Fitzgerald definitely interested me.
MNOD: How did you first become interested in the saxophone?
VC: I played the piano for six months, but I didn’t like the teacher. One day, I saw a tenor saxophone on a TV show that I watched regularly and became enamored with it. From 18-years-old on, it’s been my instrument. Chris Vadala, who played with Chuck Mangione’s band and is a professor at the University of Maryland, was my mentor. My parents are both accountants and teachers, which, even though it ended up being different from what I got into, my mom always sat in on lessons and they both encouraged me to play professionally. The most important thing they stressed to me was to keep it fun and that’s something I instill in my own students.
MNOD: How was your experience playing with Joe Louis Walker?
VC: That was actually my first time out on the road and I got to see what it takes to run a band. I also learned how to read an audience from Joe, because he has a knack for how to shape a show based on the reactions of the crowd. Starting and ending a show on a strong note is critical for establishing that connection. He’s been at it a long time and knows exactly what he’s doing. I have a passion for performing live and maintaining a sense of professionalism is something that I picked up during my time at the Berklee School of Music.
MNOD: “Honey Up” is your third album. How much have you grown since your initial release?
VC: I’ve grown tremendously. I listen back to those early albums and I sound so young, which I really was. Early on, I was nervous to make music, because I didn’t know if the end result would live up to what I wanted. Now that I’ve been around for a while, I’m able to voice what I want and I can honestly say that what came out on “Honey Up” represents my vision. I love the people playing with me on this album, so I’m really proud of it.
MNOD: You have a reputation as a dynamic live performer. What is it about the stage that brings out the best in you?
VC: I love the exchange of energy between me and the audience. When you’re playing in a small club, it can sometimes feel like a giant hang session where everyone is laid back and not necessarily paying attention. Some people are interested, some aren’t, so I just try to bounce off the vibe of the people. Finding that connection between you and whoever is listening is what it’s all about.
MNOD: What has traveling throughout the world at such a young age taught you about music or, better yet, life in general?
VC: It’s a universal language. I can be in Mexico and still feel like we’re all speaking the same language. We all have similar issues as people and we’re not as divided as outside forces want us to believe. Music unites us.
MNOD: Was teaching a part of your life that came naturally to you?
VC: I think so, because my parents are both teachers. I started the summer after eighth grade teaching a sixth grader, which was initially uncomfortable for me given that I’m an introvert. I eventually developed a flow that continuously makes me better with each student. I learn a lot about myself and my own playing through teaching, because it forces me to approach the sax from the most basic skill level.
MNOD: What are your goals for 2019?
VC: That’s a great question. I want to write more and become a more balanced person. I need a creative outlet, so I’d like to say that I’ll write a song a week. I just want to keep giving it my all each night and remain happy and healthy while supporting my family the best I can.
Vanessa Collier plays Buffalo Iron Works on Jan. 13.