Jazz pianist and singer Brenda Earle Stokes’ career is a testament to Emerson’s idea that life is a journey, not a destination. Stokes has fused a passion for the piano and a love of singing into a vibrant career that spans genres easily.
After a captivation show in early 2018, Brenda returns to the Doo-Bop stage for a night of high energy jazz standards, pop tunes and original music this January 23rd. Brenda shares insight on her artistic journey with words of wisdom for Brisbane musicians as we put her under the Doo-Bop spotlight.
Having started Piano lessons at just 4 years old, It seems like you have always been musical, were you always hoping for a career in the music industry?
Pretty much all I did as a kid was make music, but it never occurred to me that it would be a career until my last year of high school. I had always imagined myself going into journalism, but I suddenly had an epiphany that I was going to be a musician. When I broke the news to my Dad he was like “no surprises here”. I guess it was obvious to him already!
Tell us about your first ever live gig.
My first jazz gigs were in my hometown of Sarnia, Ontario in Canada. I had a piano trio and we decided we needed to get some gigs, so I approached a local shop downtown and asked if we could “busk” in front of their store on Saturdays. I’m pretty sure we were one of the only busking piano trios!
Of all the places around the world you have performed in, which was your strangest experience and why?
All of my weirdest experiences came from working on the cruise ships, where I played and sang in the piano bar. One night a newlywed couple sat down less than a meter away from me and started making out. I was so grossed out that I started playing “I think I’m Gonna Kill Myself” by Elton John. Another night, some drunk guy projectile vomited right next to the piano. I took the rest of the night off after that.
Whilst working on Caribbean cruise ships, were there any musical challenges that you did not expect?
Nothing was really surprising to me about the gig. It was a lot of hard work, performing 4-5 hours every single night and having to interface with passengers, who were often drunk and occasionally really unfriendly. The hardest part of the gig was to maintain a massive amount of repertoire. I knew over a thousand songs at that point and would easily play 400 of them in one week!
Which Oscar Peterson track moves you the most?
His album the “Canadiana Suite” is very special to me. He wrote music about a variety of areas in Canada, which is my homeland. Whenever I hear those songs, it takes me back to my hometown bedroom, where I would listen to them and dream of being a professional jazz musician.
Other than music and teaching, what else do you like to do in your spare time?
I am the mother to a six year old boy, so spare time isn’t something I ever have! As a family, we spend a lot of time outdoors, hiking and exploring and in the summer we are almost always on the beach. We are big museum goers too, which means that New York City is an endless resource of places to check out. I also read a lot. My son does too!
If you couldn’t be a musician, what career would you like to pursue the most?
I think I would be a writer. I write occasionally on my blog and I keep a daily journal. Honestly, I can’t imagine life without music all day every day!
If you could pass on a few words of wisdom to Brisbane’s emerging talent, what would they be?
Work. Work. Work. It’s no joke to work in the music business. It’s really competitive and very difficult to make a living and there is nothing fair about who makes it and who doesn’t. An intense work ethic is about 80% of what it takes to be a musician. The other 15% is creativity and 5% leftover is talent. The good news is that if you love it, working hard will never feel like a job.
And finally, tell us a little bit about your upcoming performance that we don’t know yet…
I’m thrilled to be playing with Helen and Reuben again. Reuben and I have known each other for 17 years, ever since we met playing on cruise ships. We have continued our musical friendship for all these years and I have been over to New Zealand (where he’s from) a few times on tour. Helen and I have also been playing together for a few years, and she is one of my favorite bass players on Earth. We’ll be playing some new music that I’ll be recording in NYC when I get back from being in Oz.