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Written by Bridgid Brousseau
”Your sharp three- piece suit and shiny shoes, howling like a dog singin down- home blues but I see you." ~Joyce Spencer~
It’s always fortifying to have a conversation with someone whose beautiful spirit, soul and principles in life mirror the lyrics and music they share with the world. I was fortunate enough to catch up with her and toss a few questions her way. She is a saxophonist, flutist, vocalist, songwriter and composer. She is Joyce Spencer.
Bridgid: What were you like as a child?
Joyce: I was like a tomboy. I climbed trees. I would even climb to the roof of our house. I don’t like the expression daredevil I prefer dare angle. I would jump from the second floor of my grandfather’s barn, out of the window to the ground with my cousins. I was always just very daring and curious about things.
Bridgid: What do you do physically and/or emotionally to keep it together between touring, writing, producing and just everyday life?
Joyce: I listen to very soft music. I even wrote one a song that is fifteen minutes of just flute and strings. As much as I like upbeat music like jazz, funk and fusion, all that I need is something very simple to get myself into prayer mode and to connect with God. That’s how I escape. Sometimes I just call a friend and ask “can we just talk?" It’s amazing what happens when you express yourself. Once you verbalize the experience or what's challenging you in life to a true friend it loses it’s power.
Bridgid: There are some songs that are just so comforting and powerful lyrically that they seem to be speaking to you personally at just the right time. It's the type of song one can just listen to repeatedly. Is there one particular song that you listen to?
Joyce: There is one song I wrote called “Sweet Dreams” from my album of the same name. I have a list of music that I prefer without vocals. To have soft songs without words to them helps me settle down. For example, “The Rose of Sharon” on my “Many Colors” album is the type of music I resolve to. It doesn’t have any kind of percussion or drums to it. It’s soothing. I guess you can say I’m an artist that goes from one extreme to the other. I’ll write a song that has a whole lot of instrumentation with drum kicks and high hats. Then I’ll write another. “Sweet dreams” from my first album has drums but I didn’t want it to be rhythmic. I wanted dynamics, accents, crescendos and decrescendos. It was so beautiful the way it was done.
Bridgid: What is your favorite song to perform?
Joyce: My original song “I See You” also from my "Many Colors" album is my favorite. The reason is that I used to work in corporate America for years. I found it to be very frustrating. So I quit corporate and became more involved in church and the music ministry. I found out that same spirit that is in corporate America was also in the church. When you love the Lord you go to church to assemble with others. When you experience the abuse of power and other things like getting hit on by the pastor etc, it puts a bitter taste in your mouth whether it happens to you or someone you know. I know so many people who no longer go to church because of that . It’s major turn off.
It’s simply church abuse when you violate a rule that is not written anywhere, especially not in the bible. It’s one thing to make an honest error because you were trying to do your best. But it’s another thing to know from the beginning that you were never going to be truthful. People can see through that. So I wrote “I See You.” One line of lyrics says ”your sharp three- piece suit and shiny shoes, howling like a dog singin down home blues but I see you." That’s why I enjoy singing that song because it’s so therapeutic.
Bridgid: What has been your most memorable audience reaction?
Joyce: When I was playing at a retirement center. I was also playing for the residents and they wanted an encore. I started playing “What’s Going On” by Marvin Gaye. This man raised his hands in the air as if he was praising God in church. The staff came in and started dancing and he joined in. He was so happy, laughing and twirling around in his wheelchair. Everyone was getting a kick of him being so happy. To see what music does to people is so inspiring. After I played there he was but he could not speak. He was signaling to my husband to come to him. I went over, hugged him and leaned over to take a picture with him because he was in a wheelchair. That's when I saw the tear coming from his eye. To imagine what that meant to somebody! That’s being a servant!
Bridgid: The audience is totally into your performances and it shows. It’s contagious! Everybody stays pumped up and into it. I’ve been in audiences where it seemed more like a funeral. Does the energy of the audience affect you in any way?
Joyce: That’s okay. I give my best. Everybody responds differently so I just keep the atmosphere. I never underestimate or judge the audience by the way they react. It’s like the song “Mr. Magic” by Grover Washington. Many musicians had stopped playing that song because it was being covered too much. So I decided I wasn’t going to perform that song ever again either. Suddenly, it was like I had a tap on the shoulder by God that said “it is not about you.” If the audience loves “Mr. Magic" I’m going to play it. I had to realize that we were being arrogant. The audience wants to hear it and that’s what I’m here for.
I do what flows. I don’t want t be mechanical on the stage. If I were acting it would show. What works for someone else may not work for me. If it’s not comfortable I don’t do it. I like engaging people. That’s me!
Bridgid: With all of the universal turmoil, atrocities and chaos, if given a chance where would you go and what would you change?
Joyce: I would love bring about the lost history. I would like to go back to Africa. Why Africa? Because science has proven that’s where life began. Everything came from Africa. For instance, I had learned about Leopold II in history class but I had no idea he killed millions of people in the Congo to get raw rubber and made a fortune out of it. It was even to the point that he would cut off the hands of children if they didn’t deliver quickly enough. There is so much history that we have not been privy to. My thought is that if it didn’t matter, then man would not have tried to hide it.
Everything that is hidden I would like to see change and not just by people of African descent. I'm interested in all cultures. The best we can do now is encourage every individual to do their own research. I say don’t rely just on the text books in school. There are certain groups of people who have been devalued based on the color of their skin. We need to start embracing each other’s cultures.
Bridgid: Tell us, your fans, anything at all that we would not expect that you would like for us to know?
Joyce: I love water. I love sitting beside a creek, lake or even a nice pool. I love the sound of water and I can sit for a really long time in front of water and beautiful flowers. That’s therapeutic for me. My song “Solace” was initially published without water sounds. I added the water sounds later. It’s something that’s so simple to most people but I love the sound of water.
Bridgid: Thank you so much Joyce for taking the time to talk with me! We’re all looking forward to catching one of your many performances!
Woodshed Jazz Magazine
Woodshed Jazz Magazine
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