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Interview By: Bridgid Brousseau
Sheila E at the 35th Annual Playboy Jazz Festival
SHEILA E.: Legendary percussionist, drummer, singer and songwriter.
Definition: The epitome and embodiment of talent, creativity, strength and femininity in motion, interwoven with strands of the finest intangible silk, ignited by rhythmic beats exploding into flames, swiftly crossing all boundaries, borders and territories with the ferocity of an uncontainable, rapidly spreading musical fire, intentionally devouring the willing, yet unrelenting targets in a hurricane of majestic, musical bliss.
Origin: Legendary Percussionist, Pete Escovedo and Juanita Gardere, married since 1956.
Last year’s performance at the Playboy Jazz Festival won her a standing ovation that stopped the show! This year Sheila E. transcends! Sheila E. returned for the second year in a row with the panache that only Sheila E. holds the implicit patent to. She had the crowd on their feet and calling her name combined with a sustained round of applause that erupted upon the entrance of the USC Drumline marching band performing a synchronized choreography in consummate Sheila E. fashion.
Bridgid: The band and that opening was phenomenal! That’s going to be remembered for some time to come. How did that come to be?
Sheila: I wanted to start with a drum core since I’m a drummer, but because I’ve been in the studio finishing my album I wanted to do the whole marching thing. Those drums are heavy and they’re loud. It was still a lot of fun to play with them. We worked that whole thing out as of yesterday. We put it together in one day. SJM: Did you hear the crowd’s response?
Sheila: Well, I was behind the stage at the time, but I was listening for it. I was trying to peek around, see and hear.
Bridgid: They loved it. They went crazy!
Sheila: Oh, good! I’m glad it got a great response..The 2013 Playboy Festival held so many unique and historical moments. Sheila also debuted “Mona Lisa,” a new song from her upcoming new album.
Sheila: “Mona Lisa!” It was the first time we ever played “Mona Lisa.” It was great to be able to play it. The audience responded well for not having ever heard it. That’s a good sign because the album is not being released until March of next year but we’re releasing the record in October. It will be released in Europe first so you got to hear it in advance. But it was a great response and I’m really happy about it.The marching band was comprised of our youth.
This headlining entrance was not only grand visually and musically, but also an ardent testament and illustration of Sheila’s equally unwavering humanitarian efforts to uplift, educate and inspire our youth to achieve greatness that they may not otherwise be afforded. She shared with us more on her dedication to our abused, underprivileged and neglected youth through the “Elevate Hope Foundation” which She co-founded with friend and business partner Lynn Mabry.
Sheila: I started “Elevate Hope Foundation” with my friend Lynn Mabry. We use music and arts as therapy. We started with just foster kids because it seemed like they were the last to get help and access to music and the arts. So we started with facilities in the bay area, Oakland and San Francisco. We then moved here to Los Angeles to a school called “Vista Del Mar”. It services kids in foster care, but then we also moved out of that realm and started helping kids in general just to help keep music in the classes because a lot of the kids want music and it’s not available. So we just keep continuing to raise money and then we give the money back by sponsoring teachers with instruments and whatever their needs might be.
Bridgid: “Elevate Hope Foundation” was founded in 2001 and since then you’ve had tremendous support from many of the “powers that be” and the “movers and shakers” in the entertainment field. What can your fans and the general public do other than making donations when they can to help elevate the “Elevate Hope Foundation” to the level in which it is as synonymous to Sheila E. as “The Glamorous Life” is to Sheila E?
Sheila: Right! Yes, we’re trying to do that. Part of that is really going to the website “.” and spreading the news and just letting others know that this is a way to help kids. We called an emergency meeting a couple of weeks ago in Oakland, California with the Mayor and the superintendents. We said “enough is enough!” We have to help the kids and we must bring music back into the schools. Things are starting to move. We’re not playing anymore! We’re also going to approach the “powers that be” in Washington. We’ve already inquired about that. We have to do that. It’s going to happen and it’s going to happen very soon.
The Hollywood Bowl has almost 18,000 seats. Everyone sitting in one of those seats was on their feet when Sheila E. stepped onto the stage and on their feet is where they remained until she performed her signature song “The Glamorous Life.” I, like anyone else afforded the very rare opportunity could not resist the urge to ask her about it.
Bridgid: Speaking of “The Glamorous Life,” it is a timeless classic. No matter where you’re performing, no one leaves the venue until they hear you perform “The Glamorous Life.” Where were you when you first heard “The Glamorous Life” on the radio?
Sheila: I was in Europe and we were doing all of the press and everything for the song to be released in the United States. When I came back to the United States I was driving a Red Mercedes down Sunset Blvd. I was going to make a left turn to go to Greenblatts Deli, my favorite place to get a sandwich. I was getting ready to make that left turn, the top was down, the radio was on, the song came on as I was turning and I got hit.
Fortunately, I wasn’t hurt but I totaled the car.
Bridgid: So what was your first splurge on a car?Shelia: I didn’t want to buy a car after that. I just kept renting every week. Why by a car when you can rent one every week?
This years Playboy Jazz Festival also provided us the opportunity of seeing Sheila E. perform with her Father, legendary musician, Pete Escovedo, who broke barriers between Smooth Jazz, Salsa, Latin Jazz and contemporary music.
An additionally memorable and poignant moment came when Sheila’s mother, Juanita Gardere joined her father on center stage and danced together as Sheila played.
Sheila: That took a minute! If you ask “momz” to come on stage she doesn’t want to. When you don’t ask her, she comes out there. That’s Lucy and Ricky all day long! I said “momz” please come out and dance with “popz.” It’s Father’s Day! She said she didn’t want to but she came out and it was fun. They love dancing. They dance together all the time. They’re still married. They love each other and they’ll have been married for 57 years in October which will make me 56 years old this year.
Bridgid: Congratulations to your parents! That’s certainly a rarity as well as an inspiration.
Bridgid: You look like you get younger! Wow! How do you do it? You look beautiful and you’re clearly in amazing shape!
Sheila: Thank you. It may just be the lighting right now. But you know what? God, my family and music have been just amazing! Just being able to play music is exciting, and it’s healing. It makes me happy.
Sheila also shared her moments on stage with the multi-faceted, musical icon, George Lopez and vocalist and song writer, India Arie.
Sheila: It was a really relaxed show for me today and that’s what it felt like. We were just having fun and hanging out with the you guys. George Lopez came onto the stage and India Arie was on my side. If I had seen any of the other musicians I would have had everybody on stage because it’s fun. We get together, we play and it’s a lot of fun! That’s what we’re supposed to do right?
Sheila: We also have Raymond McKinly on Bass, Nate Mercer on guitar, Mike Blankenship on keyboards, Deveret Parson on vocals, Eddie M. on saxophone and Chris Coleman on drums.
Bridgid: Eddie M. has been with you for years hasn’t he?
Sheila E: Yes, Eddie M. has been with me since 1983. Raymond has been with me since 1990. Most of the band is from Oakland.A lot of people may not know that Sheila has also stepped into the country music realm. She has a country song called the “Glorious Train” that is an incredible piece of music. She shared the process for going from one form of music to another.
Sheila: Well, for me, again, music is healing. It’s a language that everyone understands. I just enjoy music no matter what it is. I like country artists because they tell stories. I went back to Nashville to write some more. On this new upcoming album I work with several country writers and it was a pleasure. It was awesome!
Sheila: Even with “Elevate Hope Foundation” the kids have told us that the music is healing. Being able to use music and arts therapy for them has given them a way to express themselves creatively in getting out things that they were bothered by.
Sheila: It’s a form of creative communication to help them open up and talk about their issues and they can turn that into a song. Kids have come to me and said that if they didn’t have the tools to be able to express themselves through music and art, even through photography and film, they would probably be dead. And we’ve heard that from so many kids that we’ve worked with so it’s been a beautiful thing. It’s been a blessing for us.
The family that plays together stays together. As Sheila says, “whoever can fit in the car is going!”
Sheila: We travel a lot together as a family. My dad has a new album out. I also started a record company called “Stiletto Flats, Inc.” in which we put out my dads record “Pete Escovedo, Live in Stern Grove.” We’re in the process of signing three other artists. So we’re doing well. We’re looking for talent. There is a lot of talent out there, young talent as well. We want to help. There’s not an age limit. The company is really growing and we want to move forth with "Stiletto Flats, Inc.” music and continue to put good music out there. We’ve even signed a Japanese Gospel group. Andre Crouch produced part of the album and you can go onto the website to get that as well.
Sheila: There are so many things happening and we’re trying to just enjoy life every single day and just be a blessing to others. You have all blessed us every time we come here. You are all a blessing to me and my family. This has been amazing! So I thank you ladies and gentlemen for always supporting me and my family. I really appreciate it.
Sheila E and the E. Family are synonymous with music. They are not just masters of Latin Jazz, but of music from all genres. Together they afford all generations with the classic, nostalgic and contemporary music experience and provide the newer generations with the introduction to Sheila E. and the E. Family. Not only do they welcome all into their creative lives, but also provide the resplendent stream of music that is enduring, soothing, empowering and evokes emotions as ever-flowing as a waterfall. For that, we thank Sheila E and the E Family.