A New Jazz Voice: Jahzel Dotel
April 14, 2016
Like an archeologist digging up fossils of species’ past, it takes a young and dedicated voice to breathe new life into the sounds of musical yesteryear. Not known to many, Miami’s Jazz history is extensive, far past the current Latin-fusion that has moved in to keep the blood pumping. Musical legends like Chet Baker, Billie Holliday, and Count Basie used our portal city as a regular excuse to escape the Northern cold and jam the night away at venues like Ball & Chain some 50 or so years ago.
Our lovely tune-filled city is entering its second verse of musical excitement, propelled by this newfound confidence in a collective of young artists hungry for bettering Miami as a whole. That’s where Jahzel Dotel comes in–with jazz as her weapon of choice. The local songstress sashayed her way onto the music scene, equipped with a repertoire of classics that have taken on a sound all her own. She’s ramping up for the release of her debut album, Leftovers on April 28th and we sat down for a jazzy chat and a better look at one of the city’s rising voices. Check it out:
Prism: What is it about Jazz that has inspired you to sing in the genre?
Jahzel: While in college, I was learning about art history and history of jazz and blues. I revisited the jazz artists my parents used to listen to at home and it was after listening to Billie Holiday that I started to fall in love with jazz. I found that jazz, blues, and soul suited my voice, and I loved the feeling when singing it.
P: What other genres of music do you like to dive into and why? Anything you haven’t yet tried before that you may be willing to undertake?
J: I really enjoy listening hard rock, alternative pop/rock, r&b, soul, folk. Every genre suits a different mood or situation for me. I haven’t really thought about the details as to why I like so many different genres, but I think it’s something in the melodies of some songs that touch my soul. I have an eclectic taste in music and have been influenced by it in different ways. I’m willing to try new things as long as it resonates with who I am. Music is a universal language.
P: Tell us a little bit about your story. Where did you come from and how did music find its way into your life?
J: I come from a small family, Dominican background, born in New Jersey. My parents have always loved music, especially my dad, who is always playing an instrument or has music playing at home/car. I think I got my obsession from him. Growing up, in school we had to sing in choir everyday, and so, singing became very natural for me, but I was also very very shy. Only a handful of people knew I sing. Fast forward, after 7 years of working behind a desk, I finally took the risk and quit my job to do what I truly loved.
P: What was the moment when you knew music was something you wanted to pursue professionally?
J: After graduating with a Bachelor’s in fine arts photography, I started to attend what was known at the time as Stone Groove, an underground open mic every Tuesday. That became my escape. I loved the feeling of being up there and singing my heart out. I slowly started to gain more confidence as people were giving me great feedback. It took me some years to realize that singing was beyond just that, but I was also sharing a gift and inspiring others to share their gifts as well. That is when I felt I was meant to do this for a living.
P: As a Miami local, is there anything about the character of the city that has inspired your music in any way?
J: Yes, working in the Miami night life scene inspired me to write the song “I Sing My Tunes”, also the song “Libertad” has a Latin feel to it, a mix of both of my roots, Spanish and Middle Eastern.
Miami has provided me a stage as a Latina to also share that side of me. Another song I wrote in this beautiful city is “Under The Mango Tree”, which was literally inspired by a mango tree in my old place. Not many mango trees in other states.
P: Who has helped you get to where you are today, and what advice can you give artists in a similar position as you were when you started?
J: Uff, there are so many people who have helped get to where I am today. It’s like when you’re cooking and you need all the ingredients to make that final meal. To name a few, my life partner Alex, his unconditional support and belief in my potential has helped me reach this point, my parents and brother loving me for who I am, Rodolfo, my friend and producer who has worked very hard on this album, my mentors, the amazing musicians I work with, Amy and Pablo Landi from Litus Music, even the people who rejected me, helped without knowing; it made me work harder. Last but not least, all the people who contributed either by sharing or donating to our project.
My advice to other artists is: Believe in yourself, trust, every time you get a “no” it’s an opportunity to grow, surround yourself with people who keep it real. Everything else will manifest.
P: Let’s talk about Leftovers. Can you describe the writing and producing process behind your first album?
J: The name Leftovers came from the idea of compiling songs I’ve written throughout the years and recent songs, sharing bits and pieces of my past. The writing process comes with no warning, so I better have my phone to record or write notes on (technology… although I’d prefer to hangout with a notebook, haha). For example, while watching the new Nina Simone documentary, What Happened Ms. Simone? there was a part where she was talking about her first time working at a bar. That clicked for me in someway and I paused to write what is now the song “I Sing My Tunes”. I also get inspired by nature, or just one word that may stand out to me from a song.
Rodolfo Troncoso and I worked on this album for about a year. We wanted to create something together for some years, but it wasn’t until I got rejected from The Voice that I decided to make this album. I had worked really hard on training my voice with Karina Iglesias, and was in the studio every week practicing and learning about myself as an artist. I said to myself, “there’s no way I did all this work for a big fat NO” so, we took a leap of faith and created a Kickstarter campaign to raise enough funds to cover expenses of recording and art work.
This became more of a community project. We are where we are because of everyone’s support, some from Miami, New York, Virginia, some from Dominican Republic, some from Dubai, Brazil, Mexico, etc.
P: Is there a unifying theme that connects the music of the album?
J: The theme is leftovers of my everyday life since I moved to Miami. There are songs about love, breakups, nightlife, overcoming fear, and interludes with my ukulele since it became my new obsession.
P: What was the most difficult thing you encountered in the process of making the album and how did you overcome it?
J: We have had many challenges in the process, it takes a lot more than just singing and writing songs to create an album, but I think the most difficult was raising the money. Without it, all of our creations and hard work would have not been able to come to life. Everyday I had doubts about it, but I kept putting the word out there and focused on the intention behind this album. Fear is just there to keep you grounded, the trick is to make things happen regardless of fear, and we did it!
P: What do you hope this album conveys to its listeners?
J: It’s all about connection for me. I wish for people to either find a connection within themselves or relate to these songs in someway… and of course sing along.
P: Top 3 favorite albums of all time. Go.
Parachutes – Coldplay
Frank – Amy Winehouse
19 – Adele
P: What else can we expect from you this year?
J: Well, summertime is coming, which means time slows down in Miami and I get to create more, so expect more shows, more songs, and the rest – may the Universe surprise me.
Swing by The Wynwood Yard on Thursday, April 28th and celebrate this hard-working artist’s path towards jazz greatness. She’ll be joined by tons of fellow musicians, some surprise performers and other goodies. Make sure to RSVP.