Music is life, and jazz is transcendent. That much was clear during my interview with Saint Lucian musician Rupert Lay, frontman for the Rupert Lay Quartet. Minutes earlier they had brought the curtains down on the first event on the Soleil calendar.
Is this your first performance on Jazz main stage?
Rupert: On main stage, yes.
This was my first performance as Rupert Lay. But I’ve performed on main stage before as a side man.
How do you rate the experience?
Rupert: It was great. Of course I’d have been happier to have a full house; you always want the energy from the crowd. Quite apart from that, the crowd was quite receptive and very upbeat. That made up for the numbers.
What are your thoughts on improving the festival?
Rupert: Actually I was quite happy to be playing jazz. I am a jazz musician, essentially. I’m sure you noticed the jazz edition of the Soleil event was really jazz, with the exception of Vanessa Williams. That’s one of the things I liked, that they have addressed that issue that had been a personal beef of mine. It used to be that jazz was a little bit on the side. I always had an issue with that.
How many times have you visited the festival?
Rupert: I come every year. This time around the demographic seemed to be the same. The numbers may have been a little down but it’s a new event; I expect attendance will improve. People probably wanted to get a feel for what it is, and then decide. It’s not all that different, just more focused. This is the jazz edition; the other editions will be more focused on the other aspects, so I think it’ll be good.
What does jazz music mean to you?
Rupert: Jazz actually is a way of life. For many people it’s just music but really, to jazz musicians, it’s a way of life. We express ourselves through sound and through music. When you get into jazz it’s with you for life. One of the first things you realize is that your lifetime is too short to reach the limits of that energy. It’s an energy source that is immense, and so you become immediately humbled by it, and also happy because you realize that you’ll always progress. You’re continuously a student; you learn every single day and it truly is a way of life. You live it. For us here, we have the jazz event, now Soleil, and many people see it as a May event. For a musician like me, a jazz musician, it’s an everyday thing. I live jazz tomorrow as well, and the next day, so it is truly a way of life.
How were you introduced to jazz?
Rupert: I must’ve been six or seven. I didn’t know what it was. I remember hearing a Bob Marley song when I was about five and I said to myself, “If there is no music on this planet, I’d rather die.” I remember saying that, and that’s a profound statement for a five-year-old to make. Then I heard jazz around seven, but I didn’t quite know what it was.
I left Saint Lucia and went back to England, where I was born. I got involved with some musicians and we went to a gig. Afterward one of the musicians put in a CD. I was in the back of the vehicle. I listened to what was playing and I thought, “What on earth is this? I don’t know what it is, but it’s really, really good!” I realized then that it was what I’d heard for the first time when I was seven.
I remember some radio presenters here in Saint Lucia who played jazz . . . I was exposed quite early, but I didn’t know what was happening until later. That’s the beauty about the music.
What do you love about it?
Rupert: I would say everything. But that would be too broad. What I love about jazz is that it sets you free. It forces you to be you. It forces you to discover who you are. It makes you explore that person that is you. Somehow, if you truly get into it, that’s what happens. That in and of itself sets you free.
Are you currently working on any special projects?
Rupert: I started an album in November. It’s part of a three-to-four album deal that I have. The timeline was to release it about now, but there were a few things I wanted to redo. My quartet will be in England for a performance next month, and I will also be going back into the studio to put down some more tunes. I made a decision to take my time.
What I presented today is something I want to capture on the first album, some of the local tunes. One of the things Saint Lucia is blessed with, because we exchanged hands between the British and the French, is our depth of culture. It’s very good. We probably take it for granted, but it brings diversity, the French perspective and the English perspective. Our folk tunes are very varied, and very interesting. I’d like to explore that.