Happiness has a home in
By Naughty Mickie
Here I was calling yet another great vocalist in Los Angeles. Ho-hum, it seems so many of them are jaded to the point of being irritated with having to go through yet another interview.
"Hello," he answered warmly.
I was pleased, at least he might be receptive to my questions. But then came the kicker-- he was the real deal, friendly and mildly surprised that I wanted to speak with him. This is the persona of Jubilant Sykes, one of the best baritones to take on the modern world. He is himself, no airs, no ego, just purely happy that he can do what he loves for a living.
"Tell me about your life,'' I say.
"It's boring. I'm completely uninteresting,'' Sykes chuckles. "It's the music.''
For those of you unfamiliar with Sykes' career, he has performed with the Metropolitan Opera, at many of the great music festivals of Europe and in concert halls across the United States. He has also been getting rave reviews for his latest release, "Wait For Me'' (Sony Classical). The album departs from Sykes' usual classical milieu and lets him explore his talent with songs such as Brian Wilson and Tony Ashner's "God Only Knows'' and Bob Dylan's "Ring Dem Bells.'' This past July, he was featured in TNT's "All-Star Tribute to Brian Wilson'' on cable television and performed American standards, Broadway favorites, spirituals and more at the Hollywood Bowl's "July Fourth Fireworks Spectacular.''
"I've been singing since I can remember,'' Sykes starts.
He goes on to explain that he was first noticed by his sixth grade summer school teacher who liked his singing. She took Sykes to concerts and got him interested in classical music. Their shared love of music blossomed into a friendship which Sykes maintains with his mentor to this day.
He kept singing and entering in competitions. Sykes' parents were supportive, his father was a trumpet player, but his mother still encouraged him to pursue a more solid career such as a doctor or lawyer.
After high school, Sykes majored in music at California State University, Fullerton, where he earned a bachelor's degree. During this time, he met Tom Collins, who believed in Sykes' passion for music and gave him a scholarship to study in Europe, so he honed his craft in Austria and Paris.
While still in college in 1990, Sykes landed first professional gig as Jake in "Porgy and Bess'' with the Houston Grand Opera. This led to being hired, over the telephone no less, by the Minnesota Orchestra. Sykes also won first place in the regional Metropolitan Opera Auditions in Los Angeles.
Sykes is undaunted by his rise to fame, simply stating, "I'm fortunate to do something I went to school for."
Sykes isn't just a bard of other's tunes though, he also finds time to write some music of his own, he even wrote one of the tracks on "Wait For Me." He usually starts writing with the music or a mood, rather than lyrics. Sykes will sit down at the piano trying out different chords and "the words just sort of come out." His lyrics are often inspired after a trip to the movies, a play or an art gallery. And like many musicians, Sykes sometimes wakes up at night with an idea and has to rush to write it down.
Although he is heard in mostly classical situations, Sykes says that he especially enjoys R&B because of its "slightly out'' harmonies. He reflects a moment and tells me that he has a fairly eclectic taste in
"I like it," Sykes says about today's music scene. "I think some of it is imitation of imitation, but I like the fact that people are trying new musical ideas."
I hit him up about the Internet.
"Lately I've been on it a lot," Sykes smiles.
He explains that he's been studying up on dogs because he would like to get one, but Sykes admits sadly that he's traveling too much for one right now. His current favorite breed is a mastiff, but he thinks he will probably settle for a Newfoundland because "they don't drool as much."
When Sykes isn't on the road, he likes to stay around the house.
"I hang out in the garden, but I'm not growing okra or corn in the backyard,'' he laughs.
But wherever he goes, Sykes always carries a book. He is really into mysteries and was reading a novel by Ken Follett when we spoke. Sykes, like many mystery readers, loves trying to solve the puzzle before the end of the book.
I almost get tired just hearing about Sykes' hectic schedule for the next year, which includes dates with the Miami String Quartet and the San Francisco Symphony, an appearance at the Ravinia Festival in Chicago and a tour in support of "Wait For Me.'' And, despite being in obvious demand, he still remains in awe of his fans.
"It's very humbling,'' Sykes smiles. "You hope they like what you do and when they do, you appreciate it.''
Yes, Jubilant, we like what you do, but more important, we like you.
To find out more about Jubilant Sykes visit www.sonyclassical.com/artists/sykes
Return to DaBelly