VOTI - voices of the industry

Behind the sounds – Cleveland Watkiss MBE – 
You’ve had an amazing career as a vocalist, what was the first moment you knew this was what you wanted to do in life?

Even as a little boy; singing and performing has always been apart of my life… as the cliché goes-music choose me.

As we all know, life rarely goes in a straight line, what sort of struggles or challenges did you choose to work through to achieve such a strong career?

I’m a Libra, so i’m in constant battle to remain balanced, fair, focused and true to the various music that i love… (for me) music is politics, always has been… the race, gender, systemic societal-isms, are still clearly with us… social media – I saw from the very beginning, would be a very useful tool in speaking out, sparking discussions, debates, and sometimes verbal wars. The struggle continues.

Congratulations on your 2017 Parliamentary Award for best vocalist, and the amazing icing on the cake of professional success – your MBE. Does winning great prizes, awards, and honours reflect in your work at all?

Thank you. I think of these awards and honours, as tools that you can use, to try and help open other doors, that may’ve otherwise been shut tight… especially for an artist of my hue and background.

You had a ram-packed EFG London Jazz Festival schedule this 2018, performing on stage in outstanding collaborations, what made the strongest impression for you in the 2018 EFG LJF? Was it a whirlwind of a time, did your feet touch the ground, what was most inspirational, and did you get any sleep?

The last three months of 2018, was the busiest ever. Much grateful. 2018, will go down as the year I sang with the most amazing of choirs. Meeting, speaking, and singing with the great Bobby McFerrin in the LJF, was indeed a career highlight! He’s such a peaceful human being to be around, and the gig was like the best 90 min meditation class you could ever have… so my feet found the ground, and I got the sleep, so to speak…

Were there any other musical moments in 2018, that will stick with you forever?

Being part of the Gibralter Music Festival ‘Borders’, curated by Orphy Robinson, performing my own original music.


Singing the character ‘Vasile’ in Julian Joseph and Mike Phillps’ Oratorio – Tristan and Isolde at the QEH

You’ve been recently appointed as professor of voice at Trinity Laban Conservatoire, are there any vocal and creative fundamentals that will be at the top of your list to pass on to the next generation of talent?

At the very top:
To rekindle your love of pure improvisation, that we all have naturally as kids, but sometimes lose as adults.

You’re often overseas performing – if it’s possible to choose, what are your favourite moments in performing internationally?

I work regularly in Russia, and they really appreciate, and get all the things i do as an artist in it’s totality.
Can’t beat that.

How do you see the balance between improvisation and songwriting in jazz?

I love and live by this quote today:
‘Improvisation is-composition sped up, and composition is- improvisation slowed down’.
That’s it in a nutshell.

What is your most listened to tune or tunes in 2018?

Oh so many, I have two hours worth of music that I listen to each month,
and host a monthly radio show on www.frissionradio.com,
which is archived on www.mixcloud.com
search: #WatkissRadio

How do you see the relationship evolving between streaming services and a musicians work?

Once your music becomes digitised, it is now available to be accessed, potentially for free.

Many of us, are still in the middle of figuring out how to make all this new technology work!
I love the idea and ease of streaming, but it’s not working out financially rewarding, if you don’t have full ownership of your masters.
Ownership is a thing.

What musical genius from any genre or era would you take to the moon?

Thelonious Monk


about Cleveland Watkiss MBE

Born in the East End of London, virtuoso vocalist, actor and composer. At age 16, he won twice in a local singing talent competition, hosted by “FatMan” of FatMan Sound System (North East London Based Roots, Reggae & Dub Sound System). Cleveland Watkiss studied the voice at the London School of Singing with opera coach Arnold Rose and at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama. Cleveland was also one of the co-founders of the vastly influential Jazz Warriors big band. His vocals can be heard on their debut album, Out of Many People, which won a video award in Japan.

​Cleveland was then entered for the Wire/Guardian Jazz Awards and was voted best vocalist for three consecutive years, and was the opening act of choice for two of the worlds greatest female jazz vocalists Cassandra Wilson and Abbey Lincoln. John Fordham, the Guardian music journalist accurately describes Cleveland as “arriving on the scene with a bang”.

​His amazing vocal experiences have seen him perform with many diverse artists from around the world such as the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, the Dusseldorf Symphony Orchestra, Wynton Marsalis, Bob Dylan, Jackie Mittoo, Keith Richards, the James Taylor Quartet, Art Blakey, Sly & Robbie, Abdullah Ibrahim, Stevie Wonder, Patife, the Liepaja Symphony Orchestra, Nigel Kennedy, Carlinhos Brown, Robbie Williams, Joe Cocker, The Who, Branford Marsalis, George Martin, Julian Joseph, Bocato Big Band, Lisa Stansfield, Courtney Pine, Janet Kay, Maxi Priest, Soul II Soul, the London Chamber Orchestra, Kassa Mady, the BBC Orchestra, Goldie, Cassandra Wilson, the Kenny Wheeler Big Band, Sugar Minot, Talvin Singh, Bjork, Pete Townshend, the London Community Gospel Choir [LCGC] and many many more.

​Cleveland is also a very keen music educator, working as a voice instructor at workshops in venues, schools, colleges and universities around the UK.

​He also designed the vocal curriculum for BA students at The Weekend Arts College [WAC] in North London, and is a regular facilitator and voice coach for the Artist Development Programme [ADP] at the Hackney Empire Theatre in East London.

​More recently, demonstrating great versatility, Cleveland Watkiss was cast as the starring role in Julian Joseph’s two groundbreaking Jazz operas, Bridgetower and Shadowball, to considerable acclaim.

​Cleveland has and continues to perform in many of the major concert halls, festivals and clubs around the world with his VocalSuite, a solo voice performance, and with his new quartet, CWQ.

“Best Male Jazz Singer in Britain” – Evening Standard


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