Julie Dexter - Exiled UK Queen of Soul
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Born and raised in Birmingham, England, of Jamaican parents, Julie Dexter has become an international, award-winning artist and has also studied her love for the arts, academically. Her move from London to Atlanta, USA has caused many fans confusion but has transported Julie Dexter’s career to new horizons. “Yeah, it’s more of a case when they hear it they have to work out where it’s from, they don’t detect it’s from Birmingham. The first thing they do is try to work out where it’s from, and the first thing they say is it’s from London because most people take it with a London accent more than a Birmingham accent, so I have to explain that I am from Birmingham, which is two hours away from London, we get there eventually.
“I studied jazz vocals and scatting, like Billie Holiday, Ella Fitzgerald, Sarah Vaughan, really got into those guys, and messed up all the teachers in school. Oh I don’t want to do classical any more, I want to do jazz vocals, and they were like OK then…and I ended up doing a major in jazz voice.”
“They associate London with Julie Brown who used to do Soul Train because my names Julie, and who else, Desmond. That’s the thing’s they associate it with; they’re not familiar with the black population in Birmingham I don’t think (laughs)” Julie Dexter’s discography is impressive, and full of musical twists and turns. Known for never sticking to one genre, Julie Dexter has released Peace Of Mind EP, Dexterity, Conscious, and Moon Bossa featuring Khari Simmons. Along with her collaborative work on Dune Music.
“Yeah, it was more enjoyable”, says Julie Dexter about Moon Bossa. “But you know what I did most of the album with the help of a producer because I’m very strong minded in the ideas that I want musically, so I kinda missed that, but this time I enjoyed putting my focus on the vocal arrangements and the lyrics. It was a bit of a holiday for me in the sense that I could vacation more and chill without worrying about every single aspect of the record.”
“Well I went via London, when I was eighteen after I finished my A Levels in Birmingham’s Joseph Chamberlain College, and I moved to London and went to Middlesex University, and did a degree course in Music Communications, and that’s when I got the bug for singing — actually I’d been a classically trained musician up until that point. I’d play the clarinet and the violin, and got the bug for singing from going to Middlesex and doing an exchange program, which was a semester in America at a school called Radford University. I was doing classical clarinet up until that point, and took my first jazz class, in this school in America, and you know, discovered jazz vocals. I studied jazz vocals and scatting, like Billie Holiday, Ella Fitzgerald, Sarah Vaughan, really got into those guys, and messed up all the teachers in school. Oh I don’t want to do classical any more, I want to do jazz vocals, and they were like OK then…and I ended up doing a major in jazz voice.
“But you can’t show fear even if you have it inside, you got to look like you’re confident, you got to look like you know what your doing.”
“I met Jason Yard, who’s a phenomenal musician from England’s Jazz Warriors, um, so many different people played with me but we actually formed a group that was formed by Gary Crosby, called the Tomorrow’s Warriors, and then they became J Life. We toured with J Life, with the British Council to places like India, Colombia, Lithuania, basically we’ve been ambassadors for music with jazz, and it was the five of us, so that was basically where I started, you know, getting my touring skills together, and my musician skills and arrangement skill, got to tour with Courtney Pine, which was a huge deal for me, that was actually my first time touring but went to Japan with him and it wasn’t that I felt like I’d reached my plateau, but the opportunity came to me to come to the States, and it really wasn’t to come and live, I just came to do a show.
“I fell in love with Atlanta, it was my first time here, I liked the scene, I liked the vibrancy, I liked the fact that it was Southern, and in the South, I’ve been to New York before, which is very similar to London to me, it’s very busy, very concrete jungle but Atlanta appealed to me because it’s like oh, it’s very green, a lot of trees, people are polite, and the music scene again, is very vibrant, people like India Arie was on the scene, people like Donnie and Anthony David, you know, I was basically just drawn to it by curiosity, I’d never actually thought I’d live here, for six years, which is how long I’ve been here. Got myself a visa, came over, and started my independent career as a solo artist, which is Julie Dexter, which I hadn’t actually done before I’d always been in a group, so that’s basically the path that I took and how I got here, which was by accident, but I believe every thing is in divine order, so I guess it was planned somehow.”
“So I have new inspiration right now, her name is Miama Rayne, and she was named after one of my favorite John Coltrane songs, it was probably one of the most beautiful melodies I ever heard, it also means contented, satisfied, she’s really all those things.”
“Oh yeah definitely”, admits Julie Dexter about the fear she faced when moving to Atlanta, USA. “But you can’t show fear even if you have it inside, you got to look like you’re confident, you got to look like you know what your doing. Basically take one step at a time and take everything as it comes to you. Remember as well, I wasn’t necessarily familiar with the place, but I was familiar with the musicians, and I knew how to interact with musicians and that’s how basically I moved around Atlanta, getting in with musicians like Kebbi Williams, a phenomenal sax player, Khari Simmons, a bass player I’ve actually done this project with and you just start meeting new people, and you move around in a music circle. As apposed to moving to a new city, looking for a new job, looking for a place to live, it was rolling with the musicians and I feel comfortable doing that.”
Julie Dexter has only performed at London’s Jazz Cafe for her debut album Dexterity, it was an exciting time for this UK artist, and hopes were high that UK soul and jazz music would be reborn. Though, sadly, she decided to venture into the USA and we lost one of UK’s most talented vocalists. However, Julie Dexter says, “Oh that was that year but pretty much every year I’ve come home and done a gig somewhere. If it hasn’t been at the Jazz Café is was at the Drum in Birmingham, I did Mau Mau’s last year in West London, you know that one in Portobello road?”
“I might be doing that again this year because I’m coming home in July. So I’ll come home every year and try to do a gig somewhere, just to keep my name out there, you know what I’m saying? I’m mean it feels good to be at home for one, and the musicians that I play with are the people that I was inspired by and grew up with musically, so I almost want to just get with them any way, to do a show and just make sense, you know, and just let people know that I’m still making music and every time I come I might have a new CD to sell (laughs). So yeah definitely, every year I try and make a point of doing a show.”
Julie Dexter’s main musical inspirations were neither jazz nor classical though, at least to start with, “Bob Marley, a lot of reggae artists because both my parents are Jamaican, so we have strong West Indian heritage in the household, so a lot of reggae music, people like John Holt, Desmond Dekker, my brother was playing artists of the time, you know, artists like Tippa Irie, Deborah Glasgow, Lovers Rock, soul people like Michael Jackson, Kool and the Gang, so I listened to a lot of what he was listening to and I’ve basically developed my own taste to get into jazz and classical, but it was just something that I was drawn to, so it was quite a mixture of reggae, soul, funk, jazz and later on classical.”
Julie Dexter speaks about her new album Moon Bossa with JIVA bass player, Khari Simmons. “Well, we’re gonna be promoting this new record called Moon Bossa with Khari, which is a new concept for me promoting a style of music as apposed to my own album, which is normally a compilation of songs, that I enjoy whatever genre it is, jazz, reggae or soul. This is a very specific genre called bossa nova, so you’re gonna dig it or you’re not. So, I’m looking forward to performing and doing gigs in that style, you know, I’m definitely looking forward to it, Khari he’s a phenomenal bass player and this is his baby, it’s his concept, his idea, and I just happened to be the vocalist that he chose, but he could have chosen anybody. I’m blessed that I’ve been chosen.”
If her music is sorted, her life happily seems to be going the same way, “I’ve just had a baby girl, I’m married in the sense that I’ve found a man who I want to spend the rest of my life with. This is new to me, this whole family thing is new for the both of us, so we’re just playing happy families, you know, just bringing up my daughter, and exchanging roles in changing dippers/feeding, so it’s a new gig for me but it’s the best gig I’ve had. It’s the most rewarding and the most challenging gig for me, and being committed in a relationship, you know, it has its ups and downs, and it’s a lot of hard work, but it’s also very rewarding, it also gives me an incentive to keep me doing what I do, I want to keep making music and leave a legacy for my daughter. I obviously want to make money so I can send her to a good school; you know what I’m saying? So I have new inspiration right now, her name is Miama Rayne, and she was named after one of my favorite John Coltrane songs, it was probably one of the most beautiful melodies I ever heard, it also means contented, satisfied, she’s really all those things. I know you’ve heard her crying but she’s not always crying.”
Julie is not sure how seriously to take her title as UK Queen of Soul, but she isn’t short of her own role models, “People who have been a part of history as a musician, as a leader, people like Martin Luther King and Malcolm X. So many people, Trevor McDonald used to inspire me because my Mother used to talk about how he was one of the first black faces she saw on TV when she came back from Jamaica. I’m sure he got knighted I think he’s Sir Trevor McDonald, if I’m not wrong, and that says a lot to me, that came and stood the whole time, so in my Mum’s eyes he rose and then became a hero for me. I’ve got more contemporary hero’s like Trevor Nelson a DJ, Ian Wright, just basically people who have been successful, and you can see it with your own eyes, and you’ve seen the struggle, where they started from and where they end up.”
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