The Texan born Tatiana ‘LadyMay’ Mayfield is certainly a breath of fresh air. With her jazz foundations, soul influences and stunning vocal tone she is definitely a talented young lady. Lady May (as she is named) has been singing and playing jazz music from a young age. She has performed in front of the iconic Al Jarreau, Diane Reeves, Patti Austin, Dee Dee Bridgewater and Kirk Elling in 2010 when she was chosen as one of twelve to compete in the prestigious Thelonious Monk International Jazz Vocals Competition in Washington D.C. LadyMay has also opened for many well known acts such as Kirk Whalum, Randy Brecker and Dave Valentin. With two albums under her belt; ‘From All Directions’ (2009) and ‘A Portrait of LadyMay’ (2012) she is well on her way to establishing an amazing career. We recently had a chance to talk to the young songstress before she travels to the UK and get to know more about her.
CC: What is your first memory of singing?
LM: You know you have the wind up toys/music boxes? I used to sing to mine all the time when I was a little girl. There was a toy in particular that would sing the theme to the movie ‘Babes in Toyland’ and I used to make up a little songs to it all the time. I would sing when I was outside playing and just entertain myself when I was alone and no one else was around. My mom took notice of all of that and was like ‘we might have a singer here’ a lot of times I wouldn’t even realise I was doing it, it would just come out.
CC: Who are your biggest influences music wise?
LM: Lets start with my Jazz people; Nancy Wilson, Natalie Cole, Ella Fitgerald, Sarah Vaughan, Diana Washington. On the soul side, I would say Aretha Franklin, Stevie Wonder, Michael Jackson, all of those people. Jill Scott, I absolutely adore her. I really like Amel Larrieux also. Eric Benet, I love him! I really like Maxwell. I have a big list of people. I love so many people. There have been a lot of artists who have influenced me. Vivian Green is another one. She is excellent.
CC: How do you go about the songwriting process?
LM: My process is probably a little weird or a little different from others. Even though I am a vocalist I function like more of an instrumentalist. I’m not sure if it has anything to do with how I studied or what it is. I started out singing but I also played trombone all through middle school, I actually started playing piano and trombone at about the same time at about 11 years old. Since then that’s really effected how I write. Generally I will come up with a musical idea. I’ll start with the melody, something simple, and funnily enough a lot of times things come to me in the car. My trip to my job is about 50 minutes so I sing my ideas into my phone, take it home, and add the chord changes to it. So then I’ve got my melody and my chord changes, then after that I’ll just keep that on the brain, get my notebook with all my lyrics in it and start coming up with lyrical ideas based on how the music makes me feel. Is it a dark sad vibe? Or is it bright and happy? Is it in-between? And then I will try and decide what I want it to be about.
Really lyrics are the hardest thing for me to write. I don’t consider myself to be the best lyrical writer. Its such a process for me and with the last album it was the first time that I had put out something which I had written. My own original material. I was so used to doing other peoples material and Jazz standards and I thought ‘you know what, I want to do my own thing and show people that I can compose and write also’. It really depends on what is happening in my life at the time, so for me with that album, there was a lot going on at the time in my life and that album was a reflection of that. It was a very personal experience, which is why I named it ‘Portrait of LadyMay’ because it really was a portrait of me at that time. I tried to capture myself and write on personal experience. What I am trying to challenge myself to do right now is to write on things that aren’t necessarily personal to me but maybe I have friends who are going through something and I try and write about that.
CC: How did you go about finding your own sound?
LM: I would say that that came quite naturally to me. I’ve always been quite self aware I would say. In how I sound I have always tried to create my own thing. I mean I have a million influences and music was always around me all the time so it was a constant influence but I have tried my best to not sound like someone else. I don’t really think I could, as I am not the best impersonator anyway (laughs) so it did come naturally. I will combine elements from different people I like listening to so you may be able to tell who I’ve been listening to lately but it’s not like a direct thing.
CC: Describe one of your favourite performances so far?
LM: I would have to say one of my best performances, which I felt really good about - I sing at this club called the ‘Scat Jazz Lounge’ in Fort Worth Texas and it’s a great Jazz club. In the past year my rapport has grown in the area and every time I go there now it sells out, which is such an honour for me! I had a birthday show, I like to do a birthday celebration, I had a show there for my birthday in 2012 and everybody came. Like everyone and their mom showed up! It felt so good that night. The energy was great. Everyone sounded great on the bandstand. I mean I’m very moved by the musicians which are playing with me, we all vibe off of each other and if we don’t have that then its really hard for me to perform the way I want to. I really cherish that musical relationship I have with the guys on stage with me. That night I swear it was magical. The energy in the room was amazing. Everyone that was there really wanted to be there. My family were there, my friends, my teachers were there. I have great relationships with all of my music teachers, my band directors from high school, my voice teacher, my piano teacher, I had amazing teachers growing up, I was very blessed to have that and they were all there. It was so nice.
CC: With this being the first time you will be performing in the UK, what are you looking forward to the most?
LM: I have always heard that the warmness of the culture and the people there in London with regard to music is great. I am also really looking forward to meeting people. Looking forward to singing in front of a different crowd, people who have never seen me before. They may have heard of me or may not have. I am really looking forward to more than anything, being seen and heard and welcomed by people that are not from Texas. Its such a different vibe, coming to London. They say that coming to London people really make you feel good and feel welcomed and really listen to you. It depends on where you are, but you don’t necessarily get that here in the States. You may be at a club here and everyone is talking really loud. I mean I’m sure it can get like that anywhere, but my understanding is that audiences in the UK are really appreciative and receptive of artistic music. That’s a big thing for me, sometimes its hard here to find audiences that are receptive of jazz and soul music.
CC: When it comes to creating your music and writing, how much of a role do the fundamentals of Jazz music play within the process?
LM: A huge big part of that process! Educationally I don’t feel like I would be able to write the way I do had I not had my jazz education. It’s just a different way to think about and approach composition and writing. It plays a big role in me figuring out how I want the direction of the chords to go, how I want the melody to be. Do I want the melody to be complicated or to be simple? I tend to steer towards simple as its more relatable rather than making it way to complicated so that people are like ‘wait what?’. And honestly my mind doesn’t function in a way that’s that complicated, some people would probably argue with that (laughs) but I really try to write in a fairly simple way with just enough complexity so that it will intrigue the audience.
CC: Musically what’s the best piece of advice you have been given?
LM: Don’t be too complicated, be simple. Sometimes simplicity is best. Or pick which parts you want to be complicated. Do you want the music to be complicated or do you want the message to be complicated? Which one is more important for the song?
CC: What advice would you give to aspiring singer/ songwriters?
LM: Not to be too cliche here but just be yourself. Be yourself musically. I have been told so many times in my life ‘oh you sing jazz? No one is gonna dig that! Nobody cares, nobody is gonna like that. You should probably just do something else like pop music or whatever’. I really felt like, if God gives you a gift of something then you make it work for you. I have always felt this is me and I can only be me. If you can stay true to yourself I really believe things will work out for you. The biggest thing I will say is get the education! There is the big divide in the community between singers and musicians, because a lot of times singers will lack the knowledge that an instrumentalist will have but its so important to seek that knowledge and get it yourself. That education will make your song writing better, you can communicate with musicians better and be able to let them know exactly what you want musically. When you don’t have that knowledge its really hard to communicate with people about how best to treat your music.
CC: What was the last track you listened to?
LM: Eric Benet ‘Summer Love’ from the album ‘Lost in Time’. His daughter is singing on the track too and it’s a lovely track. I had a weird music week; I’ve been listened to some old school Janet from 1993. Jamming to some Janet.
CC: What’s your preference: Download, CD, tape or Vinyl?
LM: I love vinyl’s. There is just something about that whole old school vibe. But I honestly still like CD. I love the booklets. I like to be able to read. People don’t really do liner notes as much as they used to but I love to read all of the liner notes, productions notes, who played on it, who was in the background and the thank you’s. I’m the weird person who reads it all. It’s definitely a lost art form because people aren’t buying CD’s anymore. That’s the only thing I hate about digital music. For example on my album I really wanted to put all the stuff that was on my booklet for the CD, as I had like a 12 page booklet this time, I went all out. I got a guy to do my liner notes. He was a former writer for ‘Down Beat’ and ‘Jazz Times Magazine’ in the States. However I didn’t put lyrics in there because of the space it would take up. I really wanted to make sure that all of that was there in the PDF on the download but I wasn’t able to do it. It’s really difficult for independent artists to include all of that because unless you are with a major, its not supported. I really wanted everyone to see the booklet as I have such beautiful album art work in there. There is a portrait in there which was done by a local painter and its of me and its absolutely beautiful, looks so like me and I have that actually printed on the CD itself. I felt it was so appropriate for the album as it was called ‘Portrait of LadyMay’. I miss that for sure having the album and the liner notes.
CC: Describe your perfect day?
LM: My perfect day would be a day where I didn’t have to do anything. I could wake up whenever. Get dressed, listen to some music, have a nice breakfast or something, take my dog for a walk. Talk to friends and family, call my sister and people that I love speaking to. Yeah the perfect day is a day where I have nothing to do (laughs). At this point in my life, honestly I would love to have a day where I could just do whatever. If I wanted to go and hang out at the mall without having to buy something for a gig or I'd like to go meet friends for coffee. I would love to see friends; I don’t have that much opportunity to see friends anymore because life is so busy for everyone. Being able to just completely relax, watch some old movies. I love old black and white movies. Me and my mom will do that together and watch Alfred Hitchcock, which comes on this one station every night at about eleven pm. That would definitely be the perfect end to my perfect day.It was a pleasure to get the opportunity to speak with LadyMay, she is a wonderfully warm and friendly person with an happy spirit which comes across in conversation even when said conversation is 4000 miles apart over Skype. A true talent who is destined for greatness. We are excited to welcome her to London town and see her perform on the MusicConnex stage this Saturday.
See you there!
Article By: Claire Cripps