Joe Freel is a United States-based Jazz Singer with over 4 decades experience in the music industry. He is also the Associate Director, A&R Administration at Sony Music Entertainment.
Joe released his much anticipated album All This Love in December, 2016 which is a fine blend of classic and contemporary material, blending compositions from Cole Porter to Stevie Wonder, covering show tunes and recent radio hits with equal flair according to Ron Wynn’s review.
Our today’s person of the week is the most humble Celebrity I’ve ever been in contact with. The first day I wrote Joe, I was unsure about the response I will get. Millions of thoughts raced through my mind accompanied with a thousand ‘what if’s’. What if he declines the offer to be interviewed by me? What if the mail goes to his spam box? Etc.
Surprisingly, Joe’s response was a positive one, exciting and unbelievable. He accepted to give us an exclusive interview with a timely response (not minding his very busy schedules). He talked about his music, the worldwide perception of Nashville and things he wish he did differently.
Today we announce Joe Freel as Our Person of the Week!
Good morning Joe. Please tell us about yourself and your foray into the music industry.
Hi, Chioma, and thank you for inviting me to your blog. It seems to me that I’ve been pursuing music, especially as a vocalist, all of my life from 10 years old to the present and I am now 54 years old/young! I spent many years singing in elementary and secondary school productions and in some pop/rock bands in my early 20’s. I had hundreds of private vocal instruction lessons, then I began studies at Berklee College of Music when I was 26 and graduated at the age of 31. So, I have always wanted to get improved at singing and interpreting the lyrics of great songs, in my own style. Not by trying to mimic other singers too much, but just by trying to ”be me” in my very natural vocal state. After moving to Nashville in 1995, I sang in various groups for a few years then went through a dry period where I sort of gave up on pursuing music or developing my talent. In 2010, I began studying and performing again at the Nashville Jazz Workshop, called NJW (nashvillejazz.org). There, I found a greatly renewed interest and passion for music. The instruction and performance opportunities at NJW are incredibly inspired – Jazz education, awareness and performance of the highest caliber. At NJW, I met the co-founders of the organization who are now dear friends and are the co-producers of my album project titled ‘All This Love’. Those friends are Roger Spencer and Lori Mechem.
How old were you when you developed interest in Jazz Music?
I was in my mid-20’s when I realized that I had an affinity for jazz. Jazz challenges me as a vocalist in ways that other types of music cannot. For vocalists, the complexities of the Great American Songbook jazz standard’s melodies, rhythms, and lyrics challenge us to interpret the music in ways that is not a ‘show off my voice’ type of performance, but more how we need to learn to honor the music and the song to convey classic themes of love and lost in fresh and inspired ways. These songs don’t ‘need’ me, I ‘need’ them in order to grow as a communicator and interpreter of life as I experience it. They are so well written, compositionally and lyrically.
You live in a city in the US that produced amazing artists like Kesha, Pat Boone, Doc Cheatham etc. and notably, Taylor Swift and Lady Antebellum’s careers were also launched at Nashville, also known as the America’s Music City. What is in Nashville that produces world-class stars that cannot be found in the other cities?
Nashville is an incredible city, with decades old music industry infrastructure that continues to produce world-renowned talent. It is the historical nature and the legacy of this city’s Country music that has resulted in the highest of skill levels among songwriters and creative artists who have lived here in the past. This rich history influences those living in this city now and fosters the growth of new fantastic talents.The reverence for the origin of Country music’s storytelling through songs is what makes this place so special. Songwriting is highly honored here and most creative music industry type of people realize the profound truth of the well-known Nashville Music Row phrase ‘It all starts with a song’. That is the mantra of the music publishing community in Nashville, who work tirelessly every day to write amazing new songs – songwriters writing every day, song pluggers trying to get record company executives to listen to their writer’s songs. They strive to write songs that touch people’s hearts and change their lives for the better or help them through a difficult time. The city is rich with historically amazing songs – Willie Nelson’s ‘Crazy’ recorded by Patsy Cline and many others, Kris Kristofferson’s ‘For the Good Times’, which is on my album, and so many other amazing songs. Of course, Country music is the most known music style here, but Nashville is full of great jazz, pop and rock musicians, as well. Kings of Leon, Jack White, Kelly Clarkson and Alison Krauss all operate out of this city. There is also an urban, R&B scene in the city. We truly are Music City. That is what makes the energy here so exciting and creative. All of the people here are working on something creative and new. Currently, we have 100 new people arriving in this city every day, some coming here to chase their musical dreams and others moving here just to enjoy the creative energy and gracious southern American charm.
You studied at the famous Berklee College of Music in Boston which is ‘The largest Independent College of Contemporary Music in the World’ according to Wikipedia. What were the highlights and moment of regrets (if there is any)?
The highlights of my time at Berklee were the songwriting studies I had there and the performing opportunities I had at the 1,200 seat theatre called the Berklee Performance Center. Being in front of big crowds does wonders for your experience and getting on that stage was invaluable, because now I love to perform just about anywhere and really, I don’t get very nervous. I was able to perform on that stage, with fantastic students, written arrangements, in front of the amazing jazz singer Nancy Wilson, and pop stars Sting and Oleta Adams. Not many people can say that, and those artists actually spoke to me and encouraged me after the performances. I sang 2 of Sting’s songs in front of him at our graduation concert! (Fortress Around Your Heart and All This Time). Another highlight was just the pure essence of the international student body studying there. There are so many countries represented among the students, and they all strove to understand and learn music and how they can use music to express themselves. I don’t have moments of regret, really, but I guess I wish I’d have decided to go to Berklee at a younger age. But maybe when I did attend was really just the right time, in the overall scheme of my life’s purpose.
There is saying that ‘successful people stay awake when others are asleep’. How true is this assertion and can you share with us how you got your big break in the music industry?
Well, I’m not sure of the accuracy of this statement, because I really love to sleep! Not sure if this means in the literal sense or the spiritual. So, I will take this into a spiritual question, not a literal one. Being a musician and a vocalist has naturally trained me to be very sensitive to what moves people emotionally. Most people have an emotional response to music, lyrics, voice, etc.. My goal is to help them get to those feelings they might be resistant to express. In regards to my big break in the music industry, I’m not exactly where I’d like to be, really, but I’m working toward total success always!
‘……A couple in love living week to week, Rooms full of laughter. If these old walls could speak’ culled from your album All This Love (which is my favorite track from your album). Does this song have a personal undertone or is it fictional?
I must clarify that I did not compose the music or lyric to this song ”If These Walls Could Speak”. This song was written by an iconic, well-known American songwriter named Jimmy Webb. He wrote classic American story songs like ”Witchita Lineman”, ”By the Time I Get to Phoenix”, ”Up, Up and Away” and many others. This title ”If These Walls Could Speak” has been famously recorded by Glen Campbell and by several other important artists including Amy Grant and Shawn Colvin. My co-producer Lori Mechem, who plays piano on and arranged the track for me, thought we should just slow the song down so that I could emphasize the incredible lyric that Webb wrote. So many amazing details of the everyday lives of a young couple, then the line ”They would tell you that I’m sorry for being cold and blind and weak’, wow, just hits you in the heart with such power. Incredible melody, incredible lyric. I must say that, as I do not have any children of my own, this song holds a powerful place for me. I can imagine having children and feeling these emotions set forth in the lyrics, so that is the personal connection I have to the song.
By the way, all of the full album credits for my album ”All This Love”, can be found on my website, joefreel.com. Here you can find all of the songwriter credits under the All This Love/Album Notes tab. I actually co-wrote just one song on the album, track #6 titled ”Good Things”. The remainder of the songs are written by other writers.
You lost your dad Joseph Freel 6 years ago, and it seemed you had a very close relationship with him. Did you write any song as a tribute to your late father?
My father was a wonderful person and father. My mother, also, is wonderful. They successfully raised 7 children and we are all pretty normal! I love and miss my father dearly, and he is always ‘with’ me when I’m on stage singing, and really, at all times. I think of him often and hear his voice in my soul. He loved to sing and did so often, just bursting into song at any moment or singing along with a song on the radio. None of the songs on my album are a particular tribute to my father.
Have you ever written a song that you eventually thrashed because you fear it won’t be appreciated by your fans?
This is a great question. I do write songs sometimes that I don’t think fans or potential fans may not like very much. I keep those hidden and don’t play them! Sometimes I write just because I needed to write and understand that not every song is perfect, nor does it always need to be a song that others need to hear.
Do you have idols in the music industry that you emulate?
I have several favorite jazz vocalists that I emulate and they are Mark Murphy, Little Jimmy Scott and Tony Bennett. They are each incredible masters of phrasing combined with very interesting voices and intention of the heart. I listen to their recordings over and over and over again and never tire of their artistry.
Apart from Jazz is there any other genre of music you sing?
I really do enjoy pop music, to be honest. But pop music that has some jazz influence. Some of my album tracks lean toward pop, which was an intentional decision on my part, because I really do like pop music.
Are there new projects you are working on and do you have upcoming concerts this year?
I have several great shows happening in Nashville soon – Tuesday, May 30th, 2017 at Rudy’s Jazz Room, I’ll perform from 8-11 pm (rudysjazzroom.com), and September 29, 2017 at the Nashville Jazz Workshop. I am looking forward to booking some shows in the Southeast for later this year and into 2018.
Tell us about your most exciting project in the past?
This is a challenging question for me. I enjoyed learning some funk tunes and performing in a funk band a few years ago. It was a side project and was a tribute band that played all songs from the American funk group Tower of Power. Very exciting music with lots of energy. The music made me move parts of my body that I didn’t know existed! Great music like this affects a person’s body in very interesting ways. It was a great experience.
What would be a dream that you will like to fulfill in your musical career and which artist will you like to share the stage with?
I would like to continue recording more albums and exploring the beauty of music’s melodies – maybe some type of project that documents some of the world’s most amazing melodies, that are recognized by many people around the world. There are some singers I’d love to share the stage with, like Kurt Elling, Tony Bennett (of course), Gregory Porter, Allan Harris, Dianne Reeves, Elaine Elias, Melody Gardot, to name a few.
Should we expect any foreign collaboration soon?
I would be open to foreign collaboration, if the circumstances were ‘right’. Of course! Music is a universal language and we all need to come together to create common bonds of love and respect. Why not do this with music? Even one song can change the world for good. I would also be interested in learning some foreign styles of music, which might influence my music in interesting ways.
What will you like your fans to know about you?
I love to watch cooking shows on television. I can watch them for hours and not be bored. I love the way professional chefs work with food. Their respect for food and its origins and health benefits are very similar to the way musicians respect and honor music. Preparing food is also an art form, in my opinion, even at its most basic level. It is also essential for our survival, and I feel that music is similar in that respect.
Any word for us at chiomaokoyeakpawusi.com?
Thank you so much for this interview and for your interest in me and my music. I really appreciate you sharing this on your blog. I wish you all the best and much success.
You can Buy Joe’s Album ‘All This Love’ on:
Or visit www.joefreel.com for more information.
Photo Credits: Joefreel.com