Bar Bulletin

December, 2004

Vox Crescendo
By Patrick Tandy

ALL THAT JAZZ
Singer/songwriter Cheryl Slay

Anyone who has ever crammed for a test has at one point or other needed a study break. Some folks take in a movie. Others go to parties.

Vocalist Cheryl Slay wrote music, some of which will appear on her forthcoming album.

“Some of the music which is going on this recording came to me while studying for the bar exam,” laughs Slay. “It was like I needed a mental break at times, and when I was taking a break this is what I would do.”

“It’s really Christian-message, but style-wise I tend not to refer to it as gospel because doing that is a specific musical style and not just a message,” adds the Owings Mills-based entertainment and intellectual property practitioner. “The music is really sort of a mix of styles. There’s some R&B, there are spirituals – of course, traditional hymns and contemporary style. There’s a jazz rearrangement of a traditional hymn.”

"If you
don’t use
the abilities
that you
have,
eventually
you will
lose them"

-Cheryl Slay

Slay had taken a hiatus from songwriting in the interim between her years at law school and when she first began work on the album three-and-a-half years ago.

“[The album was] delayed initially by finding the right producer to assist me,” admits Slay, who also chairs the MSBA Entertainment and Sports Law Committee. Eventually, she found him.

“We wanted to have original music, not just to deal with copyright issues, of course, but also because you should have some original music on the project, anyway,” notes Slay. “That meant finding some, and at that time I was not writing. So in trying to identify music, [my producer] said to me – somewhat casually, I thought – ‘You know, you really should think about writing.’ And so after that I decided to do exactly that, and I just started to get the ideas for songs.”

Although her initial forays were “a little rough,” Slay the songsmith hammered away at her craft. “There is definitely an art to it and a skill to it, as well,” she explains.

And as with any labor of love, such things do not happen overnight.

♦♦♦

“We did sing as a family on occasion,” Slay recalls of her childhood in the Motor City – Detroit. “My dad has a beautiful voice, [and] my mother does sing.”

In elementary school, Slay took up singing in the glee club, as well as viola and piano lessons (the latter of which she still plays to this day). But the impetus for her decision to perform in public did not come until well into her 20s.

“I was in church, just sitting in my pew singing a congregational hymn, and someone sitting in the row behind me heard me sing and said, ‘You know, you should think about doing some solos for our church.’ I took it as encouragement – I just felt like that was something I should pursue. And so I said, ‘Well, maybe I will.’ That particular church had a section in the worship service featuring solo artists, solo performances. And so I did.”

For Slay the singer, the decision to “go public” marked a turning point. “Once people hear you sing publicly, that’s it,” she admits. “You start to get invitations for weddings and banquets and other solo opportunities, and that’s what happened. Then, the more people hear you sing, the more encouragement you get. [People] would ask me, ‘Do you have something on tape that I could have?’ I never had anything, and that’s when they’d say, ‘Well, you should think about recording something.’”

Over time, Slay honed her skill with formal training. “I decided I needed to better understand the techniques and preserve my voice. When you sing a lot, your voice gets tired, and depending on the type of music that you’re singing you can damage it. Some of the old gospel songs will really get you going, and you want to preserve [your voice].”

Given the various musical styles presented on her forthcoming album, however, belie influences that go beyond the liturgy. “I really like ballads,” says Slay, whose tastes range from Carole King to Crystal Gayle. “They best suit my voice.

“I would say that Dionne Warwick is a huge influence on me, and I always think about how she had just the purest…just really beautiful quality about her voice. Burt Bacharach says that for many years she was the only person who could sing what he wrote, and I just think that it’s just a beautiful quality. It is a very different style than the way they sing today – you know, a lot of different things, like holding notes out very long. But I always liked that pure quality, and I still strive for that.”

Slay’s self-described musical eclecticism also extends well beyond pop convention. A trip to the Municipal Opera Company of Baltimore’s (www.muniopera.org) production of Scott Joplin’s Treemonisha left Slay so enamored of the style that she spoke with the company’s owner after the production – a move which eventually led to an invitation to sit on the company’s board of directors.

But a year-and-a-half stint performing at Christian coffeehouses with a Springfield, Virginia-based group affirmed the inexorable bond between Slay’s passion for her music and her faith – even, by odd coincidence, her chose profession.

“Believe it or not,” she laughs, “[of the] six band members, four [were] attorneys…well, two of them were husband and wife.”

Despite that particular coincidence, Slay does see a concentration of lawyers following artistic paths outside their own practices, particularly those who focus in the field of entertainment law.

“Doing entertainment law as I do, you do meet (entertainment attorneys) who have this background, who play in a band or who have played in a band or have some connection to music.”

Between her own law practice and musical ambitions, Slay admits that “one compliments the other.” And the benefits are not singer Slay’s alone.

“It’s been a great experience in terms of what is involved in going into the studio,” she continues. “What is an artist experiencing? I know firsthand. I am a musician; I understand the language. I know a lot of different things that are going on in the studio, and this really does help.”

Slay also offers the occasional constructive criticism to artists looking to shop their talents. “I try not to say much about matters of taste,” she admits. “I don’t know what the buying public would want – it varies from year to year. But I [will say], you know, ‘Those notes don’t match’ [or] ‘Your vocals clash.’ I do give that kind of feedback. Now, what you do beyond that is up to you.”

♦♦♦

Be it the occasional church solo or her recent performance at her law school reunion, Slay strives to keep her voice in good working order with her own time-tested prescription: practice.

"Once
people
hear you
sing
publicly,
that's it."

-Cheryl Slay

“I try to create opportunities for myself,” she admits. “[It’s] not a profound answer, but I do it because I can. It is also interesting to me that 20 years after starting to do this publicly, there [have been] changes [to my voice], and I actually think that it’s getting better in some ways. There’s a certain amount of growth, and that’s very rewarding. You know, if you don’t use the abilities that you have, eventually you will lose them, and I don’t want that to happen.”

Slay’s musical aspirations include future collaborations with other singers and songwriters. There’s even talk of Slay one day having her own record label to promote and encourage other artists.

But first there’s the question of some not-quite-yet-finished business.

“This will be a commercially-available CD, but it will not have the full number of songs on it that you would find on some CDs,” Slay admits. “It will not have 16 or 17 songs.”

“I would never [have that many],” she adds with a laugh. “It would take me 10 years to get it done.”

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