Home » Jazz Articles » Chats with Cats » Women in Jazz Media: Kim Cypher

14

Women in Jazz Media: Kim Cypher

Women in Jazz Media: Kim Cypher

Courtesy Ron Milsom

By

Sign in to view read count
I think it is vital for women in jazz to have a voice and representation. Before Women in Jazz Media, I often felt very alone. I no longer feel like that. I have a point of contact where I can ask for advice, share concerns, ask for support and generally just feel part of something.
—Kim Cypher
It is rare that a jazz musician is just a jazz musician. In order to survive you almost always have to have another gig, teach, or work in some auxiliary role to your music life. A musician who exemplifies this diversification is Kim Cypher, a saxophonist/vocalist based in the UK. Besides being a musician and composer, she is also a radio host, gig promoter and a member of Women in Jazz Media, an organization dedicated to promoting women in this historically male field.

Full disclosure, I have played with Kim on many occasions and have found her to be a role model for the kind of hustle one needs to stay relevant in this line of work. She is tireless, creative, and a master at promoting her many ventures. Oh, and she's a fantastic musician!

This being Women's History Month, I thought it would be the perfect opportunity to get her perspective on what it is like to keep moving forward in this art form that has most certainly opened itself up to other genders, ethnicities and cultures in recent years, and get her sense on where it is going.

About Kim Cypher

Kim Cypher is one of the UK's most exciting saxophonists, vocalists, composers, band leaders and radio hosts. With Top-10 rated albums and award-winning music videos, Cypher has firmly secured a reputation for delivering the highest quality performance with incredible style, passion, energy and charisma together with her renowned vivacious stage presence and warm connection with all audiences.

A regular performer on the London and UK jazz circuit, having sold out the main stage at world-renowned Ronnie Scott's and performed in New York, Cypher's experience, all-round skills and natural ability to win the hearts of all audiences offer a unique 'full package' for the very best in jazz performance.

Inspired by the funkier side of jazz and having studied alongside US saxophonist Pee Wee Ellis and internationally acclaimed jazz saxophonist Andy Sheppard, her style of performance is best described as 'funky saxophonist meets 1940's jazz singer.'

Cypher has performed and recorded with some of the UK's finest jazz musicians and is due to release her third album in 2024 as part of her inspired 'Brighter Tomorrow' project paying tribute to all who work in The Arts. The album features original music recorded with some wonderful jazz performers including Liane Carroll, Ray Gelato, Antonio Forcione and Ashley Slater together with an all-star band.

All About Jazz: You wear many different hats as a professional jazz musician. Tell me about all the things you do.

Kim Cypher: One of the things I love most about being a professional jazz musician is the freedom to choose what I do and the ability to keep my life varied, enjoyable and interesting. First and foremost, I am a saxophonist, vocalist and composer performing in my own bands. I love working with my fellow bandmates and especially having my husband (drummer) Mike Cypher working with me. We love the whole 'gigging' life together, performing at venues across the UK, meeting wonderful people and sharing joy with our music. We even love the long car journeys and especially the late-night service station stops! This is perhaps because we are lucky enough to be doing this together.

Whenever and wherever I can I spend time creating new music. This mostly happens spontaneously when an idea comes to mind. I am often having to quickly sing a melody line or a lyric into my phone voice recorder so that I can capture the idea for a new piece of music. I then work on this to create it into a finished piece. I currently have hundreds of ideas in the pipeline and I love embracing the creativity and bringing an idea to life. This is possibly my most favorite part of life as a jazz musician. Being a bandleader is another role I have adopted. Having started out performing in bands run by other bandleaders, I now take responsibility for my own bands, although I also continue to do some work with other bands too. Being a good bandleader requires continued attention: generating gigs, drawing up booking agreements, setting up ticket links, promoting events, creating publicity, booking musicians, working out logistics, invoicing, making payments and generally keeping everyone happy! It can throw up occasional challenges, but mostly it is fine as all the regular musicians I work with are the nicest people. I am also able to share the workload with my husband Mike, so he generally sorts out the financial side of things.

For the past couple of years, Mike and I have been hosting our own radio show, 'The Big Jazz Hullabaloo' on Jazz Bites Radio. This broadcasts worldwide four times every week. It was an unexpected addition to our jazz musician lives and it came about after we had been hosting a daily live show on Facebook during the Covid-19 pandemic. We started our live shows originally as a means of keeping connected with people during lockdown and providing company and a sense of belonging to those feeling isolated during that time. It also enabled us to retain our identity and have a sense of purpose every day. We had no idea how this small idea would grow into a wonderful community and how it would lead to us hosting our own radio show. We absolutely love it!

Although this additional job is sometimes difficult to fit into our busy schedules, it is a really positive addition to our work and we are very grateful to Jacques and Anthea Redmond for allowing us to be part of their Jazz Bites Radio team. It really does provide us with a wonderful opportunity to celebrate the music of some of our favorite jazz artists including many of those we work with. Another key role is hosting a variety of jazz clubs in our hometown of Cheltenham. We have built up a loyal following of supporters and we currently run two monthly jazz sessions at two wonderful venues. The first of which is a small, more intimate venue, Smokey Joe' s where we invite a special guest performer along each month to perform with the house band. The other is a much larger session at Dunkerton's featuring my own band each month. We really love hosting all these sessions and welcome any newcomers.

Last, but not least, I am a very proud member of the award-winning Women in Jazz Media team, supporting and helping to create an equal, diverse, safe and healthy jazz industry. The team consists of writers, photographers, painters, musicians, presenters, journalists, producers, editors and more, based in the UK, China, Spain, Germany, Serbia, USA, Scotland, with roots in France, Italy, Jamaica, Poland, Russia and beyond.

AAJ: How did you discover jazz and what made you want to make a living playing it?

KC: I grew up surrounded by music. My Dad loved playing records of big bands and he would often have the music up loud and stand in the middle of the room conducting the music and pretending to play the trombone! It is such a happy memory. One of my dad's favorite pieces of music was "Take Five" by Dave Brubeck. This piece will always hold a special place in my heart.

I knew I was drawn to music from a very early age, discovering I was able to work out tunes by ear on the piano and recorder. I would often sit at the piano for hours just working out chords and melodies, singing along and creating my earliest compositions, many of which I still remember. Once I started taking lessons on the clarinet and progressing onto the alto saxophone, I auditioned to join my local youth big band, the Gloucestershire Youth Jazz Orchestra (GYJO). I spent many happy years in that band, working my way up the ranks to lead alto and really enjoying the opportunity to perform concerts, tour, work alongside other musicians and really develop as a musician whilst being introduced to a wide repertoire of music.

I would like to mention the musical director of GYJO, Tony Sheppard who was an incredible inspiration. Not only was he a wonderful musician, he was also an incredible teacher and enjoyed bringing out the best in all the young musicians within the band. It was in GYJO that I met my husband, Mike. When he originally auditioned there was already a drummer in the band. So, Mike joined as a percussion 'extra,' playing tambourine, cymbals etc... anything just to be in the band. Of course, Mike's dedication paid off and he became the band's drummer. We really enjoyed our time together in GYJO. We became great friends and our shared passion for music and for jazz really evolved from this.

I would like to take this opportunity to thank Tony Sheppard for being such a key part in our musical journey and also our personal journey. He sadly passed away recently, but we will be forever grateful to him.

So, that's how I discovered jazz. How I ended up making a living out of it came much later. To summarize, Mike and I got married, bought a house and settled down. We both embarked upon professional careers, myself as a primary school teacher, leading to becoming Head of Music in a primary school, Mike as a banker, leading to a high-profile job as a Regional Bank Manager managing many branches within his region including the largest flagship Cheltenham branch of Cheltenham & Gloucester. For many years we were able to keep our music running alongside these busy careers.

But it was a matter of time until it was impossible to maintain these careers together with being musicians. Something had to go, and it wasn't going to be our music. So, several years ago we made a brave decision and took the plunge to both become full time jazz musicians. We walked away from our financially secure careers, private health, company car and a regular income to follow our musical dream of becoming professional jazz musicians. We have never looked back!

AAJ: Tell me about Women in Jazz Media and your role within it.

KC: Women in Jazz Media (WiJM) was Founded in 2020 by my friend and fellow jazz musician Fiona Ross. An initial idea and concept to bring together a supportive network, a kind of 'sisterhood' to be there for each other and to contribute positively towards creating an equal, diverse, safe and healthy jazz industry. From its humble beginnings, WiJM has developed and grown, becoming winners of the Jazz Media Parliamentary Award in 2021 and receiving nominations for the National Diversity Community Organization Award for Gender.

As a woman in jazz myself, I very much welcomed the development of Women in Jazz Media and before I became a team member, I turned to Fiona and her team for support with my own music. They provided me with the security of knowing I am not alone in what can feel like a very isolated, lonely industry. They were also a point of contact for getting my music 'out there.' They were able to offer help generating music reviews, interviews, sharing new music etc. So, it was very much welcomed.

Becoming a member of the WiJM team has been a very positive step for me. My role within the team is very flexible depending on any specific projects going on or any ideas I may have to support others. I have written several features, interviews, reviews and tributes for fellow women in jazz including Alex Clarke, Ami Oprenova, Barbara Thompson, Ciara Moser, Daisy Palmer, Liane Carroll, Marta Capponi, Natasha Seale, Tori Freestone, Zoe Gilby, Alcyona Mick, and Migdalia Van Der Hoven. It really is a wonderful opportunity to offer support and I am very proud to be part of a powerful, strong female collective.

AAJ: What kind of events and activities are they involved with?

KC: Where do I start with this? WiJM is open to helping promote, celebrate and support all women within the jazz community. This can be as simple as sharing posts on social media, helping to promote upcoming live performances etc. WiJM explores initiatives to help increase the gender and diversity balance, continually looking for platforms to ensure everyone has a voice.

There are many ongoing activities and projects including:

Platforms to showcase and celebrate female authors, instrumentalists, vocalists and composers from around the world including 'On The Bookcase,' music playlists, a 'New Releases' page on the website;

Live Events—WiJM has hosted over fifty events at a range of venues including the EFG London Jazz Festival;

Magazines including International Women's Day Special Editions—nine magazines to date with a readership of around 40,000;

'Kicking Down the Door' Creator Fund to support the development of outstanding female Black artists in the early stages of their careers;

Five Podcast Series with a range of inspirational guests and guest hosts;

Published articles, all written by women featured in the WiJM Jazz in Europe column;

Plus, providing education programs, employment opportunities, mentoring and performance platforms.

AAJ: Why do you think it's important to have an organization such as Women in Jazz Media?

KC: I think it is vital for women in jazz to have a voice and representation. Before WiJM, I often felt very alone. I no longer feel like that. I have a point of contact where I can ask for advice, share concerns, ask for support and generally just feel part of 'something.' It is also encouraging to see positive changes taking place so that the industry feels more balanced, safer, fairer and with more respect towards women.

AAJ: Is it important or even just helpful for you to have the support of other women in the field?

KC: Absolutely. It is crucial. It's like a family offering a safe space to have conversations and to reach out for help and advice if you need it. Without that, it can sometimes feel overwhelming, not knowing where or who to turn to.

AAJ: Have you found the experience of being a female jazz musician to be different from a man's and, if so, how?

KC: In short, yes, I have. There have been a handful of rather unpleasant experiences along the way where I have been obviously disrespected as a woman. These vary from comments about being booked for a gig because I have blonde hair, surprise expressed at how well I can play the saxophone considering I'm a woman to the most uncomfortable comment from a male audience member taking photographs of me. Thankfully, for me, these kinds of experiences are few and far between. Perhaps there would be more if I didn't have my 6-foot-4 drummer husband in the wings? I can't be sure of this, but I do know that on those occasions, if I hadn't had my husband there, I may have felt considerably more uncomfortable. So, I can sympathize with situations other female artists may find themselves in.

I have also experienced some not so obvious situations, most notably being told there are no dates available for my band to perform at a venue, but when my husband enquires there are several dates for my band to choose from. Again, I can't say for sure this is related to my gender, but they make me feel like I'm being treated differently.

Also, quite recently I was turned down for a local music festival, the reason given was that they already had a female saxophonist booked. It got me thinking... why are they even referring to us as 'female' saxophonists. We are saxophonists. I don't think a male saxophonist would be referred to in the same way?

Generally though, these experiences are few and far between for me and all my male colleagues are highly respectful and don't treat me any differently. Things are moving in the right direction, but it's important to keep pushing towards an equal, diverse, safe and healthy jazz industry.

AAJ: What projects are you currently working on?

KC: I am very excited to be working on my third album, due for release later this year. The album has been an absolute labor of love for the past few years with original music expressing a range of emotions from world and personal events during that time.

When the world started recovering and getting back to normality after the covid-19 pandemic, I felt on a mission to celebrate fellow musicians and creatives, having experienced such a tough time. I really wanted to express my pride in everyone who works in The Arts. It is such a crucial part of life and yet it can be disrespected and regarded as a 'hobby' rather than a profession. So, I have had a vast project called 'Brighter Tomorrow' running for a couple of years now. The project pays tribute to all who work in The Arts and includes a 300-page online magazine and a social campaign for all creatives to get involved—#brightertomorrowforthearts

My album and album tour will be the conclusion of this project and the soundtrack of that era in time. The album features some of the finest jazz musicians in the UK including Liane Carroll, Ray Gelato, Antonio Forcione, Ashley Slater plus an all-star band. I am very excited to be performing once again at world-renowned Ronnie Scott's on Sunday June 16th (Father's Day) to preview tracks from the album and to kick-start the lead up to my album release and ongoing tour. The album title and release date is yet to be announced but it's all coming soon!

AAJ: Is there a particular highlight of your career you could share?

KC: This is always a tricky question to answer as there are so many highlights and often the highlights come when you least expect it. For me, one of the main highlights of my career is meeting wonderful people and sharing special times together. I feel so blessed to have really loyal supporters who travel far and wide to my performances and who are always there to support me. That really does mean the world.

Of course, though there are the highlights experienced from fulfilling dreams and achieving goals. So, top of my list will have to be my sell-out debut at Ronnie Scott's back in 2021. It was a lifelong dream fulfilled. Now I can't believe I'm going back there for another performance in June! I also fulfilled a dream of performing in New York back in 2016 and that was a very emotional, magical moment. I performed with my jazz band for a private event at the magnificent Glasshouse in Manhattan. I will never forget how I felt performing whilst looking out across a panoramic view of the New York skyline at night. It really was quite a moment.

AAJ: How do you feel about the future of live jazz?

KC: I feel quite mixed if I'm honest. It is very tough to make a living out of jazz, especially now that streaming platforms make it increasingly difficult to earn an income from putting your music out there. The whole business is just hard.

I also think there needs to be more open-mindedness about jazz and what jazz is. It is such a broad, wide-ranging genre and many artists, like myself, cover such an eclectic mix of music that it should not be immediately discarded or discounted because it can't be categorized into one 'box.' This is an ongoing challenge which can make things more difficult when trying to get your music out there.

Jazz audiences are much smaller in number to more commercial music audiences. They also tend to be a slightly older demographic. It can be challenging to keep audience numbers high enough to keep jazz gigs financially viable. This is a big concern for the future of live jazz, so it is going to be really important to keep encouraging new, fresh, young blood into jazz and to allow jazz to continue to evolve, welcoming change and open-mindedness wherever needed.

Comments

Tags


For the Love of Jazz
Get the Jazz Near You newsletter All About Jazz has been a pillar of jazz since 1995, championing it as an art form and, more importantly, supporting the musicians who create it. Our enduring commitment has made "AAJ" one of the most culturally important websites of its kind, read by hundreds of thousands of fans, musicians and industry figures every month.

You Can Help
To expand our coverage even further and develop new means to foster jazz discovery and connectivity we need your help. You can become a sustaining member for a modest $20 and in return, we'll immediately hide those pesky ads plus provide access to future articles for a full year. This winning combination will vastly improve your AAJ experience and allow us to vigorously build on the pioneering work we first started in 1995. So enjoy an ad-free AAJ experience and help us remain a positive beacon for jazz by making a donation today.

More

Jazz article: Women in Jazz Media: Kim Cypher
Jazz article: The Jazz Photographer: Philip Arneill
Jazz article: The Music Trustee: Dan Beck
Chats with Cats
The Music Trustee: Dan Beck
Jazz article: The YouTuber: Andy Edwards
Chats with Cats
The YouTuber: Andy Edwards

Popular

Get more of a good thing!

Our weekly newsletter highlights our top stories, our special offers, and upcoming jazz events near you.