Women in Music

Meet the Woman in Jazz Steelpan Artist

"bickley rivera"MEET Bickley Rivera, Steelpan Recording Artist & Musician

Tell us a little bit about yourself. When did you first know you wanted to be a Jazz singer/musician?

In 2005, I thought it would be innovative to play steelpan in smooth jazz music. It is mostly heard in island music in its traditional percussive manner. I had written smooth jazz music in earlier bands, but decided to start writing more to feature the beautiful timbres of the steelpan.

What was the first tune/song you learned?

I started studying classical piano at age 5 and can’t quite remember the very first song, but I very fondly remember playing “Heart & Soul” as a duet with my dad for fun during those early years!

What is the most amazing thing that has happened to you on your musical journey?

I think it is amazing that technology has given us the opportunity to connect with many musicians and artists around the globe. I never imagined I would have #1 hit radio musicians featured on my album from Denmark, Brazil and many parts of the US. In addition, it is an amazing thing to have your songs played in so many pockets of the world.

What are your favorite and least favorite venues? Do you have any upcoming shows?

I have performed all along the Eastern coast, and some midwest states, Florida and Bahamas.Most of my venues

are enjoyable and come with gorgeous views of the sunset or waters. I recently performed in Freeport, Bahamas in front of the Caribbean Sea. In the US, I am frequently at the Hyatt Regency in Clearwater Beach on the 8th floor outside, overlooking the beautiful Gulf of Mexico. I really have no complaints!

Who writes your songs? What are the main themes or topics for most of your songs? Do you think these topics will change over time?

I write most of my music, although I have co-written some with my husband, Nelson Rivera, and a few with my producer, Greg Minnick. My most recent compositions focus on a vibe of chilling out or relaxing, as well as using the proper progression of notes on steelpan and keyboards to create a healing effect. The genres I write in may change over time, but the feeling you get from listening probably won’t change, as the steelpan is an instrument that lulls the soul!

What is a typical day in the life of a musician/singer?

A cappuccino upon rising, then start networking, answering emails, following up on calls, setting up meetings and gigs, a little practice later in the day, eat a healthy dinner with a glass of wine, finish up some emails and go to sleep! It seems to be about the same every day unless there are performances, in which I do not do many emails or phone calls. I really try to concentrate on being free of tasks and just be there for the performance.

Tell us about any new projects you have coming up).

I have a few big projects going on right now. I have recently combined forces with another recording artist, Mark Barrios (guitarist) to create a touring band of our Smooth Jazz music. We share his drummer for this new project and my husband is the bassist, so we have a great vibe going on. I have also recently partnered with a company in Freeport called HmmbalPY Productions which works with new artists in Bahamas and others passing through, to help take their music and talents to a more global level.

What is the biggest risk you ever took professionally and/or the biggest obstacle you have overcome?

The biggest risk I ever took was leaving the stability of a corporate job in the IT industry to become a full-time musician. No matter how well you plan, there still needs to be an element of just jumping out of your comfort shell and doing it. I struggled with doing it, but once I did, it seemed like the most natural thing I could have done. I have had to deal with a few obstacles, such as people viewing a female white woman playing steelpan being different and strange, however, that can also be a niche.

What are your fondest musical memories? In your house? In your neighborhood or town?

I have a lot of fond musical memories as my house was always full of music growing up. My mother was an organist and opera singer, my brother who was 7 years older was a fine pianist (who went on to be an international conductor of Opera), and we were always taking piano lessons, singing in the church choir and attending Symphony Concerts. I also played clarinet, glockenspiel, and was drum majorette in the high school band, and wrote songs on guitar in my youth. Music was always around us in many forms and considered a necessity in our lives.

What do you do to keep yourself sharp?

The one thing that gave me a more solid direction for my goals was my recent trip to Bahamas, where the islanders embraced the idea of Smooth Jazz & Chill with steelpan. They were so interested and supportive that it made me realize my path was a good one.

What one thing would you like to learn this year?

I am always working to better my improvisation of arpeggios and scales of typical island steelpan playing. I gain a lot of insight from playing with other island pan players and listening to specific scales and intervals played by them.

Where do you see yourself in 5 years?

I see myself traveling more of the world to bring my new style of steelpan playing to other cultures. The instrument is already found in many countries of Europe, but I would like to see the instrument viewed also as a solo instrument. My uncle, Harvey Phillips, did this with the Tuba. If he could accomplish that with a less-desired brass instrument, there are many possibilities with thesteelpan.

What do you do for fun/relaxation/entertainment?

I love to go for a walk in the woods far away from car noise and among nature. Breathing scent of pine trees rejuvenates me. The ocean has a great calming effect, however, I perform around the water frequently and get the benefits while playing. I also love to bike ride, visit parks and shop if there is extra time.

Is there anything else you would like to share with our readers?

Working on the Women in Jazz South Florida CD was great because it put me in touch with other talented women artists that we featured. Everyone’s style is unique, and yet there is a thread of continuity that blends very well. I have heard very good feedback on the album.

What’s the best way for our readers to connect with you?

My website is www.BickleyRivera.com

Facebook: www.Facebook.com/Bickley Friend me there!

YouTube: www.youtube.com/user/BickleyRivera

Twitter: www.Twitter.com/BickleyRivera

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