December 8th 2013
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Although music was always a part of my life, I did not set out to be a full-time musician. My degree is in journalism and PR. I worked behind the scenes in TV news and cable programming (director, camera operator, video editor, copy writer, etc.) for several years. Wanting to make more of a difference in the world, I got into fund development and PR for non profit organizations including Misericordia Home and Bethany Hospital on the West side. During those years, I was performing with the occasional wedding band, dinner theatre and musical theatre productions. In 1996, I started rehearsing with a jump blues band. I was soon running that band and we had our first show on New Year's Eve '96. We were gigging 6 nights a week and making a lot of money (even though we were mediocre at best) thanks to the GAP commercial with 'Jump, Jive and Wail.' I quit my day job at the end of 1997 and we road the swing craze for about 4 1/2 years. Needing a new musical challenge and to work with higher level musicians, I began on the path of straight-ahead jazz in the summer of 2000. With several thousand miles of touring the States, Japan and Mexico, and releasing 4 CD's, here we are, nearly 8 years later.
Biggest Obstacles you have faced:
Well, being a vocalist in the jazz scene has its challenges. Many clubs don't like booking singers and there are some musicians who don't like working with singers. It sometimes makes you feel second-class. I just try to remember it's their issue, not mine. As a band leader, I simply choose who I want to work with, so I refuse to work with people who vibe.
Greatest Achievements in Music to this point:
I am extremely grateful of my successes in this business: I have been able to make a good living playing music full-time for a decade; I have toured the nation with not only great Chicago musicians, but often get hired for out of town gigs and work with local musicians there. It's been wonderful meeting and playing with cats from coast to coast; My 3 week tour in Japan in January '07 was beyond amazing; Performing the Star-spangled Banner at the Bulls Game during their second 3-peat year was also pretty cool; I direct a High School church band which I just love. The kids are awesome; I'm proud of the school programs that I have developed; and I'm grateful to Milwaukee big band Swing Nouveau for having me perform and record with them and sharing with me their 2006 WAMI award. But I guess the greatest achievement is working with some of the most brilliant musicians in Chicago. They have been wonderful teachers, traveling companions and friends. They forever keep me young and laughing.
This list could go on forever: Ella, Dinah, Sarah, Rosemary Clooney, Nancy Wilson, Eva Cassidy, June Christy, Peggy Lee, Dee Dee Bridgewater, Tierney Sutton, Linda Eder, Anita O'Day, Annie Ross, Barbara Morrison, Diane Reeves, Lena Horne, Mel Torme, Nat King Cole, Tony Bennett, Stevie Wonder, Ray Charles, oh my God, I need to stop!
Favorite CDs in your player right now:
My nephew's band, 'Chillin' In A Bread Bowl,' Nancy Wilson with Cannonball, Queen Latifah's new album, 'Trav'lin' Light,' and STYX's 'The Grand Illusion.'
Your musical goals:
I hope to continue working as much as possible, of course. Get back to Japan within the next year and at some point, tour Europe. (I'll go anywhere, really!) I'd love to work with a Chicago big band, collaborate with some of the great chick singers/musicians I admire, hope to one day be considered one of the 'go-to' gals for musicians who need a vocalist, record my original music, and continue to learn from the wonderful musicians with whom I work.
Well, truth be told, my first quarter is a little light, but upcoming public shows include Green Dolphin Street on February 15, the Art Institute on February 22, February 29 I'll be performing with Indianapolis pianist, Monika Herzig, at the Jazz Station in Bloomington, IN, and Salt Creek Wine Bar on March 12. A full performance schedule is at http://www.lesleybyers.com/.
Activities that you use to relax:
Traveling with my husband, family and friends, walking and playing with my dog, Bella, hanging out with the girls, doing yoga and dancing, home improvement projects, watching old movies and musicals, and I admit, I love to watch the home shopping network, QVC!