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Comprising 10 tracks which mix jazz with a touch of soul, gospel and blues, the record also marks Fernandez's first foray into writing, arranging and producing.

BT_20160715_DTALEMAY8_2384932.jpg
Comprising 10 tracks which mix jazz with a touch of soul, gospel and blues, the record also marks Fernandez's first foray into writing, arranging and producing.

Turning points in life inspire debut album

Jul 15, 2016 5:50 AM

MUSIC has always been a big part of Alemay Fernandez's life so it's only apt she decided to capture the life-changing memories of the last five years on tape. The result is her debut solo album Hard to Imagine which the 38-year-old jazz diva launched last weekend with a sold-out concert.

"The album came together while I was coming to terms with all the changes in my life - I met the love of my life, lost my father and became an aunty for the first time - and I realised that I best deal with the highs and lows of life by expressing my feelings through music," says Fernandez, who is a regular fixture on the local "live" scene and has performed with The Count Basie Orchestra, David Foster, Laura Fygi and more. She is also a stage veteranand teaches vocal and performance techniques at Lasalle College of the Arts.

Comprising 10 tracks which mix jazz with a touch of soul, gospel and blues, the record also marks her first foray into writing, arranging and producing. Out of the nine originals, six were written in collaboration with the album's co-producer Shawn Letts, bassist William Gathright and pianist, organist and arranger Kerong Chok. The other originals were written by her sister Sabina and Sara Wee of local group 53A.

Some of the more personal numbers on Hard to Imagine include My Baby & Me and How Many Ways. Both pay tribute to two important men in Fernandez's life: the former is about her relationship with her "life-partner" and fellow jazz musician Richard Jackson (who has performed with Ernie Watts and Randy Brecker); while the latter is an ode to her late father who used to fill the house with the music of Ella Fitzgerald, Louis Armstrong, Nat King Cole, Frank Sinatra, Dinah Washington and more.

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Mixed by Grammy-nominated producer Michael C Ross and mastered at the famed Bernie Grundman studio in Los Angeles, the recording has also been made to audiophile standards. "I believe that the listener's experience is very important - with the sound of this album, I want to transport my listeners to a mental space where they can simply exhale the stresses of their lives, and sit back and enjoy the rhythm of the music," explains Fernandez. "The lyrics of the songs capture life's ups and downs, and so I felt that it was important to make sure that my listeners do not have to settle for anything less than good-quality mixing and mastering."

Hard to Imagine also features the who's who of the music scene and a total of 21 musicians played on it. Some of the album's famed sessionists include drummers Erik Hargrove (James Brown and Bootsy Collins) and Pablo Calzado (Buena Vista Social Club), bassists Gathright (who studied with Ron Carter) and Christy Smith (Stevie Wonder), and organist Oliver von Essen (Shirley Horn).

While raising funds to make the album was a challenge, Fernandez says it turned out to a blessing in disguise: "It gave me the opportunity to really take my time with every song and fine-tune it to exactly where I needed it to be."

She also jokes about being "a very early beneficiary" of crowdfunding before it became common for musicians to use the method to raise money.

"Two years ago, my sister Sabina got a group of my close friends and fans involved, and together they set up an album launch fund as a birthday surprise for me - I consider that funding my lucky start-up money, and I am so grateful to everybody who contributed."

  • Hard to Imagine is available to download and stream from iTunes and Spotify respectively. For more info, check alemayfernandez.com