An interview with Cherise Adams-Burnett

Photo of Cherise Adams-Burnett

Two years ago, we set out on a journey to capture the spirit of London and pay homage to the materials, forms, and techniques which informed centuries of innovation in on of the world's greatest cities.

In doing so, we quickly realised that it isn’t enough to simply reflect the past. That legends are only born when you take what has come before you, living it, breathing it, before re-engineering it to express something new about the world as you know it.

And so we’ve developed four timeless frames which hark back to the simple elegance and handcrafted artisanship of the past while embodying the rich, innovative spirit of London today. Fittingly, we call them Legends.  

Learn more about Cherise Adams-Burnett, the inspiration behind the Cherise frame.

Tell us about yourself, your background, what you’re up to.

Ahhhh, how do I make this concise?! Okay, well I suppose the simplest summary is that I’m a London based Vocalist from a town called Luton, Bedfordshire. Most of my performances lay within the Genre of Jazz. I’m preparing to release some original music soon… watch this space.  My background? I started to take music seriously from the age of 16, the same age that I found an educational organization called Tomorrow's Warriors who introduced me to London's Jazz community. After that, I was hooked! So I moved to London to do a degree in Jazz Performance at Trinity Laban Conservatoire of Music and Dance. I graduated a year ago. 

What are some of the forces which have influenced your approach to making music, or your work in general?

Thinking back to when I was young, I remember a moment that changed my perspective on making music. I originally thought that the value of a Musician was in their talent. Either you’re talented enough or you aren’t. And I didn’t think I was enough. Sure, I could sing a tune but I had severe stage fright, a small vocal range, couldn’t read written music well and was slower than my peers at school when passing musical grades. 

My mother noticed that I was creating limitations for myself. So she showed me a video, in which the actor Will Smith was talking about the difference between talent and skill.

In it he says,

“ matter how talented you are, your talent is going to fail you if you’re not skilled. If you don’t study; if you don’t work really hard and dedicate yourself to being better every day, you’ll never be able to communicate with people with you’re artistry in the way that you want” 

Even to this day, those words influence the way I approach my craft. With music, I don’t focus on talent. That’s a gift. What is important is building the skill to use that talent well. 

Who have been influential people in your musical career and how have they influenced the way you approach writing, composing or performing?

I have a huge sentimental attachment to the album Rapture by the great vocalist Anita Baker. Her soulful, smooth, deep voice is the soundtrack to my childhood. I’d say that her music has had the most influence over the way I sing. I look to her as well as vocalists such as Sarah Vaughan, Nat King Cole, Barry White, and Toni Braxton for their warm and rich vocal tones. 

I love and listen to a huge range of artists spanning across multiple Genres. Past and present… From Stevie Wonder to Frank Zappa. From Hiatus Kaiyote to Beyonce. But when writing and composing, I try not to think about my influences at all. That’s when I focus on just being myself and expressing myself shamelessly while making no comparisons. 

What do you feel you’ve gained by studying the tradition, the history and the greats of the artform? What does that bring to your work that wouldn’t be there otherwise?

How can you hope you continue a tradition that you don’t understand? 

Learning about Jazz is literally learning a language. When we are babies learning how to speak, our first attempts at communication with “goo goo gaa gaa” are innocent and cute because we know no better and we are trying to connect with others. But the redeeming quality of infants in their curiosity; they are so keen to learn. They intuitively understand that their parents are communicating in a more refined way, so they watch them closely and imitate them.

By studying the tradition of Jazz, you begin to understand how the artists before you have refined this style of communication. You watch and imitate them. Once you’ve grasped it yourself you can choose. You can continue to imitate, you can change the language or you can reject it. 

Through studying the history and tradition of Jazz, you show respect to the art form. Then you can carry it forward as you please.

When you’re writing, recording or performing, how does the study of the past come to life in what you do?

When writing, recording and performing I think it’s important to be present. 

I think that the artists I admire have a way of cutting out the noise of life and connecting to something deeper in a moment of expression. So while I have great respect for the events and influences of the past, they’re impact comes from the subconscious rather than immediate focus when I'm actively creating. 

How do you reconcile your relationship with music’s history with the desire to create something which speaks to your own time, place or culture? Are tradition and innovation mutually exclusive?

Duality is the answer. 

I believe that both must exist in any impactful art or artist. Without first honoring or at least acknowledging a tradition, how can you be sure of what you are breaking away from or why you are breaking away from it?

But I also find this ironic because the creators of what has now become a tradition were innovators and rebels in their time. 

It is also in keeping with the tradition of Jazz to improvise and respond to your unique environment in your own way. Whether what is created is accepted by your immediate community or not. 

Describe your relationship with London? What’s great about it, what’s challenging about it? How do you balance these?

London feels like my true home. In the 1960’s my Jamaican Grandparents migrated to London as a part of the Windrush community that were invited from the Caribbean islands join the British workforces after the Second World War. My parents were born here. And though I was raised in Luton, in adulthood London is my home. 

London is diverse, inclusive, fast-paced and eclectic. I love it!! 

London one of the few places in the UK that there are enough opportunities for me to survive as full-time artist. But it required so much focus and hard work that the biggest challenge is creating a healthy work-life balance. I’m not too worried about that though because I’m doing what I love. 

What makes London a great place to be creative?

People are open to hearing new things. There are audiences that are willing be challenged and moved by the art they witness. That can’t be undervalued!  

Why do you do what you do? What makes it special to you or the people around you?

I do what I do to both honor those who have sacrificed before me and to answer an inner calling. 

Being an artist becomes special when I realize that I’m a part of the first generation in the family with the privilege to be creative. As you go back through the history of my immediate family, you find people who sacrificed their desires for the sake of survival. I am one of the first who gets to work towards more than survival. With dedication and discipline, I get to do what I want to do. That’s a privilege. 

Tell us about anything you’re working on now or anything you have coming up!

I’m working on releasing original music in 2019! Writing, arranging, working on it …

Follow Cherise on Instagram @cherisemusic. 

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