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Kalia Vandever reflects on her growth as a trombonist and songwriter

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Kalia Vandever
Kalia Vandever

Trombonist and composer Kalia Vandever joins Music Journeys. Vandever shares with us what inspired the songs on her latest release Regrowth. She's also been touring as part of the backing band for Harry Styles. She tells us about that experience too and takes part in our fun little segment at the end called the Fast Five. Vandever performs tonight at Capital University as part of the A Tribe for Jazz inaugural Columbus International Jazz Series.

Soft plays...

Soft opens the 8-track Regrowth release from trombonist and composer Kalia Vandever, who admits it almost didn't make the album.

"In its first form, I didn't think it could exist as a song," said of the early draft of Soft. "I was noodling on the piano and started playing the melody. I still practice it by myself, and it's hard to keep up my stamina because itt's a lot without a lot of breaths. When I brought it to my band one day, I thought could we try this out? It felt really good playing it with an ensemble, but it's funny the trajectory of the piece."

The trajectory of Vandever's love of the trombone began in a home full of music.

"My family is pretty creatively inclined," Vandever said. "My mom used to be a Polynesian dancer. My dad has always had a love for music, but specifically Jazz so it was always playing around the house. They started my sister and I on piano at a really young age, but it wasn't until the age of 8 that I started on trombone."

False Memories plays...

"My dad was playing a Marsalis Family CD," Vandever recalled. "I heard Delfeayo Marsalis playing a solo."

Sultry Serenade from Live Marsalis Family show...

"I asked my dad what instrument that was because I was so drawn to the tone," Vandever reflected. "I wanted to learn it, and we ordered a student trombone which isn't necessarily smaller than a tenor trombone and I couldn't reach the last position when I started playing and so I grew into the instrument, which was sweet."

Unrest plays...

Vandever was born in Durham, NC. The family moved to Chicago shortly after that, and then she spent most of her upbringing in L.A.

"When I arrived here and started playing trombone, I started to find a love and passion for music," Vandever recalled. "There were a lot of opportunities. I went to a performing arts high school, and that's when I became serious about music and improvisation."

Cyclic Episode by Walter Smith III plays...

"There were a lot of shows, and I was studying with this tenor saxophonist Walter Smith III when I was in high school," Vandever said. "That's when I decided to pursue it seriously, ultimately going to Juilliard for college. I was surrounded by people doing it for a living and realized I could take this down a professional route and make my passion a reality."

Vandever's released her debut record In Bloom in 2019.

In Bloom plays...

"I recorded it a year after I graduated from college," Vandever said of her debut release In Bloom. "I was fresh out of school. I had this body of songs, some of which I wrote while in school and I was just eager to get music out. Then fast forward to Regrowth."

Lift plays...

"I was feeling much more settled into what my sound is and with my band as well," Vandever said of Regrowth. "It was a much easier process. Having a label helps too. I also feel it represented a new beginning while also recognizing that a lot will change. Even from when I put the album out to now, I'm in a different place than I was in May of this year. So recognizing the change and constant change in my life."

More Of The Good Stuff Later plays...

One of the most meaningful songs for Vandever from Regrowth - More of the Good Stuff Later, inspired by one of the last conversations she had with her grandfather who struggled with Alzheimer's before passing away in 2019.

"It was slow and he was gathering his thoughts, but it was really special because I could tell he was trying to remember," Vandever said of the conversation. "Music always stuck with him even when he was losing parts of his memory. But at the end of the conversation he said 'more of the good stuff later,' and that really stuck with me so then I wrote that piece. I always feel closer to him when I play that piece."

Another favorite would be An Unwelcome Visit

An Unwelcome Visit plays...

"That's a melody I wrote that tends to take a different form every time we play it," Vandever said of An Unwelcome Visit. "We included two different versions on the album and those were the only takes in the studio."

An Unwelcome Visit (Reprise) plays...

"Jazz is integral to my music and journey," Vandever said. "That's how I learned how to improvise, but I don't like typifying it as Jazz because it's so easy for us to get pigeonholed. At a certain point, you have to categorize it. I do feel Jazz is a part of my music, but in addition I feel like a songwriter too."

Pick It Up (And Drop It Again) plays...

"I wrote that when I started writing for guitar more," Vandever recalled. "I've always been drawn to that instrument. The initial line came to my fingers and I started playing it and repeating it, and then altering it. That's what came first. What I play came last.

Pick It Up continues...

Like many artists, music provides Vandever a space to express things she has a hard time verbalizing.

"I can think of a gig when I was overwhelmed and emotional," Vandever said. "I wasn't talking about it with my band, but it came through in the music. It was very therapeutic. That's my mode of expression, playing my instrument because it came from me and certain experiences and moments and I can remember how I was feeling when I wrote the song, and it's nice to realize that maybe I'm in a different place now when playing it or it brings out that same emotion when playing it. I love the audience conversations. I'll share some stories about the songs but I like giving the audience the ability to experience it the way they want to. Someone who knows my music said he had been listening to In Bloom. He said it's such a sad song, and I said that's interesting because I feel like it's one of my most uplifting songs."

Vandever has been touring on her own, but also as part of the backing band for Harry Styles.

"I realized we've been out for almost two months," Vandever said of the Harry Styles tour. "We did a residency in New York and so living there, I got to go home every night. It's been a blast. A different performance experience. To most people who've seen the show, they ask if it's demanding. We play the same songs for the most part every night, but we're performing. We're moving around and dancing and that takes another level of focus, which isn't the same with my band. But it's been a blast. He's an incredible artist. I love all the songs, and everybody in the band is incredible. It's been wonderful getting to know them and to create this incredible show together."

For more about Kalia Vandever, please visit her website.

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Mike Foley joined WCBE in February 2000, coming from WUFT in Gainesville, Florida. Foley has worked in various roles, from producing news and feature stories to engineering Live From Studio A sessions. A series of music features Foley started in 2018 called Music Journeys has grown into a podcast and radio show. He also assists in developing other programs in WCBE's Podcast Experience. Foley hosts The Morning Mix, a weekday music show featuring emerging and established musicians, our Columbus-area and Ohio-based talent, and additional artists that inspire him.