On October 15 and 16, 2021, The Columbia Festival of the Arts will be featuring live performances at the Long Reach Village Center in Columbia honoring the 50th Anniversary of Long Reach Village. One of the featured acts will be the talented and renowned performer, Vanessa Collier. Ms. Collier who is a blues saxophonist, singer, and songwriter, grew up in Columbia. Her performance is scheduled on October 16 at 7:30 pm—the finale of a day of wonderful performances.
As a seven-time Blues Music Award (BMA) nominee and a two-time BMA Award Winner for Horn Player of the Year (2020 and 2019), Vanessa Collier is excited to kick off her 2021 tour in celebration of her highly anticipated and self-produced fourth album, “Heart on the Line.” In addition to her BMA awards, Vanessa is also a multi award-winning songwriter, master musician, and multi-instrumentalist, known for seamlessly weaving together funk, soul, rock, and blues styles through soulful vocals, searing saxophone solos, and witty songwriting skills. With her career still in its infancy, Vanessa has already turned many heads, garnering tremendous accolades for her trademark high energy, powerful, fiery, and passionate live shows.
Vanessa started playing saxophone in the fourth grade and was in every school, all-county, and all-state band possible. She also played AAU basketball, lettering all four years on her varsity basketball team, and graduated high school with honors. After high school, Vanessa earned a scholarship to attend the prestigious Berklee College of Music, where she graduated with dual degrees in Performance and Music Production and Engineering. Since graduating from Berklee, Vanessa has toured extensively, both nationally and internationally, and has released three critically acclaimed albums prior to “Heart on the Line”—”Heart, Soul & Saxophone” in 2014, “Meeting My Shadow” in 2017, and “Honey Up” in 2018. “Honey Up” spent nine weeks on the Top 15 Billboard Charts, three months on the Living Blues Report, and is currently spinning on Sirius XM radio.
As for Collier, she says she’s happy performing on stages across the world, hoping that she can make a difference with fans and followers along the way. “I am driven to do this because I find it a total form of expression and connection,” she explains. “I love connecting with an audience and feeling their energy and I hope to inspire people to follow their dreams and passions, to find what brings them joy, and then to pursue it doggedly.” Vanessa also takes that message to young people as she runs clinics across the country and is active with Blues in the Schools programs. At a recent Blues in the School program, Vanessa invited a stage full of elementary and middle school aged kids up to dance around her while she performed a blues shuffle. Watching the joy on the faces of Vanessa, the kids, and everyone in the auditorium, it is no wonder why Vanessa has become awe-inspiring to all who meet her. On top of talent and hard work, Vanessa shares an incredible heart and a strong purpose. To borrow from the words of an article in “Blues Blast Magazine,” “Vanessa is an important part of the future of the blues, and it would be cool to support her journey.”
Why did you choose the saxophone?
I used to watch this show called “Two of A Kind” after school and, on one of the episodes, the dad pulls out a tenor saxophone and starts playing in the attic. I immediately loved the sound of the instrument, and I begged my mom to rent me a saxophone for the school band. Thankfully, in the summer before 4th grade, she caved and rented me one, and I haven’t put it down since. It’s such a beautiful and vastly expressive instrument capable of subtlety, beauty, but also capable of growl and power. Saxophone can encompass the full depth of human emotion, and it’s a joy to play with that every night.
What people most influenced your career?
I have two—my mentor, Chris Vadala, and my mom. Chris Vadala was the director of Jazz Studies at University of Maryland, as well as a longtime touring and recording woodwind artist with Chuck Mangione. He was my teacher from about seventh grade through my freshman year in college. Mr. Vadala gave me a great foundation based in classical, jazz, funk, R&B, blues, and more. He was the first to really show me that you could make a living in music. And I absolutely loved taking lessons with him. I would leave our lessons feeling so excited and motivated to play (and teach) like he did. I have followed that passion and tried to pass it along to my own students.
My mom has also been a huge influence on me as a person. I’ve always admired her, and I’ve wanted to be just like her. She’s incredibly kind-hearted and extremely understanding with people. She’s powerful in a quiet way, and draws people into her with her charisma and thoughtfulness. She also works incredibly hard and I’ve always admired that too. My mom raised me to believe that anything is possible if you work hard—then you can make anything happen, which has been important to me as I started on a path that’s a bit less defined than your typical path. My mom has supported my journey and every turn it has taken too, which is an incredible thing. I’m extremely lucky.
What song or songs that you have written have had the most meaning to you?
“When It Don’t Come Easy” is one of my top favorites because it’s about forging forward even when things are difficult. I wrote it about being like the water and whatever gets in your way, you just keep heading downstream. I love the imagery in it as well as the message of just finding a way to make it happen.
Do you prefer playing the saxophone or singing and why?
I think it depends. Saxophone is how I initially was able to express myself, and it feels so good to start rippin’ into a solo with some ferocity. It’s like a kind of therapy every night to try to say something without words. But, there’s a quiet power with the voice and with it, the lyrical content. If I play with the phrasing of words, it can change the meaning of the whole line. I’m honestly not sure I can choose!
How many hours do you practice on the sax per week?
If I’m on the road, I can’t really practice in the hotel room because it’s such a loud instrument. But when I’m home, I try to practice for an hour or two a day. From my experience teaching, I think it’s more important for students to think about how they practice. If you practice each day for a very focused 20 minutes on technique, tone, time, and challenging passages of the music rather than practicing what you already play well for an hour, then you’re practicing more efficiently and will see greater strides toward your goal. A big part of having a career in music is listening to as much music as you can! You will find inspiration and a jumping off point to help find your own voice by listening. The melding of all the genres you listen to and all of your influences becomes your unique voice.
The 50th Anniversary Celebration of Long Reach Village runs October 15, 2021 at 5:00 pm-8:00 pm and October 16, 2021 from 11 am to approximately 8:15 pm at the Long Reach Village Center, located at 8775 Cloudleap Court in Columbia, Maryland. The program is all outdoors. If there is inclement weather the performances will not be rescheduled. For more information about the Long Reach 50th Anniversary Celebration, go to this link. There will be parking and shuttle service from Long Reach High School. For more information about the Columbia Festival of the Arts go to their website.