Cuba is famous for its Cuban dance styles, 1950s cars, cigars, architecture, Cuban National Ballet, and music. Jessy Diaz, a singer, musicologist, and percussionist is a graduate student in Jazz Studies at Georgia State. Born in Matanzas, Cuba, Jessy started singing at the age of six in Cuba and then learned to play percussion at eight. She attended The University of Arts in Cuba, where she studied music and received her undergraduate degree. Jessy is often compared to the Cuban singer Celia Cruz, Queen of Salsa and one of the most popular Latin artists of the 20th century.
What brought you to Georgia State?
In 2016 at the age of 25, I left Cuba and moved to Miami, Florida. It was my first experience in a country outside of Cuba, which I appreciate because of all the things I learned, personally and professionally. My first job was assistant teacher, and this job led me to my next one, Music and Movement Teacher. Afterward, I started teaching piano, voice, and percussion in several schools in Miami, and in the evenings, I would sing at a few of the Latin restaurants in Miami.
I won two voice competitions, and it made me think about focusing on my professional career as a singer and making some changes in my life to achieve this goal. I decided to move out of Florida and learn about the American lifestyle, which is hard to do in Miami because of the large Latin population and culture. Also, because of my passion for singing and consistently achieving new knowledge, I wanted to have the American college experience. A friend recommended Atlanta to me as the ideal city to study and promote my professional career. Jazz always motivated me, and in Cuba, nonclassical music is not available to learn in the academic world. Hence, I looked for a good program that fulfills all my expectancies. That brought me to Georgia State University to obtain a Master of Music in Jazz Studies (Vocal Concentration).
You released your first single in February 2021. Can you tell us about it?
“Elegua Quiere Tambo” was popularized by Celia Cruz while singing with the Sonora Matancera, a world-renowned Cuban band. I have been around many people who call me “the next Celia Cruz.” In my research process, I discovered this fantastic song and thought about keeping the spirit of the tune but adapting it to my current musical discourse. I contacted Efrain Chibas, Cuban pianist and composer, to arrange the song. He quickly agreed and gathered some other musicians to play and record the tune. Last December, I went to Cuba, we had one rehearsal, and then, in January, we met at Dbega Studios to record the song. The experience was unique, the energy was highly enriching and the musical result, incredible. This recording marked the beginning of a project focusing on Celia Cruz and Sonora Matancera’s music that will be made and produced entirely by Cuban musicians.
Your instructor is the famous jazz singer and Ray Charles’s backup singer Rita Graham. What are some of the valuable lessons you’ve learned from Ms. Graham?
Rita Graham is a great human being and an excellent vocalist. I learned the importance of a good repertoire selection. During our sessions, she always emphasized the balance in tonalities and genres in the repertoire, ballads, uptempo, Bossa nova, Latin, and the need to feel comfortable with each selected song. Her recommendations exposed me to American music that I was unfamiliar with. Ms. Graham taught me the significance of jazz in this culture and throughout the world. Studying under her guidance has given me tools that apply in jazz and other music genres. I appreciate each piece of advice, each conversation about her musical experience, and each moment of wisdom that she gave me.
What are your plans after graduation?
After graduation, I plan to promote my music and my musical projects. Each of my performances needs to be better, and as a singer, I have to improve myself by listening, reading and learning from experienced musicians. Before Georgia State, all my music experience was in Cuban music. That is why I will stay in contact and continue to learn from my professors from Georgia State. This is only the beginning of my career as a Latin Jazz vocalist.
College of the Arts
School of Music