He’s travelled the world and its seven seas; and unlike almost everyone else, Jerome Speldewinde is simply looking to get better at what gives him joy – the blues.
Although he might be rightly labelled as one of Sri Lanka’s most popular jazz and blues performers, Jerome covers a range of music that’s as wide as his vocal cords. From classic jazz and blues, to funk and popular classics, he is open to any song with meaningful lyrics, strong melodies, and sentiment and feel.
“I don’t have a genre bias,” he declares; and with decades of performing under his belt, he represents a versatile package of diverse musical talent that’s signed, sealed and delivered.
“I’d like to think that I’m an easygoing person – I care about the state of the planet, and the injustice and inequality that prevails”
Like his favourite composer (or one who tops the list) says, “life is a lot like jazz; it’s best when you improvise.”
And Jerome is a living embodiment of perfected improvisation – be it his music, work or attitude to life in general. The revered musician says he’s an easygoing person who is also subversive by nature… and someone who loves peace and quiet.
Hailing from Jaffna, Speldewinde has toured the island from east to west, and the planet from Manhattan to Melbourne. Indeed, his vocals and music have lulled audiences around the globe for decades.
And here in Sri Lanka, it has been the pièce de résistance at many an event – be it toe tapping nights at the former JAIC Hilton; slow flow Sundays at Barefoot Garden Café; or in recent years, chilled beachfront sessions at the Hideaway Resort in Arugam Bay.
With a penchant for the seaside and all things oceanic, Sri Lanka’s jazz, blues and soul guru is passionate about keeping the flame of great music alive while looking forward to enjoying more swing in his life – on the golf course!
Ruwandi Perera chats with him to find out more about his take on life and philosophy when it comes to his vocation, as well as to unplug the man behind the music – because although we think we know him well… well, there’s much more to know!
Q: How would you describe Jerome Speldewinde – who is he, really?
A: I have never entertained the thought of describing myself! I’d like to think that I’m an easygoing person – I care about the state of the planet, and the injustice and inequality that prevails.
And I am subversive by nature. I’m simply fortunate to be able to nurture and sustain myself by doing something I love – making music. That’s all. No big deal.
Q: What are the three most important things in life for you?
A: The three Fs: family, friends and freedom.
Q: Your most memorable moment in life…
A: Being present at the birth of my daughter Romani.
“I’ll always have my ears open to any song as long as it has a strong melody, and meaningful lyrics, feel and sentiment”
Q: What drives you?
A: I can’t say I’m driven or ambitious. What motivates me is the prospect of learning a new song and getting it right.
Q: Where do you see yourself in five years from now?
A: I’d like to think that I will still be inspired enough to keep learning and be on the same journey.
But then again, who knows? The gods laugh at human beings with plans!
DATE OF BIRTH
“So long ago that I can’t remember!”
At ‘the school of life and hard knocks’
Sisters (Cheryl and Melanie)
Brothers (Kelvin and Rohan)
HOBBIES (APART FROM MUSIC)
None (If he could, he’d play golf often – but “it’s not possible here”)
ALWAYS WANTED TO BUT NEVER COULD
Play golf off scratch
Play the piano like Bill Evans
“Simply to be and keep getting better, if not wiser, at what gives me joy.”
The concept of love
A Gershwin tune
His family, partner, daughter and grandson
Peace and quiet
Most isms – racism, fascism, capitalism
MOTTO IN LIFE
Live and let live
Anything that comes easy means you’re good at it
Advice to Budding Musicians
It’s a long journey, and not all peaches and cream. Constant practice makes you more proficient on your instrument. Always back feel over tech- nique – it’s the eye of the ear (so develop large ears!)”
“I’m hoping to have a finished product soon – or as my dear partner would say: “When puss lays an egg!”
Q: You are a man on the move, geographically speaking. How does this impact your music?
A: I’ve been fortunate to travel to the US, Europe and other places. My partner Sharon loves to travel – so I get to go! Every country has its unique culture and music is a big part of that.
The two places that had the most impact on me were New York City and Cuba. NYC for its jazz and Cuba for its music on the street.
Q: What aspects of your career excite you the most?
A: The fact that I’m still doing it, and learning as I go, excites and motivates me.
Q: And what aspects of it do you like the least?
A: Having to deal with music as a business is tediously boring!
Q: You’re known for your versatility of genre and precision in singing… How do you keep maintaining – and raising – your standards?
A: I don’t have a genre bias. I’ll always have my ears open to any song as long as it has a strong melody, and meaningful lyrics, feel and sentiment. Then it resonates.
Q: You have written quite a few originals over the years. What’s your creative process when composing and writing?
A: I have composed but only recorded material during a time in the 1980s – that was when I was in a band called Man Friday in Melbourne.
Since I like the recording process, I do my own on GarageBand in Arugam Bay. I’m hoping to have a finished product soon – or as my dear partner would say: “When puss lays an egg!”
There is no real order to the process of composing or recording. And it doesn’t always turn out as you hoped – like life, in a way! Now where’s that box of chocolates?
Q: What’s a perfect day for you?
A: To wake up and go straight to my smartphone. Then my dumbness vanishes! No, not really…
So the perfect day is to wake up, loll around for a bit and drag myself out for a walk on the beach. Then cook my own breakfast, brew a good cup of coffee, read, practise and listen to what I feel like (no urban clatter or industrial noise, thank you!).
After that, I check out what’s going on around the planet. Then perhaps listen to some Bill Evans on YouTube, have a light snack, learn a song and maybe do a cryptic crossword for mental exercise, and try to be productive.
I then walk the dogs on the beach and watch the sunset. After an early dinner, there’s conversation; and finally, Netflix to wind up the day.
Q: Friends and family – how do they influence you?
A: Family and friends are paramount. There’s a strong family bond when you migrate and I’ve got that with my two sisters Cheryl and Melanie, and brother Kelvin.
You make friends as you go through life but childhood and school friends are the closest, and most long-lasting.
Q: And what’s your good luck charm?
A: There’s no such thing as ‘good luck charm’ – you make your own luck… because the harder you practise, the ‘luckier’ you get!
Q: If not music, what would your life have revolved around?
A: Without music, I’d be useless. It really is my ‘go-to place’ and has saved my back a few times.
Journalism is something I’ve considered – to investigate and go in search of the truth – but it sounds like a dangerous occupation!
Others such as Bob Dylan, Gerald Cohen and Steven Van Zandt
Loves the guitar and one’s voice
Would like to play the piano and cello
GLOBAL MUSIC ICONS
Stevie Wonder and Ray Charles – “You can’t go past them.”
Bob Marley – “He was a game changer.”
Sting – “He’s up there too.”
SRI LANKAN MUSICIANS
The late Joe Thambimuttu – “He was an absolute genius.”
Maxi Rosairo – “I always liked his tone and style from when I was a wee lad.”
His good friend Geoffrey Fernando – “He can do magic.”
The Barefoot Quartet – “My mainstay.”
So many others – such as Aruna, the guys from Brown Sugar, Alien Accent and Dave from Soul (there are too many to mention)
Doesn’t feel much like going anywhere too much
“My birthplace Jaffna perhaps – I love the north and east.”
Barefoot Garden Café
Hideaway Resort (Arugam Bay)
Musicians and poets feel the struggle, and are the conscience of the people. In that sense, I have played a few special gigs over the years. One that I remember in particular was an open-air antinuclear gig in Melbourne for a sea of people. Antiapartheid gigs in the 1980s too were quite memorable.