Interview by Ron Hamilton
Since the age of 5 years old, Afro-Cuban jazz artist Pamela Samiha Wise already knew she was destined to be a musician. With the ability to play music already in her DNA, she also inherited a love of jazz from her father Robert C. Wise, who played bass in a jazz trio and was a choir and music director at their church. Wise begin playing the piano by ear and writing and composing her own music at a very early age, and today the jazz pianist, writer, composer and independent recording artist continues to share her love of music, culture and soul in her latest album, A New Message From the Tribe.
Ron: So, you started composing music early, and playing by ear at age 5- but how old were you when you did your first piece?
Pamela: I actually always did write because I was the youngest sibling in my house and I was the only girl, and my brothers were older. They grew up, started their own families, and I was the only one left at home. So, I spent a lot of time composing. But my first piece actually got recorded when I came to Detroit, and I met my husband Wendell Harrison. He wasn’t my husband at the time, but he had a recording studio. And I came armed with some songs and I really wanted to start recording them, and he was very instrumental in helping me lay tracks and get that ball rolling for me.
Who are your inspirations?
McCoy Tyner is actually my favorite pianist. He was another guy who said his parents influenced him in terms of his music, but I remember meeting him one time and he said, 'every stage was like a sanctuary to him.' Just like when you were talking about how the spirit of the music transfers from church onto the stage or whatever genre you’re playing, that’s true, because you think of it as a sanctuary. And he’s definitely one of the most energetic pianists that I’ve ever met.
"I love to teach music too. I think that whatever knowledge you have, you have to share it with others. You just can’t keep it all for yourself."
Tell us about your first venture in music, the Ohio Movement. What was that like?
Because I’m from Ohio, I formed that band out of high school. Of course, you know, that’s what you do when you’re in high school [laughter]. You put your comrades together and say, ‘hey, we’re gonna form a band!’ [laughter]
But it actually did pretty well. We really didn’t come out with any product or anything like that, but we had a lot of experience in terms of putting together shows, and opening for different bands. It was a little different of a music scene back then, because this was back in the late 70s and there were more venues to work, which would give bands an opportunity to perform, put a show together, go on the road, and that. I was also heavily influenced by some other people that were close around in that vicinity, like the group Switch...
Okay, so what influenced you to make the change from R&B to Jazz?
Well, jazz had always been in my household because of my Dad. He also played jazz. That music was always challenging to me, and I guess because I grew up listening to it, jazz was the music that I always wanted to perform...
And then, moving to Detroit and listening to people like Geri Allen who was an awesome female pianist. Then you had other people on the scene that wasn’t directly in Detroit, but people like Patrice Rushen. So, I really wanted to do something more with my music, and I was very influenced by both of those young ladies.
To learn more about the latest projects from Pamela Samiha Wise, visit her website at: pamelawisemusickeys.com. Ron Hamilton is the owner and founder of WRJR Real Jamz Radio Network, and contributor for VERGE Lifestyle & Urban Culture magazine.
Photograph by Barbara Barefield
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