Meeting Jazz Singer Dana Masters

American singer on moving to Northern Ireland for love, why jazz is in her blood and teaming up with Linley Hamilton at the City of Derry Jazz & Big Band Festival

When did you first know that you wanted to be a singer?

Honestly, I'm not sure. The desire came slowly. Singing is such a part of the African-American culture, sometimes it felt like everybody did it. It wasn't till I was in university that I realised it was even an option.

Did your parents encourage your creativity?

My family has always been incredibly supportive. Even when I doubted myself, they were confident in my dreams.

Lots of people want to be singers but not everyone has the talent – was there a moment when you realised that you did?

I think, for me, talent isn't what defines me as an artist – there are far better singers than me out there – but it's the connection I have always felt to everyone else in the room when I sing. There was a moment when I realised not every singer experienced that connection and that has always made me feel unique.

You studied vocal performance at university. What's the greatest lesson you learned there?

Perseverance and hard work. University for me was the hardest thing I had ever attempted, at that point. I went in having had no previous formal training and I was playing lots of catch up with my peers. I started practice at 6am and didn't finish my days until 11pm. But it paid off. After my four years, I graduated with honours.

How did you discover jazz?

Jazz is something that I always knew was there. It was birthed by my ancestors, and as a black person born and raised in the States, the elements of jazz are weaved all throughout our culture. But, oddly enough, it wasn't until I moved to Northern Ireland that I began to perform it.

People associate jazz and vocal performance with scat – are you skilled therein?

No. I wish I could say I was, but I do give it a good go sometimes.

When and why did you move to Northern Ireland?

I moved here in November of 2008. I met and fell in love with a County Down man while living in LA, and we decided to make this island our home together.

Did it feel like walking into the desert – Northern Ireland has never been a thriving centre of jazz or soul virtuosity...

I think it felt more like walking into endless possibilities as a musician. I felt there was more room for me here.

You began performing in Northern Ireland after meeting jazz trumpeter, composer and broadcaster, Linley Hamilton. How important has he been in your career?

Linley has been invaluable to me as a mentor and a friend. I didn't know anyone here musically when I came. Linley has been a huge door opener for me.

Culture NI described the album JAZZnBELFAST, by the Dana Masters Sextet featuring Linley Hamilton, as 'sublime and exquisite'. Are you proud of the record?

I am proud of Linley for making it. He did all of the work for that album and he had the vision. I am just so honoured to have been a part of it.

You're performing in Derry's Millennium Forum, with the Linley Hamilton Band, on May 3 as part of the City of Derry Jazz & Big Band Festival. Does it feel like you've now become accepted in Northern Ireland as a solo artist?

There has yet to be a time that I haven't felt fully accepted here in Northern Ireland. I think that's one of the reasons I've fallen in love with this place.

Surprisingly, perhaps, you're now beginning to move away from jazz – why?

I don't feel I am purposefully moving away from jazz, as I am acknowledging all of the other genres that have made me who I am today musically. You will still hear jazzy elements in my gigs, but you will also hear soul and funk and R&B.

Having mainly covered other artists' work, is composition something that you are now becoming more interested in?

I am actually in the process of writing my own material for my next project – a full length album. I'm very much looking forward to it. Watch this space.