Q: You have a beautiful message behind “I Still Believe”. Tell our audience a little bit more about that message.
JACOB KHALIL: More than anything, I feel that “Still Believe” has a message of unification and hope. I’ve just felt that over the past couple of years there is more division than ever — specifically in the United States. But I know that we can accomplish so much more when we see eye to eye. This song is not political, and it doesn’t really offer any answers, but it is something that I’ve felt for a long time. I love my country. I think it’s a wonderful place. Many people have made sacrifices so that freedom can be available to everyone from every walk of life. We still are not perfect, and we have quite a bit to work on, but I still believe that we can get closer and closer, especially when we come together. That’s what “I Still Believe” is all about.
Q: What has been your favorite performance thus far?
JACOB: The opening night of my residency in Las Vegas was pretty magical. The showroom at The Tuscany Casino was sold out, and I was supported by such a killer band. I remember having the thought, “I am the luckiest guy alive.” I got to play a mixture of standards and originals in that show. I particularly loved seeing the audience’s favorable reaction to my original music. It was a confirmation to me that I need to write more, and share my music more. So many people would come to me after the performances in my residency and tell me that my original songs were their favorites of the night.
Q: Tell us about some of your struggles as an artist? As a person?
JACOB: I do have quite a few struggles, as anyone else does. But I try to be grateful for where I am, what I’ve accomplished, and what I’m being led to do next. I feel that I often have to overcome fear of not being accepted — by audiences or by gatekeepers or whoever. It’s easy to compare oneself to others. Especially because I live in New York where loads of people around me are a giant step ahead of me — playing bigger venues, reaching wider audiences, etc. To combat fear and jealousy, I’ve chosen to be grateful. I may not have a million followers, but I love the 30 that I will get to play for tonight. They matter so much to me, and I’m grateful for them. Maybe I won’t be accepted by everyone, but I play music because I love it and I believe in what I do. I find such purpose through music itself. I’m grateful every time I get to play music. Often times I rediscover music; I’ll play a chord that hits me like it hasn’t ever before or I’ll sing a melody a little more delicately. Those moments are precious to me. And I’m grateful for them. It’s difficult to feel fear or jealousy when I flood myself with gratitude. So that’s my antidote!
Q: You studied opera at Brigham Young University, tell us about that experience.
JACOB: I chose to study opera because I love classical vocal music. My first love is a cappella choral music. I feel that there is not a more pure expression of beauty than the sound of many voices singing in harmony with no other form of amplification than the dome of a cathedral or a concert hall. Because I love choral music so much, I sought out training in opera because the kind of singing you do in opera directly corresponds to the kind of singing you do in a professional choir. I sang a few lead baritone roles in operas by Puccini, Massenet, and Gilbert & Sullivan. I loved that work. It was great to be on stage and performing such a timeless art. It was about halfway through my schooling, however, that I really felt a draw to jazz and performing my original music. My voice also fit these genres MUCH better. I still do use my classical “chops” when I sing in professional choirs in NYC. It’s something I hope to always continue doing.
Q: You have such broad musical interests. What do you enjoy most about being an artist?
JACOB: I love that my art can serve as a refuge. My music has meant everything to me. It’s how I get in touch with myself, how I connect with the divine, how I express my deepest thoughts and feelings. It’s also how I make my living. Being an artist is my world. The beauty of it all is that my music has been a refuge for others in ways that I wouldn’t have guessed. I play in restaurants and bars almost every night of the week. Some people at these various night-life venues have told me through their tears that what I do is “sacred” and “special.” I find great joy in knowing that as a musician, what I do helps others to celebrate, mourn, be happy, fall in love, or in short experience more of what makes the human experience beautiful.
Q: What is coming next for you?
JACOB: I will be releasing a lot more music, including some music for Christmas and a full album that will hopefully launch in January. I also have my weekly residencies that I maintain around New York City and some tour dates around the US.
Interviewed by Stephanie Pankewich
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