What did you set out to be? Because I’m damn sure you never intended to be an accountant/engineer/personal assistant to the worst boss in the world. Most of us had a totally different path in mind when we were little… astronauts, or policemen or – God help us – footballers. Fellow journalist, Emi, studied landscape gardening; yoga teacher Sirene was in public relations before her abrupt switch; and Markos, my tax lawyer friend, had his heart set on being a pilot. And Charlotte? Well, Charlotte was always going to be an artist… Until a chance encounter at a bicommunal concert changed her mind – and her path in life – forever.
“I was 16, and I’d always thought I was going to be an artist,” says Charlotte Storer. “I’d been fascinated by art from an early age, loved it, and had been offered a place at Central St Martins. And then, one day, I was wandering round Phaneromeni with my mum when I came across an open-air jazz concert…
“I was drawn in immediately. I sat; I listened. Then – at the end – the musicians announced they would be holding a series of free workshops; they were part of a US State Department outreach, the Jazz Futures Bicommunal Programme. And though I’d always enjoyed singing in choirs at school, I’d never really come across anything like this before. Growing up, I was exposed to all kinds of music at home, but was following through with my plans to become an artist. So being able to immerse myself in this incredible new musical genre was a real eye-opener,” she says.
Attending her first workshop as a jazz novice, Charlotte was stunned by the calibre of artists and music she encountered. “Here I was at the Fulbright Centre meeting not only people from all over the island but also esteemed jazz musicians from the States!” The Chris Byars and Ari Roland Quartet, Yaala Ballin, Marion Cowings, Ofer Landsberg – all names that any aficionado of the genre will know well – became Charlotte’s instructors, teaching her the rudiments of their speciality. “That first workshop, I got to meet John Mosca, musical director of Vanguard orchestra in New York! We sat and listened to music and jazz, and he introduced me to different singers and songs. It was such a privilege…”
Charlotte attended every one of the Jazz Futures workshops, not only being taught by a number of other jazz legends, but also enjoying the chance to learn from local experts. “And I met all these people I would never otherwise have met: there were jam sessions and concerts all over the island – Limassol, Famagusta, Kyrenia, Nicosia; it was just everyone together learning great music.
“For me, jazz became synonymous with community,” she continues. “It’s a genre which allowed me to learn about myself and how to connect creatively with others; it’s timeless music. And that was a big part of the attraction. Jazz was about connecting not just with the music and your fellow musicians, but also with your audience, and with history. You’re telling a story through song – a story of love, or suffering, of inspiration or heartbreak, and I think with my singing I can do that in a way I never could with my art.”
Despite this burgeoning love of jazz, Charlotte’s decision to follow her true path took time. She went off to St Martins and started her course in Fine Art but within a year was missing music so much knew she had to change direction. “All my artwork had become about music: visual drawings and mixed media related to jazz, pieces which depicted singers and songs. Somehow, jazz had become integral to my art, and I knew that if I didn’t switch path, I would regret it.”
Moving back to Cyprus – “my real home, wherever I may live or work in the world” – in 2010, Charlotte began her jazz training in earnest. “I had to learn to read and write music from scratch, like a child. But at the same time, I was really lucky to have the support of so many local jazz musicians: people who would help me and invite me to sing at gigs with them, people I’d met through the bicommunal programme. If guess if I hadn’t been in Cyprus, I never would have had this opportunity – never had the chance to learn so closely from so many distinguished jazz musicians.”
Now following the new dream, Charlotte has graduated from the Guildhall School of Music and Drama in London with a BMus in Jazz Voice, a course she “loved every minute of, despite the challenges! Of course I missed Cyprus, this is where it all began, but completing my Bachelors allowed me to broaden my musicianship in so many different contexts. And, while I was in London, I was able to perform at lots of amazing jazz venues, including Ronny Scott’s upstairs bar, probably the most famous jazz club in London!”
As an Erasmus student for six months, Charlotte also performed in The Hague, while a brief sojourn to Israel saw her booked for a number of gigs across the water. Here in Cyprus, she’s sung at Sarah’s Jazz Club, and a trip to New York last winter saw her meeting with various Big Apple jazz legends. And that, Charlotte concludes, is where the path ultimately leads… “There’s nowhere like New York for jazz,” she grins. “It’s so inspiring – there’s an incredible energy surrounding the jazz scene there. And though Cyprus will always be home, and the place which gave me the opportunity to discover my career path, I’m open to seeing where this journey will take me…” A journey that began, completely by chance, ten years ago on a quiet afternoon in Faneromeni…
Follow Charlotte on www.charlottestorerjazz.com/, or listen to her music at soundcloud.com/charlottestorer