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There was a time in his life two years ago when classically trained baritone Jubilant Sykes found that songs came pouring out of him just as soon as he sat down. Since then, though, he's been in such heavy demand to tour and play recitals that he hasn't as much freedom to devote to pure writing.
This summer, Sykes hopes to go back to his notebooks with the Jubilant Sykes Project, a trio he's recently formed with keyboards, percussion and congas. The group toured a few weeks ago, playing folk tunes and some of Sykes own songs - which will hopefully show up on a future release.
"That's a prayer and a hope really," Sykes said. "I love these guys. I love the way they play, and we're all on the same page musically, which is really refreshing. At the rehearsals, I played some of my new tunes, and they said, 'You've got to do that.'"
Sykes has performed with many of the finest symphonies and opera companies in the world, and is known for his wide range of vocal expression within an equally wide range of music: pop to Brazilian to classical to jazz to Tin Pan Alley and beyond.
He will perform at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday, May 25, at the Juneau-Douglas High School auditorium as part of the Juneau Jazz & Classics festival. Alan Chow, an internationally touring pianist and a teacher at Northwestern University, will accompany Sykes. The two have played recitals together over the years.
The first half of the show will include classical selections: Schubert, Schumann, Copland and some Portuguese. The second half will be mostly folk songs and spirituals.
"I try to stay true to the composer," Sykes said. "Why mess with something that's completely perfect? When I sing Schubert, I want to honor him. When I sing Schumann, those songs, to me, are untouchable. You can't say, 'Let's take those rubies out and put in marbles.'"
Sykes' last record, "Wait For Me," came out on Sony in 2001 and includes covers of Bruce Springsteen, Bob Dylan and Leadbelly.
"When we started the project no one really had an idea of what it was going to be," Sykes said. "I was contracted to give Sony another recording, and they wanted something different. It was wonderful working with (producer) Craig Street, but in my heart of hearts I've always wanted to do a straightahead jazz trio or an R&B jazz record. And 'Wait for Me' is neither of those. It's right in the middle."
Sykes hopes the new trio gives him the freedom to explore more pop, jazz and folk.
"It's hard to do if you're performing with symphonies or at classical recitals," he said. "I don't want to lost the simplicity of it, but I want something with rhythm and African drums and that sort of thing."
Last week, Sykes began recording another project with longtime and collaborator Chris Parkening. The record will include Brazilian music, some traditional Spanish guitar, classical music and a few spirituals, including "Sometimes I Feel Like a Motherless Child."
"I love spirituals," Sykes said. "I like their meaning. I like the historical fact of how they came about. They're really special to me in that way. I go to libraries and look for things that haven't been done or some different arrangement that make them not the standard fare."