Friday, January 17, 2014

Jazz vocalist Holly Pyle sings to her own beat

By Matt Marn

Published by

Singer Holly Pyle walked into an open mic one Friday night with a set of cables, a microphone, and a loop pedal. When her turn to take the stage arrived, she stood silent before the room, focusing on the beat in her mind. One hand ready on the pedal, the other hand began to wave back and forth, her head nodding to her own beat. She sings the beginning of a rhythm and loops her own voice with the loop pedal, with each measure creates another layer to add to her track. Her stylish, improvisational jazz captivates the room, and the crowd applauds at the end, pleading with her to stay for another.

“The loop pedal is a brand-new adventure,” Pyle said. “Growing up, I recorded my voice into the computer, and I loved harmonizing with myself. In college, I used Garage Band. I had the idea of using a loop pedal, but I just didn’t take the leap. But once those kids encouraged me, I went for it and bought a loop pedal. I went to an open mike in Tempe. I messed up the first time, but they loved it. They invited me to do an artist spotlight – that day.”

A complex relationship with music

Pyle has had a complex relationship with music for many years. She calls it just that – a relationship – because it has ran through a wide range of emotions, from love to hate, and everything in between. But she loves that it takes work to nurture her craft.

“There are those points in music, in the relationship, where I have a great moment, where it is all bright and great and happy, and I think I’ll love it forever,” Pyle said. “And then there are moments when everyone critiques and gives their own opinion, influenced by their own relationship with music. I try to conform to other people’s wishes, so my own love with music started to feel less real.”

Pyle related communication to a form of art.

“You can read words off a page in a monotonous tone, or you can connect with the words and put your emotions behind it, like color choices for a painting… That’s what is so interesting about being an artist; your music is a part of you, and you beat yourself up worst of all when it doesn’t sound right to you.”

And there were times like that when she doubted herself. But one day, when she was working in a facility that helped at-risk children, she mentioned that she sang, and the kids asked her to sing to them.

“They loved it,” Pyle said. “They even convinced me to try out for The Voice. Those kids told me I needed to do music. It gave me strength, and I got my love of music back. I’m being true to myself, true to what I want to do. I listen to feedback, but at the same time, I don’t let it cloud what I do; I don’t let it cloud my own relationship with music.”

An early start toward the stage

Pyle started her relationship with music when she was five, and played along on the piano with singers she admired. She took choir in school, and was always the loudest singer in the class – to the point where she had to learn to scale back a bit. She loved R&B music, and idolized Mariah Carey, listening to all of her tracks.

While she began studying at Northern Arizona University with a focus in opera, her focus shifted to jazz choir in her second year.

“I had no experience, and I was originally the weakest link in the choir,” Pyle said. “I am a good musician, and I have a good ear, but I was such a square. I wanted to quit, but I had a one-year obligation. My instructor gave me a solo piece, and when I worked on it, I decided to go back to my Mariah Carey roots, and put that into my solo. I got really good results and feedback. I was even invited to sing at a bar in Flagstaff. I kept getting great reviews there, too.”

Her love for jazz has only taken off from there. Pyle said she does not get very nervous performing jazz, especially due to her extensive experience.

“I get nervous with new tunes, and also I get kind of dyslexic memorizing new lyrics,” she said. “That’s another reason jazz is comforting to me – everyone has their own sheet music in front of them, and I can keep my words in front of me.”

Making mistakes beautiful

Pyle said jazz is full of mistakes, but yet they are welcomed, even celebrated.

“It’s all about making those mistakes beautiful,” she said. “Nothing is wrong, just different. It’s not the details or wardrobe you dress the song up with, or nerves or anxiety of performing; it’s the soul of the song that matters. It doesn’t matter if the tone is off or the guitar chord is wrong – you are expressing love, sorrow… you are expressing something to someone else. That is the most important thing; that you care so much that you have to share it.”

She often performs with other jazz musicians in the area, including “The New Wrecking Crew.” Pyle said she truly enjoys performing with the group, as they have been incredibly supportive.

“The effort they took just to let me know they liked what I did was so amazing,” she said. “It’s been this cool, collaborative effort. I’m overjoyed – it’s been very therapeutic. I've always been hesitant to ask for help, it felt like a burden. But I feel they genuinely enjoy what I do. And the band, the dynamic… there are no mistakes, it was all supposed to be there… we all adapt. It’s something I've never encountered… especially if you’re as self-critical as I am.”

Pyle advised to treat music, or whatever craft you work at, like it was your three-year-old child.
“It’s an ever-growing child that you’re fostering, raising. It can’t grow with criticism or negativity. It grows, learns, but negativity shuts it down. Every person is unique, and has their own artistic fingerprint. Being open to the artistic fingerprint, the expression of others… that’s where genius comes out.”

But above all else, Pyle stays true to herself, and loves what she does. And she does it for herself.

“I think a lot of musicians get really jaded, trying to do something and be something they’re not,” she said. “Doing that all day for five days a week… you can lose yourself. I would rather sing something I care about than sell my soul for music I have no connection to. I know – I feel secure – that what I do is truly something special, and that it has a place out there. I feel like I’m healthier now than I have been in a long time, and that’s because I’m doing it for me.”

Videos of Holly Pyle performing are below. Visit Holly's website at


"Better Now," an original Holly Pyle

"In the Air Tonight"