Bajan violinist Mylez Gittens describes himself as a painter who paints his masterpieces on silence. He comes from a musical family and has had an 18-year love affair with the violin. Mylez is currently based in New York and is known for performing a mixture of jazz and fusion. With some impressive accolades already under his belt, Mylez continues to make an impact through his talents, his unwavering commitment to social equity and justice issues, and now through his original music.
Leigh: How did you get your start in music?
Mylez: I entered the music world by way of violin lessons at the age of 6. My dad liked the way that violin was taught, in a group setting, rather than one-on-one compared to other instruments. I assume he thought it would be able to hold our interest since we're making friends as well. I played violin for 10 years and completed all my grades and after that, I started looking for more in music. The "more" turned out to be jazz and anything I could play on the violin outside of classical music.
Leigh: Tell me about your experience living in the U.S. and how it compares to Barbados, both professionally, as a musician, and then personally.
Mylez: In 2016 I moved to the U.S. for school and my dad was supporting me, at that time I was only doing school, no gigs or anything like that. After about a year I started playing outside, playing in the subway, just trying to find ways to get exposure, and I ended up picking up a few gigs. I've worked with a few big companies too, like New York Fashion Week, Red Bull, and Vice TV, this is just from me playing outside in the street. That's definitely something I wouldn't be able to do in Barbados.
By my second year, I dropped out of school, I was making way more money than what my dad was sending me. School also didn't really seem like the way to become a performer, you should go to school if you want to teach or something. But if you want to perform, or have a product, I believe the best way to do it is to work on your craft and develop it as much as you can so that you have your own unique product. Then just try to take it somewhere.
As a musician, being here in New York I make a lot more money, I have a lot more opportunities, and the scene is the whole world, you have more international reach. Whereas in Barbados it's harder to get work outside just by virtue of being in Barbados. Also, I feel as though gigs here pay a lot better, but I guess that also has to do with the level I'm working at. Professionalism is another thing as well, back home things are still kind of laid back, things can get done tomorrow, whereas here when you work with people it's like 'I need my stuff now'.
In terms of being a black person in America, I honestly wasn't fully aware at first of a lot of what was going on. But in the last two years for sure these have been unprecedented times, racism is in everyone's face. I've learned that "The American Dream" isn't all it seems to be, it really is just a dream or a facade. Barbados is the true paradise in that light, compared to America, it just depends on what your dream is. If you want to raise a family, have access to a good education, stuff like that, then Barbados is ideal because the system here is not for the black man. Even with my own experiences, a lot of it has been me breaking stereotypes. Many times when certain people see me with a violin they assume that I can't play, I'm a beginner, I won't sound good, or I do this for fun or something. So me just going out there looking how I look and rocking the show messes with the system in itself. You can be black and play the violin well.
Leigh: Tell me about your experience being involved with the Black Lives Matter Movement, I know you were involved in the tribute to Elijah Mc Clain, talk to me about the impact of using your music for the community.
Mylez: In terms of the movement and being in the street, it's more about comradery and just being with persons of the same mentality. When I go out there I'm just trying to help in the ways that I'm able to, you know? And that's through music. Music can heal people, music is therapeutic, music is meditation. By me just being out there and having my stuff set up and having such a large crowd gather and be reverent for a few minutes that does something. It also changes the narrative about the behavior of the crowds during these gatherings. For the ones who have passed, it also gives us a moment to honor them.
Leigh: Who are some of your influences?
Mylez: A major musical influence for me was the jazz saxophonist Sonny Rollins. I feel like I have modeled my violin playing around how he sounds on his instrument, so I try to sound like Sonny Rollins but with a violin. I generally tend to gravitate towards musicians whose music I like and you hear their influence in my original content. Other musical influences would be Robert Glasper, and MF Doom, he produced and did samples and was still a really good lyricist. In terms of general influences, my grandparents for sure were a major influence on me. Just knowing in my head that they always wanted to see me make it to the top and be as great as I can be really impacted me.
Leigh: You've released a few projects over the past year, most recently Acid Jazz II. Tell me about the inspiration behind your music, particularly Acid Jazz, the visuals were really trippy.
Mylez: My vision was...People are gonna listen to this on drugs, that was my vision [he laughed]. Last year I experimented with different psychedelics and I just ended up sitting at my Mac for like a week and I came up with Acid Jazz. That was my first project ever. The mixing and production was not...there but I still put it out and people digged it, just as it was.
Things They'd Tell Us Now was released in February during Black History Month and was just on some Black Lives Matter vibes, I wanted to release something conscious. At that point, I'd improved significantly with the production and the mixing and mastering. I do everything myself.
In terms of Acid Jazz, I just wanted to make something that people can listen to when they're high on whatever they're high on and have a good time. While also making something that was real to me. I never tried to hold back on things I was hearing. I wanted to make something that the average listener could enjoy, but also a jazz musician could listen and enjoy it too. So think about it as bridging the gap between the commercial and the neo-soul, or the jazz heads. Acid Jazz II was released on 4/20.
Leigh: What is one of the biggest lessons you've learned throughout your career so far?
Mylez: Always have multiple streams of income, you're not going to be gigging 24/7. If you're able to have a way of getting residual income, whether that's through putting out a project and getting paid by that, or having merch, maybe you sell shirts or something, do that. If you're going to survive in the industry you definitely need a few streams of income.
Leigh: What advice would you give to anyone who is inspired by your journey?
Mylez: Believe in yourself. At times you may have doubt about things working out but still try to put your best foot forward and put one hundred percent into everything you're doing. Also, even if there are 1000 persons doing what you do, make sure the way YOU do it is different. Being unique gets you out there, it gets you seen.
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