Erika Phillips was originally studying journalism at Vancouver Island University when she decided to change her area of focus to music. She performs with her quartet at Acme Food Co. Friday (March 28).

Erika Phillips was originally studying journalism at Vancouver Island University when she decided to change her area of focus to music. She performs with her quartet at Acme Food Co. Friday (March 28).

Student changes major to music

NANAIMO – The Erika Phillips Quartet performs at Acme Food Co. on Friday (March 28).

A former journalism student turned dance instructor and jazz musician will be showcasing her vocal abilities in the Harbour City this week.

Nanaimo-based musician Erika Phillips and her band, the Erika Phillips Quartet, will be playing “jazz with a twist” at Acme Food Co. on Friday (March 28). The quartet includes Rob Wilkinson (piano), Richie Jackson (bass), and Jesse McNeill (drums).

The quartet was formed in 2010 shortly after Phillips graduated from the jazz program at Vancouver Island University.

“I’d been writing originals and arrangements for quite awhile but I just hadn’t had the time to put a group together. So pretty much right when I graduated, I took a break for a month or two, and then I just kind of dove right in there,” she said.

Phillips, who has been singing and playing the piano since she was a little girl, originally enrolled in the creative writing and journalism program at VIU. However, her musical side kept calling and she eventually switched into the jazz program.

“I started out in journalism actually,” she said. “While I was doing that I took a couple of music classes and I liked them better than my other classes, so I just decided to switch tracks.”

While in the jazz program, Phillips studied under respected Canadian jazz artists such as Brad Turner, Pat Coleman, Ken Lister and Bryan Stovell.

“It was a really great experience. I had a lot of great teachers and mentors. The summer program that they did at the end of the fourth year when I was doing it was really great … it was intense, but very positive, lots of support. It’s a very supportive community. It’s not as competitive as some other cities, obviously, but there is a lot of support for fellow artists and from fellow artists,” Phillips said.

Phillips originally came from a classical music background, having done choir and theatre, and said that the switch to jazz was a tough adjustment.

“I am also a soprano, I have a high voice, so switching over to jazz was a huge switch stylistically,” Philips said. “It took awhile to develop my sound and get to a place where I liked what I heard on the recording.”

In 2012, The Erika Phillips Quartet released There Goes Love, which garnered Phillips a Vancouver Island Music Award for Female Vocalist of 2012. Phillips said receiving recognition for her work is very encouraging.

“You spend a lot of time as an artist doing lots and lots of work and spending hours and hours of practising and writing and composing and never necessarily having anyone know that or appreciate it,” Phillips said. “So, it’s definitely nice to get the recognition of that much work and effort. Especially when it’s original music that is coming from you and your heart. It’s nice to know that other people like it too and that it is not just you.”

Phillips has also found other ways to make a living from her musical and creative talents.

“I teach and I perform, I accompany and do various things,” she said. “It’s very plausible to think that you’re not going to make a living from just performing anymore, but there is certainly lots of niches and directions that you can take it.”

The quartet is currently working on a full-length album, which it hopes to release later this year.

“We’ve been working through original material and original arrangements and right now we’re kind of working on a lot of funk and blues-based stuff,” Phillips said.

The Erika Phillips Quartet performs at Acme Food Co. on Friday (March 28).

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