Walking in the Sunlight – an Interview with Jade Maze

By: Anita Solick Oswald
August 17, 2020

I first met Jade Maze at the Printers Row Festival in Chicago and shared a table with her.

Serene, exuding cool beauty like her name, Jade’s persona is calming, welcoming. And, joyful. Her name is appropriate– the translucent ornamental mineral, jade, is valued for its durability, magical qualities, and beauty. She is all of those things.

This was my first book fair, and I was nervous. I felt scattered and disorganized. She greeted me warmly, like we’d known each other forever. Later, when I experienced technical issues with the book sales, she graciously walked me through the process. I knew instantly that she was a gifted teacher. While we autographed books, I learned more about her music and teaching career. We shared the bond of being memoir writers, exchanged books, and became Facebook friends.

Jade is a recording artist, song writer, performer, teacher and the award-winning author of the intense memoir, Walk Until Sunrise. Based on her own experiences as a runaway, her memoir takes the reader on an intense and harrowing journey – a story of survival that leads to self-healing and overcoming adversity. She is a member of the Chicago Writers’ Association, a Ravinia teaching artist, and part of the voice faculty at Merit School of Music and the Jerry Evans School of Music.

Today, she leverages her experience to inspire, to motivate her own work, and to encourage her music students.

Because of the pandemic, Jade’s plans to complete writing residency in Greece have been postponed until next year. She also hopes to entertain Colorado listeners in person in 2021.


 Q. Tell me about yourself and what you do. What’s your background?

 A. I am a singer/ songwriter, author, and educator. I was born in Minneapolis, raised in California, and made Chicago my home in 1994. I ran away as a teen and therefore dropped out of high school. I spent my early life singing original songs and traveling with my band. I got my GED in my early 30s and went to college to study voice. I found that I love studying and eventually received my MM in vocal performance from Northwestern University in 2008.

 Q. Why do you do what you do?

 A. Everything is a calling for me. I knew since the age of five that I was supposed to write songs and sing. Writing was something that I loved as a young person. My friends and I would talk about the novels we were going to write. I was called to it strongly in 1998. Teaching is a natural phenomenon for me. I love teaching young people who have a passion for music.

 Q. How do you work? (What’s integral to your work?)

 A. All my writing (both songs and prose) are born in silence. Songs come as a whole concept, meaning, lyrics, melody and chord progression eighty percent of the time. The other 20% of the time I have the words and a bass-line first and fill out the rest.

My writing process is looser. I believe I am a sculptor when it comes to writing. I just let the words and thoughts flow through the pen and, after stepping away from what has come out for anywhere from a day to a month, I go back and chisel out the story.

 Q. What has been a seminal experience for you? Tell us about your favorite artist-in-residence experience, performance, collaboration, …

 A. My favorite musical experience was recording my blues album My Favorite Color Is Blue. I surrounded myself with such wonderful musicians. I was am a huge Otis Rush fan, and the entire rhythm section was his band, which was such a thrill. The sax player was Boom Brumbach who spent years with Rufus and Chaka Khan. We made some thrilling music together!
The most amazing experience I had as a writer was in 2018 when I went to Rome to receive an award. That’s the first time I’ve been in a room with writers from all over the world. We had such wonderful conversations, and we were all so similar in mindset even though we hailed from different parts of the world.

 Q. What are your influences?

 A. Music – Stevie Wonder, J.S. Bach, Billie Holiday, Ella Fitzgerald, Isaac Hayes, Chaka Khan, Prince, Olivia Newton-John, Dolly Parton, The Bee Gees, Rolling Stones, Thelonious Monk, Stan Getz, Caetano Veloso, Jobim … I’m all over the place.

Writing – I like the classics – Jack London, Stephen Crane, Richard Wright, Maya Angelou, Tim O’Brien, and I love a good mystery book.

 Q. Tell me about a real-life situation that inspired you.

 A. Having Bishop Arthur M. Brazier as my pastor for ten years (he passed away in 2010). He was the first father figure I ever had, and it was such an inspiring experience to feel what it’s like to be guided by a good man and to be able to trust the advice he gave me and the motive behind his actions. That was really incredibly healing.

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 Q. Name something you love, and why.

 A. I love the ocean. I call it the keeper of my soul. It’s beauty and power keep in in constant awe.

 Q. When did you first realize you wanted to be a writer?

 A. I think when I was nine. I have letters between myself and a school friend where we talked about how many pages we had written in our novels. That dream was overshadowed by music for most of my life, but I’ve always loved people’s stories, and I prefer to observe things than to actually participate because I wanted to write about it.

 Q. How long did it take you to write your memoir? Do you have any tips for someone who wants to write a memoir?

 A. The entire process took me close to 20 years because I was so afraid of my own story. The actual writing time may have been about 5 years.
My advice? Just write. Don’t overwhelm yourself with worrying about the end result or how to market, etcetera. Just write. And write so the book is pleasing to YOU.

 Q. When did you first start writing?

 A. Well, I’ve always taken writing classes, but I think seriously around the year 1995.

 Q. Tell us the story behind your book. How did Walk Until Sunrise come to life?

 A. I was really compelled to write this book. It started as a cathartic writing process that I resisted for years and was eventually able to embrace. It kept asking to be written.

 Q. What is the message you want readers to take away from your book?

 A. No one can steal you from yourself. In the worst case scenario, you are just buried, but never gone.

 Q. Is there a sequel in the works?

 A. Yes! I have a four- volume series in the works and am fast at work on book number one.

 Q. How do your writing and performing correlate?

 A. They definitely go together. They are my forms of creative expression. They are almost one and the same.

 Q. What inspired you to get into performing arts?

 A. I didn’t have that process. I just knew that was what I was supposed to do.

 Q. How long have you wanted to perform and when did you start?

 A. I didn’t really perform until I was around 18 because I felt the need to keep things that were important to me a secret until I was living as an independent adult. I did not want my joy stolen by my dysfunctional family. I did a few school talent shows, but nothing to public.

 Q. What have you liked about performing?

 A. The exchange of energy with the audience and the other musicians. It is absolutely addicting!

 Q. Is there anything that you think is hard about performing? What do you enjoy about it?

 A. The hard part is demanding attention from people. You have to do it as a performer, but that is not a natural skill for me.

The easy part is keeping my ear open and trying my best to serve the song. It is such an honor to do that.

 Q. You are a teacher. What do your students teach you?

 A. Technique. By helping them, I learn more about singing than I ever thought I would know. I also have learned that drive combined with passion and talent is a real rarity. When I see that, I push the student as hard as I can because they have what it takes.

 Q. What do you think art/creativity can do to support individuals and/or the community during this time?

 A. It helps people express pent up feelings in a constructive way. It doesn’t matter if you make the art yourself or experience someone else’s. We need to express our emotions in this challenging time.

 Q. What do you think is the role of an artist, and has your idea about that evolved or changed after the pandemic started?

 A. Hmm … I think artists both define and record the human experience as it unfolds. Art feels so different throughout the centuries, and it really helps you feel the time it was born in.

During this pandemic, I think it’s very important to keep making your art. If your art means you need to write about the pandemic, go ahead. If your art has nothing to do with the pandemic, that’s great as well. Be true to your art.

 Q. How are you as an artist responding to the Black Lives Matter protests?

 A. The most important thing to me is not to segregate in hatred or in love. We are the human race. Keep relating. It is important for me to lead by example, which means I need to keep singing and writing and relating to people with respect and grace and interacting with those that treat me the same way. Relating and reacting to people simply by the color of their skin is strange to me. I can’t do it. Don’t segregate for any reason.

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Anita Solick Oswald

Anita Solick Oswald

About the author

Anita Solick Oswald is a Chicago native and author of West Side Girl, westsidegirlstories.com.  Her essays have appeared in The Write Place at the Write Time, the Faircloth Literary Review, The Fat City Review, and the Avalon Literary Review. She studied journalism at Marquette University and holds degrees from UCLA and the University of Colorado- Denver. Anita lives in Niwot, Colorado, with her husband, Ralph, and their two cats.

Her book, West Side Girl, chronicles the adventures of a ragtag brigade of migrant and immigrant children finding themselves in rapidly changing community, Chicago’s West Side in the 1950’s and 60’s.  All royalties from book sales go to Off the Street Club, www.otsc.org, a Chicago nonprofit that supports at-risk youth. Founded in 1900, the organization serves more than 3,000 kids in one of the most dangerous neighborhoods in the country, West Garfield Park, where Anita grew up.