All That Jazz… & More!

Contributor: Jessica Lee
Jessica Lee is an American jazz & blues vocalist, songwriter (ASCAP) and recording artist, born in Manassas, VA. Lee grew up in Franklin, PA, studying classical piano since the age of 5. During college, her interest in jazz blossomed after a chance encounter with Paul Jeffrey, Director of Jazz Studies, Duke University, with whom she studied jazz history and improvisation and who encouraged her to begin her life-long study of jazz piano, vocals and improvisation. Jessica graduated from Duke University (1991) where she continued her study and performance of music, piano, creative writing and voice, and subsequently graduated from Duke University School of Law (1994) where she studied business and entertainment law.
Jazz Artist Entrepreneur (www.jessicaleejazz.com) & Social Entrepreneur (www.pghgateways.org)

Be comfortable with being uncomfortable.

I have played piano and sung since age five, and I always knew that I wanted to make music part of my career path if at all possible.  While studying music and creative writing at Duke University, I had the chance to have a long discussion with an Entertainment Law Professor at Duke Law School who advised me to consider attending law school as a way of learning about contracts, copyrights and more – all of which would be important in my entrepreneurial music career.  Lucky enough to earn a partial scholarship to Duke Law School, I did attend, graduate and continue on to become both a professional Jazz Singer and a young law partner – after approximately 7 years of practice – at a private law firm with a focus on entrepreneurship and business law.

Although I had learned much in private law practice, I began to look for a next career step that would benefit from my private law practice knowledge and experience and that would focus on creative and social entrepreneurship.  I did discover an innovative nonprofit in the Pittsburgh region with the mission of economic development and social entrepreneurship, and I built a relationship with its founder and President/C.E.O.  After working together via contract on several matters, I ultimately made the decision to leave private law practice and make the leap to focusing solely on artist entrepreneurship through my new music production company, ViveVenture, LLC, and on social entrepreneurship through this boutique nonprofit organization, Pittsburgh Gateways Corporation, as a management team member.

Many people thought that I was crazy to leave private law practice.  But, I was not truly fulfilled and realized that my full potential would not be realized if I did not make a career change.  I have had an amazing 20-year career as a professional Jazz Singer, band leader and producer, recording multiple CDs with tracks included on international albums with Norah Jones and many others, and performing live in Jazz clubs and performance series, festivals, charitable events and more regionally and nationally with some of the top Jazz musicians.  As a social entrepreneur and V.P. of Pittsburgh Gateways Corporation, I have helped to create and manage creativity and career programs, new Innovation Centers such as the Energy Innovation Center in Pittsburgh’s Hill District, and even to help to save and renovate historic arts and music venues such as the August Wilson home and the Crawford Grill Jazz Club.

When asked from time to time for career tips, two of the best that I have ever been given came from my Jazz mentors:  1) Do whatever you need to do to continue to challenge yourself to grow – take risks and don’t be afraid to fail, as it is only in trying new and uncomfortable things that you will ensure continued growth, improve your skills and become more and more excellent in your chosen career pathway.  2) If you believe in God, pray and listen to both God and to your own heart.  When others tell you that what you sincerely wish to do cannot be done, don’t listen to them and don’t stop working hard to develop your skills and to use those skills in service to others.  Even today, I am challenging myself to be comfortable with being uncomfortable and to continue to grow and serve others.

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