We had the good fortune of connecting with Kiana Del and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Kiana, what role has risk played in your life or career?
Risk has been embedded in every decision I’ve made so far… when I first started band leading, I had only ever done it for fun, and I had no business experience. Band leading turned into booking, connecting with clients and venue owners, talking to sponsors, and negotiating pay. No one had ever “shown me the ropes” before, but I jumped anyway. The same can be said of my musical improvising, playing, and connecting with other musicians. I just jumped on stage, greener than grass, and acted like I knew how to swing with the big cats. Eventually, that acting turned into knowing, and now I’m passionate about sharing my experience with the next generation of musicians. Taking risks has taught me to act as if I have no fear of failure.
Can you open up a bit about your work and career? We’re big fans and we’d love for our community to learn more about your work.
I’m a vocalist, educator, songwriter and curator. In my practice of writing and curation, it’s my mission to ensure the experience is accessible to all – musician and non-musician alike. I strive to craft sounds in which anyone can lose themselves. By day, I’m the Engagement Manager for Music Education at Louisville Public Media, creating a music curriculum that reaches regional classrooms and community centers. I’m passionate about providing free resources to learn about music. By night, I lend vocal support to many local musicians singing back-up at live shows, vocal arranging for recording artists in the studio, and leading my band, Kiana & the Sun Kings.
I grew up in a small, rural valley town in Carrollton, KY. My parents made a lot of sacrifices to get me the resources I needed, and were always very supportive. I was in piano lessons by age 7, vocal lessons by age 12, and playing with a touring area performance troupe by 13. I had some great high school mentors including my English teacher and my band director, and this equipped me for my time in college. I moved to Louisville, KY in 2014 to pursue a degree in Jazz Studies and Psychology at Bellarmine University. At BU, I met another great mentor – saxophonist Dave Clark – and the founding members of my band. It was this time that really shaped me into the musician, educator and space-maker that I am now.
Today, both as a musician and a curator, I have good relationships with most Louisville venues. They graciously lend their spaces to me to make space for musicians to create freely without judgement. So many of my early days were spent judged by dusty ole white men upholding their version of jazz’s tradition. It was a music scene filled with people (again – mostly men) quick to meet you with discouraging words and a list of reasons why you’re not good enough. Coming into that was disheartening, but I knew it wasn’t jazz. Jazz is the music of an oppressed people who turned to music as the only outlet they had. Jazz is the realest expression of the complexities of our humanity, and there is no room for judgment within that expression. When THAT was supposed to be Louisville’s “jazz scene,” I knew I had to change it. When I had admirers of music coming up to me saying things like “I want to come to your shows, but I’m not smart enough for this music,” I knew I had to change it. This is not the jazz my ancestors wanted. Jazz is, of course, a music that requires some background knowledge and respect, but academia is not the only way to gain that knowledge.
I’m still in the process of shaking up this music scene for the better, creating events and playing music with an “everybody eats” mentality. If it wasn’t for my mentors, saxophonist Dave Clark and vocalist Carly Johnson, my best friend and musical confidant Trevin Little, and my band members, I wouldn’t be able to do this work. I’ve learned so much about the industry and my craft from these folks. I can’t wait to pass the torch to the next generation of musicians, and move our mission to other cities. I’m going to keep striving, and keep bringing you inspiring music with the Sun Kings.
Any places to eat or things to do that you can share with our readers? If they have a friend visiting town, what are some spots they could take them to?
We’re talking Louisville, yes? This itinerary would be P A C K E D with an unmatched time.
In the morning we’d hit Bean Coffee in Germantown for a great cup of coffee and an even better atmosphere. Brunch on any given day could be had at Gralehaus in the Highlands or at FOKO in Logan Street Market. For dinners, we’d be sure to stop by El Mundo, Pizza Lupo, Toasty’s, and Bar Vetti. If dinner and a cocktail is the vibe, we’d hit up Gold Bar in Butchertown for an incredible selection of vegan food and expertly crafted cocktails. One night, we’d ball out and have an exquisite dinner at Proof on Main, followed by a stroll through the art gallery attached to the venue.
Our frequent haunts for cocktails/mocktails and a great time would first be Meta, then Gold Bar and always a night cap at The Pearl of Germantown. We can find consistent live jazz every Monday night at Decca, and a great show any other night at The Flamingo Lounge or the Whirling Tiger. If dancing is a must, we’d check the calendar for a late night at Zanzabar and know there will be a great DJ no matter what night it is.
And that’s just off the top of my head! Louisville is top tier in dining experiences, and we have an incredibly talented music scene here too. I feel really steeped in our scene and love showing new folks around.
Who else deserves some credit and recognition?
There is a long list of incredible, loving cats who made me the boss I am today. Shoutout to Kim & Dale Benhoff, Dave Clark, Carly Johnson, Casey Powell, Rae Monroe, Sarah Hawkins and each one of the Sun Kings. I learn from these wonderful souls every day.
Sally Jean Wegert (all photos except the teaching photo)