In the Mind of St. Von
By Jordan Swain
Frozen precipitation paired with half-formed snow-flakes funneled from the sky. Four layers of garments, Kenneth Cole winter boots and thermal gloves weren’t worthy of defending me from the polar cold. It was -10 Fahrenheit and the wind chill factor brought the temperature to -34. My Uber driver Cara, a Columbia graduate student in her last semester, offered small talk as she navigated her way through the slushy matrix of Manhattan. We pulled up to Jean-Georges Vongerichten’s ABC Kitchen, just as I was completing the mental prep required to be out in such weather.
Upon entering the restaurant, jazz musician and branding talent R’kardo St. Vons blazer immediately distinguished him. The kitchen was known for great reviews and as I glimpsed the plates of other patrons, the locally sourced food had my excitement level at a fever pitch- in anticipation for both the interview and the french toast.
I first learned of R’kardo’s artistry and love of jazz upon attending a review in which he performed. Back-up vocalists with tremendous power and range accompanied a soulful St. Von, who led his team with passion and conviction. What impressed me further was learning that the show, which featured 7 other independent acts of equal force, was also conceptualized, branded and produced by R’kardo himself.
Hailing from the tropical paradise of Trinidad and Tobago, R’kardo St. Von has deep roots in music, performing arts and branding. From a young age, he acted and modeled throughout the Caribbean, molding himself for the various roles and campaigns for local clothiers, regional companies and international travel agencies. To grant himself a wider range and diversity of musical expression, R’kardo moved to New York City to study theater and pursue a new world of opportunities in America’s largest city.
Despite the geographical relocation, St. Von is sure to keep his cultural identity and ethnic roots close, returning home every chance he gets to perform. One such example is last year’s Tobago Jazz and Arts Festival, where he shared billing with the likes of John Legend and Brandy, and opened for The Voice winner, TessAnne Chin. This year, he will make his sophomore appearance at the world-famous Blue Note Jazz Club on May 9th in New York City. Tickets can be purchased directly from Blue Note’s Website.
After some preamble about the food, we dove straight into the mind of St. Von.
What role has art and culture played in your life?
Art and Culture literally… from a child – has shaped my perception of humanity and has really helped define my life reaction to process, circumstance and to other cultures.
I feel blessed to have grown up in the Caribbean, not only to have been exposed to such a rich musical and artistic heritage, but to also have been exposed to such a degree or artistic eclecticism; that, as I got older, learnt to use within the broader perspective of living, of uniting, of subscribing to the somewhat cliché but very truthful concept of harmony: for me, art is indispensable, gave me meaning. Art, within the genre of music, helped me understand our world.
Art, and music, has the power to point us to the divine. It doesn’t answer all the questions, but it can shine a light on questions we didn’t even know we had…it can stir us to gratitude. And I am superbly grateful everyday that I can flex my creative muscle to literally inspire, inspiration.
What is your creative process?
Honestly, I don’t have a tried and true formula to a creative process and in essence, maybe that is the process, having none. I am inspired by the moment and the challenge that presents itself within that moment. Then I am able to put a show together, write a song, come up with a concept or an idea for one of my artists to grow. For me it is all about the inspiration and the potential for growth and using the gift of discernment to recognize and structure that artistic growth for any project. The melody, the cover song, the original song, the venue, the musicians, the instrumentation, they all tie together to blossom into a creative- not process, but bloom.
Who inspires you?
People. Humanity, the Universe-God Every unifying cycle of cells, energy, matter. Love inspires me….but now I am waxing poetic and you did ask ‘who’, not ‘what’ ha. My Mother does. She is defiantly and unbelievably strong. My friends do- I know some incredibly talented and diverse individuals. People I don’t know, but who have created music and artistry that I do know, that inspires me. Stevie Wonder. Talk about against the odds, and that body of work- unreal. Lauryn Hill. Nothing she does or what anyone says about this queen will ever negate what she gave to us in The Miseducation. Rachelle Ferrell- that voice, that love she gives to her fans. Humble, sincere. Sir Elton John. The best pop songwriter ever, for me. These people, their work inspires me greatly.
What other artistic endeavors interest you?
I have a very definitive, and partially realized interest in talent development and artistic branding. In fact I already manage the marketing and branding efforts of an incredibly talented photographer here in NY, and I consistently manage to find myself adopting an advisory role to younger actors, singers, models and musicians.
Here’s why you should care about the concept of a brand: if you’re are any other type of professional entertainer, like it or not, you already have a brand. Your brand exists whether or not you do anything to manage it.
I believe managing your brand effectively is the key step towards maximizing your visibility, your longevity and your income as an artiste. I have also produced several of my own smaller showcases and one large scale dance/ music collaboration. I would like to do more projects of that nature.
What is your ultimate wish for humanity?
For everyone to lose superiority complexes and fucking realize that there is only ONE race and that is the human one. To love unanimously and unequivocally. To acknowledge that we all bleed red, we all need sleep and food, and we have to use the toilet at some point. To be inspired by that common fragility, that connection that makes us all the same. Then within that revelation, to be inspired and remain inspired to create work that share experiences, reflect passion and intellect, and push the continuum of inspiration to foster cycles of psychological, technological and artistic growth.
Photo Credit Michael Letterlough, Jr. Photography