Spotlight On: Maya Belardo

CORE Cooperative

“The experience of musical healing always reminds me that being a musician is a powerful and important job, and this inspires me to get back on stage and bring audiences an experience that is sincere and meaningful.”

Jazz singer and composer Maya Belardo, 24, wants the world to be running on more positive vibes. 

“My ultimate goal is to make jazz mainstream again,” says the Wilmington, Delaware native. In her hometown, she’s already known as “The Princess of Jazz” and recognizes the long history of the artform. In her debut single “Free,” she sings, “I can hear them all cheer for me, I’m so free,” to connect to all the legendary jazz greats—and her own ancestors—who love jazz. 

“I want my generation and younger to fall in love with jazz as I did. There are many gigs where I have performed “Fly Me To The Moon” and audience members think I wrote it! Sometimes those audience members are older than me. I feel as though right now we need more positive, feel good music. There are a lot of negative messages on the radio today. I love making songs my own by using songs that are out now and arranging them in ways that are more jazzy and exciting to listen to.”

Belardo believes that Jazz Philadelphia’s CORE Cooperative can help her achieve her goals, and will also provide her with community. “Anything that will help me achieve those goals I am more than happy to be a part of it,” says Belardo. “Being a solo jazz artist at my age can be lonely sometimes. At many gigs I am the only jazz singer so it will be nice to talk about jazz with like minded individuals and I’m hoping to gain many contacts after this program.”

She’s looking forward to being solutions oriented, and finding ways to make Philadelphia shine as a jazz city. “As someone who has lived in Wilmington, DE, and Brooklyn, NY, Philadelphia has a lot more opportunities for jazz musicians to showcase their talents and network with a lot of other jazz musicians,” she says.  She’s been performing at South, City Winery, The Queen Wilmington, The Grand, and the Clifford Brown Jazz Festival, among other venues. She’s also performed at the Jazz Philadelphia Summit under the direction of Luke Carlos O’Reilly.

“As someone who has lived in Wilmington, DE, and Brooklyn, NY, Philadelphia has a lot more opportunities for jazz musicians to showcase their talents and network with a lot of other jazz musicians.”

“Philadelphia jazz musicians have been nothing but kind to me and have given me lots of advice. A lot of musicians in Philadelphia have also given me many opportunities to open for them so that I am able to grow my audience as well. My hope for Philadelphia as a jazz city is to continue that support system and to grow it even more. I want there to be more jazz conventions and jam sessions. I also hope that the pay for musicians not only in the Philadelphia area but all around is more. Sometimes I feel as though musicians aren’t appreciated enough.”

Belardo says that coming together and working for change is what’s going to make for a stronger community. “I feel as though the only obstacle in the way is communication. Musicians, venue owners, and politicians need to come together and have those conversations. To talk about how to get the funding to pay jazz musicians more and how to have more networking opportunities.”

As a young person just starting out, Belardo already has an eye on trying to bring more people of her generation with her into her love of jazz and community, and she has big plans for the future. “I always strive to make jazz popular again amongst my generation and younger. I hope to one day open up a school where you can take music and vocal lessons specifically in the jazz genre. I want to offer a place where someone can learn at any age how to scat or improvise. Classes where we talk about jazz legends. I want the classes to be affordable and that we help children or adults who need assistance in purchasing equipment. I also want there to be a place where anyone can have band rehearsals in the space and record music.”

With all that giving back, Belardo says that what she’s hoping to get by going through the CORE Cooperative is connection to more people and industry players, opportunities for funding, and the tools to move her career forward. As a developing leader, she believes that being organized, compassionate, a motivator to others, and being a great communicator are what it takes to bring people along with you. And that means modeling grit and keeping perspective. 

“When things get hard,” Belardo says, “always push forward. I stay focused on the things that matter and remind myself to be thankful for the things that I do have. My mom told me something that has stuck with me: There is someone out there right now that is praying they are in the same position you are in.”

Maya’s new single, “If It Wasn’t For You” is now streaming everywhere, and you can connect with her on IG @mayabelardo  

Jazz Philadelphia is proud to have Maya Belardo in the inaugural cohort of the CORE Cooperative, an entrepreneurship, leadership, and wellness program for jazz artists and advocates. For more information, visit Jazz Philadelphia.

“I want my generation and younger to fall in love with jazz as I did.”