Ilya Serov: Behind the Beats
Updated: May 4
Each week we'll take you 'Behind the Beats' to learn more about the artists that play on our airwaves. This week: Ilya Serov.
Ilya Serov made a big splash last year with his debut smooth jazz single “HEAT” featured Dave Koz on Sax. His latest single, a smooth cover of “My Funny Valentine” is already one of the most added radio singles of 2022!
Ilya, thanks for taking some time with us. How did you connect with Dave?
Meeting Dave changed the trajectory of my career about 8 years ago. I performed for a gala event where Dave was one of the honored celebrity guests. It was the year when I released my first big band album “September in the Rain”. Dave noted that my new show would be perfect for Spaghettini, and I followed his lead and have since become a regular performer there. His mentorship has meant a lot to me over the years and when I joined him for the annual “Dave Koz & Friends at Sea” jazz cruise for the first time in 2018, I really understood how much hard work went into creating a successful brand like DAVE KOZ. He is a fountain of creative ideas and collaborations. I respect not only his creative output into this world but also how generous he is with his time and advice. It was an honor to have him featured on one of my original instrumental tracks.
Dave says you are also a very talented singer. Tell us about your experience as a vocalist. Being a vocalist has opened a whole new side of music for me. As an instrumentalist I’m used to focusing mostly on the melody and the harmonic qualities of music. Once I started singing the old standards, those songs have shined in a new light for me and made me a better performer. But my path to singing was not an easy one. My professional training did not include any vocal classes even though I started playing and performing at a young age. I was first introduced to the trumpet at the age of seven, and studied in an intense, five-year program at a demanding music academy in Russia. After I won a scholarship to attend a prestigious, traditional St. Petersburg Conservatory of Music, my professional training led to performances with classical orchestras. Vocal classes for woodwinds and brass musicians were not a part of the state curriculum. I first encountered jazz as a teen, exchanging tapes and records with fellow musicians and exploring the local St. Petersburg club scene. My earliest jazz influences were, Louis Armstrong, Chet Baker, Miles Davis, Arturo Sandoval, Frank Sinatra and Nat “King” Cole. Two of the most inspirational trumpet players for me were Louis Armstrong and Chet Baker. I was drawn to their voices and beautiful playing. At age 25, I started taking vocal lessons and over the years, I have found my own voice and eventually incorporated my idols’ sounds and vocal stylings into my own music.
Any smooth jazz vocal singles in the works?
On my latest album, JUST FRIENDS released in November 2021, I have a few vocal tracks which are the renditions of American classics with the influence of smooth jazz and RnB. I am now working on a new album of all original compositions including a few vocal tracks. As an instrumentalist, I move in and out of the composing world naturally. However, as a lyricist, I’m challenged every day. Even though I’ve lived in the United States for half of my adult life, I still feel as though I’m mastering the nuances of American culture. I had to re-engineer my feelings and attitude about writing lyrics. It’s an area of professional growth but I’m having more and more fun with it as I learn to express myself in lyrics. Who knows? You may hear my first original song as early as this summer.
One of your trumpet inspirations is Chet Baker. Tell us about how he has influenced your music.
Chet Baker’s sound and style captivated me when I discovered jazz many years ago. His voice and trumpet phrasing were so unique and impactful that I dedicated my last album to him and used some of the most known standards from his repertoire. Chet’s music inspired me to start finding my own voice in the world of jazz. As my composition and playing styles matured over the years, I began to wonder what Chet, with his musical genius, would sound like if he was a contemporary jazz artist today. With JUST FRIENDS I tried to show the connection between several generations of jazz.
What other artists have you been into?
Louis Armstrong was one of the most acclaimed and influential figures in the history of jazz and one of the first jazz musicians I ever heard as a child. Miles Davis, Herbie Hancock, Arturo Sandoval were also some of my early influences. I also really like the music of the big band era and some amazing crooners such as Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin and Nat King Cole. I also follow some contemporary artists and go to concerts whenever I get a chance. We are lucky to have access to many amazing artists… it’s hard to pick the favorites.
Tell us about your creation of the jazzohorn.
Renowned UK trumpet maker Andy Taylor, who specializes in building unique, quality trumpets, custom built this new horn for me. This instrument is based on a flugelhorn with the shape of a saxophone. This instrument resembles another redesigned instrument from the 1920s called “jazzophone” (that’s based on trumpet and has a few structural design differences). Since our instrument ended up being quite different, I decided to name it “jazzohorn."
While my new Jazzohorn has the warmth of the flugelhorn, it also has a unique, breathy quality. A bonus feature is that it looks like a saxophone, which I always wanted to play, so the Jazzohorn gets me closer to that childhood dream.
This horn was a perfect choice for the duet with Dave Koz on my original track “Heat”, that needed that tonal quality and that fresh and unique look.
You are also a composer and have worked in film!
A few years ago, I participated in a vocal recording for Deadpool 2. After working with a very talented and efficient production crew and music supervisors, I got a call back for another project where I co-wrote one of the main themes for Creed II. It was an exciting experience to work with celebrity Hollywood composer, Ludwig Göransson and after that, a few more projects came my way from Fox and Universal. One of the latest recordings was for the Addams Family 2. Film music for me is another character in a movie as I envision the emotional and dramatic impact of the score. I really enjoy composing for movies and look forward to more opportunities in the industry of film and television.
Congratulations on the new addition to your household!
Thank you! I am so happy and proud to be a father. It’s the experience I always wanted to have in my life. My baby boy just turned one month this week and he is awesome! It is quite an adjustment for team Serov. My wife and I miss the sleep, but our little guy is worth it! I am so glad that I was able to spend this first month at home to help my wife and enjoy family time.
… and you’re heading out on the road soon?
My shows in the spring are being confirmed and in May, I’m heading to Amsterdam and the British Isles with Dave Koz and Friends at Sea. I’m preparing myself for a new challenge to be away from the family. When my son gets a little older, I’m looking forward to traveling together.
What advice do you have for up and coming artists?
It’s a challenging career to navigate but one without which I can’t imagine my existence. The last two years have brought significant economic setbacks for performers like me. Restrictions on gatherings, scheduling and rescheduling, changes in consumer behavior – the full scope and scale of the impact due to the pandemic will be realized for years. What keeps me going is the fact that throughout history, music has played a critical role in pulling people together and lifting of the human spirit. My hope is that the audiences will embrace the return to normal soon and we will rejoice in connecting again and experiencing the power of live performances. For those artists who have spent the pandemic preparing for that moment, the world is going to be your oyster. I’d like to encourage you to create, because your communities need you now more than ever as we continue to heal in the coming months and years. I think there will be a demand for more variety, more authentic expression, and more diversity. Perfect time to write a new chapter for the world of smooth jazz!
Learn more about Ilya Serov on his website.