Once every twenty years or so, in sport or entertainment, someone comes along who truly changes the way we view things, and that we recognize as a phenomenal talent. In hockey, it was Wayne Gretzky and in film it was Tom Hanks. Well, in music we welcome you to the world of Greg Sczebel (pronounced se-bel), a twenty year old jazz/urban artist from Salmon Arm, British Columbia, whose Christian lyrics and glorious melodies are redefining how we judge excellence in music. Oh, did we happen to mention that in the wake of his numerous awards and stellar CD "Here to Stay", (which he produced with his father Jerry) that he has remained a really humble, sincere, and ministry focused individual?
Sczebel will soon find out if he is the recipient of a Juno Award for Contemporary Christian / Gospel Album of the Year. He is nominated in the same category as his friend Aileen Lombardo, who is another bright young star as a Christian in the music scene. In 2004 he was nominated in four categories for the Canadian Gospel Music Association's Covenant Awards (similar to the Dove Awards), including being awarded the prize as the "Male Vocalist of the Year". In addition, his song "Lights are Coming On" was named song of the year in another category. In 2003, he was named the top emerging artist by the Shai Awards (voted on by fans).
He has already shared the stage with David Foster, Michael Bubl», Jars of Clay, Leigh Nash (formerly of Sixpence None the Richer), Bebo Norman, and Out of Eden to name but a few.
Surprisingly, when Sczebel was growing up he had very little in the way of formal music training. He had a few piano lessons which he describes as "tedious" and admits to being relieved when his music teacher moved away because the piano lessons had to discontinue. He credits both of his parents with fostering his musical development. He learned to play by ear and through assisting his father with leading the worship at his local church. It is only recently that he has once again turned to studying piano so, as he puts it, "I can continue to learn."
How does Sczebel relax? Well he would really like to relax drinking more Coconut Crňme Frappuccinos, but the nearest Starbucks is thirty minutes from his home in Salmon Arm, British Columbia. He enjoys a variety of music including; Hillsongs, Toby Mac, Delirious, and Switchfoot. He refers to one of his newest CDs by the Blind Boys of Alabama, "Let There Be A Light" as one of his favorites. He adds, 'I am also a big fan of Matt Kearney."
The title track off his album "Here to Stay" was featured in an episode of UPN's Kevin Hill series. He says he wrote the song to keep himself in check with his faith and beliefs. "I think it is so easy when you meet someone or you know someone and they say your songs are really cool, but if you just leave out some of those words [like] 'God' and 'Jesus', your songs would be more accessible and more people would listen to it, more people would embrace it. I think it's easy to kind of let that slip and it would be easy to say [that] leaving out a few words would be fine." He says he simply wasn't prepared to let people, "fill in the blanks with whoever they feel like."
Recording the song, "Here to Stay" provided some challenges and pleasant surprises for the usually silky smooth voiced Sczebel. "It needed to have a little more grit to it. It needed to have a little more attitude." Laughing, he continued, "God just kind of opened my mind up and all of a sudden I found this grungy voice in me. It was the coolest thing to find this voice for the first time that I had never used. That was a really cool moment."
"The Lights are Coming On" lyrics are meant to warn of the dangers of compromise, "Just the other day somebody told me/To make it I would have to sway/And the offer can be so enticing/But I don't want to go that way/Cause I've seen enough to know the outcome÷..That compromise is not the way." Sczebel says of the track, "I always have wanted to make sure the message was clear and upfront. I think 'Lights are Coming On' is very in your face."
Singer/songwriter Carolyn Arends says, "Greg Sczebel floors me. He sings with soul in every sense of the word. He writes insanely hooky, deeply moving songs about important things. It's tempting to use phrases like 'Next Big Thing', but Greg Sczebel isn't the next anything. He's now, and his music is truly great."
What is even more startling about the CD "Here to Stay" which was produced in New York at Sterling Sound, is ten of the eleven tracks were written solely by Sczebel and the eleventh was a collaborative effort with his father, Jerry.
It is difficult to believe that he once thought of becoming a physiotherapist or pediatrician. He says he always wished for a career in music, "I never really believed it was going to happen. I kind of looked at it as though it was one of those far fetched dreams." Even when he finished high school he mapped out a two year plan that included returning to school if after that period of time music didn't look like it was going to take him anywhere. Well, it is reasonable to assume that the outcome is no longer in doubt.
Fellow recording artist Joel Geleynse says, "In my opinion Greg Sczebel has emerged as one of the most gifted musical talents in Canada. When I listen to his album, I'm overwhelmed at the maturity of the lyrics, and his polished sultry and expressive vocals."
Toronto's Aileen Lombardo refers to him as "a phenomenal talent."
When you are listening to Sczebel's music it is so easy to forget he is only twenty years old. It's not only his music that has a mature sound that belies his age, but his sincerity, humility, and deep rooted faith that make you sit up and take notice. He says, "The only reason I am getting known is the hand of God has just opened so many doors and so many things that I could not have opened by myself." Oh and how is that Greg? "It just blows me away sometimes and I just take a step back and look at my life in the past two years and it's like hey it's not something I could have done it's something only God could have orchestrated." "It's been really cool allowing him to take the reins and I really believe that he's got all the connections. He's the best manager you could ever hope for."
If you want to know more about Greg Sczebel his web site is: www.gregsczebel.com
Writer: Joe Montague