When vocalist April May Webb and trumpeter Randall Haywood took the stage at a jam session at Moore’s Lounge in 2013, they instantly felt a strong musical connection. Little did they know in that moment just how far that chemistry would take them.

In the last 10 years, their ensemble Sounds of A&R (aka S.O.A.R.) has become one of the most promising musical forces in the jazz scene. In 2015, they charted at #17 on the Billboard Contemporary Jazz Charts and, in 2019, they were named “Best Jazz Group” at the NYC Reader’s Jazz Awards. Last year, they were appointed as 2022/23 United States Cultural Ambassadors for the American Music Abroad program, sponsored by the U.S. Stage Department.  

Also in 2023, S.O.A.R. received a CMA Performance Plus grant, allowing them to continue working with mentor/composer Thelonious Sphere Monk, III.  

In time for the 2024 Performance Plus application period, CMA staffer Ben Schonhorn spoke with Webb to learn about her ensemble’s journey and what’s on their horizon (hint: catch them at CMA’s 2024 conference!). 

CMA: Tell us, how is it going with T.S. Monk?  

AW: He’s been our mentor for several years, so we were thrilled to receive the financial support to truly engage him as an artistic educator as part of the Performance Plus grant. His expertise has helped us develop our own compositions. Moreover, his extensive knowledge of producing records has really been a boon for us in our recording sessions.  


CMA: You and Randall have created so much work. Where do you find inspiration?  

AW: So much comes from daily life and the experience of living. One of our original songs is called “They Keep Saying No,” inspired by the many times we’ve heard “no” when pursuing a career in the music business.  

I’ve learned, however, to look at “NO” as meaning “Next Opportunity.” I’ve realized that not everything is for me and a “no” can lead to where one is meant to be.  


CMA: Can you share a sneak peek of the project you’re working on with the 2023 Performance Plus grant?  

AW: New music—original compositions that, while rooted in jazz, contain elements of country and folk. You might be surprised to learn of our love for country music—but we both grew up listening to it. We’ve looked to find innovative ways to incorporate both country and jazz into our work.  


CMA: What advice do you have for ensembles applying for CMA grants?  

AW: Showcase yourself. Be original and authentic.


Hear S.O.A.R. perform during the showcase ensemble concerts on Saturday, January 20, during CMA’s National Conference at The Westin New York in Times Square.  

For more, visit soundsofAandR.com or follow them on Instagram @_soundsofAandR or on Facebook, TikTok, or Youtube: @SoundsofAandR 

 Check out the 2024 Performance Plus grant program here.