“My niche is that I’m nicheless. I like taking music that you don’t normally think of as jazz, changing it all around and playing it as jazz. If jazz is really improvisation, let me improvise.” – René Marie
Singer/songwriter/storyteller René Marie brings us into her life in song whether it is the interpretation of a time trusted standard or an original composition from her personal diary. You cannot help but be drawn in for her music is real. Her new MAXJAZZ album, Live at Jazz Standard, which was recorded live in New York City last year, takes you on a musical adventure. It is the follow up to her two award-winning releases, How Can I Keep From Singing? and Vertigo. This collection of ten songs range from classic standards “Nature Boy”, “When or Where”, “It Might As Well Be Spring” to her self-penned gems “Shelter In Your Arms” and “Paris On Ponce.”
René’s own life story is a testament to believing in dreams and having the courage to step out on faith. The accolades keep coming for her because she is true to herself and is grateful every day for the chance to sing for people. In December 1998, she finally left her day job at a bank in Richmond, Virginia, to pursue her singing her dream fulltime. It was all at the urging of her brother who kept telling her, “Jump and the net will appear.” This followed another brave move. The mother of two sons left her husband of 23 years, because he told her not to sing anymore, not to record her first CD and threatened their marriage if she did. René’s music changed her life. Within 2 years, she was hearing her music on radio and winning music awards. Her first two releases topped the jazz charts and won AFIM (Association for Independent Music) Awards for Best Jazz & Cabaret Vocal. Frances’s prestigious Academie Du Jazz awarded her Best International Vocal Album.
I had the pleasure of hearing singer/songwriter her at the Monterey Jazz Festival last summer. She gave an outstanding performance so I knew we would be in for a treat this particular evening at Yoshi’s in Oakland. She performed songs from her new MAXJAZZ album Live At Jazz Standard. René has wonderful stage presence and is very in touch with her audience. She opened her set with “Deed I Do” which featured a scatting call and response with her drummer T. Howard Curtis III. We rolled along with her as she captivated us with the sultry and sensual reading of “Surrey with the Fringe on Top.” She teased that “all the gray haired and no hairs” should know her next song which was a bluesy, soulful cover of The Beatles’ “Hard Day’s Night” which also featured the walking bass of Elias Bailey. René is a great storyteller and she gave us little nuggets of wisdom before each song. The room fell silent as she told how she was first introduced to the music of Nina Simone when she was 15. She found great strength in her music but originally thought “I Loves You, Porgy” was too weak, too needy. Accompanied by John Toomey on solo piano, she gave a powerful yet poignant rendition of this classic love song. Her up-tempo, jazzy composition “I Like You” was inspired by her brother. The beautiful ballad “Shelter In Your Arms” was about letting her guard down and being loved. Her voice blends so well with her trio of wonderful musicians.
René closed with a unique intertwining of Maurice Ravel’s “Bolero” and Leonard Cohen’s “Suzanne” which has become a signature song of her performances. She introduced this song by telling us the influence her father had on her music. René was the fifth of seven children, growing up in Roanoke, Va. For entertainment, her father would play “Bolero” and pretend to be an African hunter with a broom as his spear. He also enjoyed “Suzanne” so her interpretation of the two songs is a loving tribute to her father. She scats the opening notes of “Bolero“, then the drums march in and she sang “Suzanne.” The audience was in amazement as René turned the impossible into the sublime.