Rene Marie: Jazz vocalist with Denver roots…

Iconic jazz vocalist Rene Marie first came across my radar when we both sat at a “telephone bank” table at a fundraiser for Denver’s public jazz and R&B radio station – KUVO 89.3 FM. The year was 2005. A year after that fundraiser, I saw the singer on stage at Dazzle Restaurant and Lounge in Denver.

She sang her arrangement of Shenandoah. She sang standards. She sang her emotional heart out and she was a pleasure to witness.

On April 6, 2014, I again saw Marie on Dazzle’s stage. That night, she brought down the house.

The differences in that ’05 show and the ’14 show are palpable. Marie is more sassy, mature, dynamic and fully in control of her one-woman show. She’s got a band that is flawless and tight and hot on every note – and her rich and milky voice, her organic sense of arrangement deserves all that.

She delivered several cuts from her new release of I Wanna Be Evil (With Love to Eartha Kitt), paying tribute to one of the most unprecedented female singers to grace the stage, particularly during that era. I Wanna Be Evil is simultaneously fun, irreverent, jazz- and blues-infused – and most appropriate to Marie’s playful and devilish persona.

Her “I Wanna Be Evil” tour stopped also off on April 26 at the 2014 New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival, which marks a level of street-cred and international attention Marie has earned. 

Marie performs in Aspen in June (details here). We talked with her about her career and her music.

CB: My sense is that your work matured over the last seven or eight years. Do you feel that way? Tell us a bit about the “evolution” of your work.

RM: It’s been rumored that Thelonious Monk once said, ‘Talking about music is like dancing about architecture.’ Let me just say what a difficult thing it is to talk about music. I’m much better off expressing myself musically. (laughing). Now, having said that, here I go:

God help us if our work doesn’t mature! Most musicians, when asked, will tell you that music is a living, breathing thing, and anything that lives, grows and matures. If you want to buy a flower that doesn’t mature, it has to be fake. Creativity is the same way, I believe. We can maintain a fake aspect to our creative output, refusing to grow along as we go along – and that often manifests as arrested development as we try to please too many people or replicate some success we may have had in the past.

Following the muse is the only way for me to grow, even though I risk so much when I do just that, y’know? – never knowing who’s gonna like my creative ideas or the way I present them.

I remember when I first experienced angst about my hair turning silver. I wasn’t that concerned about it, but I saw the way other people focused on this little patch of silver hair at my forehead while I was talking to them. I started worrying  about what conclusions others might be drawing about me when they saw it. They seemed distracted by it and I often got the feeling they were missing out on knowing me. 

It’s the same way with my music. For me, a song I compose or sing is just as temporary as a breath: It’s inside me one minute and out the next and then I’m ready for the next breath. So even though it’s been captured digitally and can be listened to over and over, it’s just a momentary breath for me.

Plus, moving to Colorado was one of several components in a huge growth spurt I went through in 2004, spiritually and otherwise. After years of being in a repressive marriage and religion, coming out of them both at virtually the same time, and then floundering around for a couple of years, I kind of ‘came into myself’ and moved to Colorado. When you think about it, it’s not surprising that my creativity has continued to change and mature.

I’m more direct now, musically speaking. I’m less afraid of taking chances and more likely to embrace vulnerability and reveal myself both onstage and off. Right now, I’m in the process of changing how I interact with my perceived weaknesses – instead of wrestling with my demons, I am seeking to embrace them, show’em some love instead of trying to shove them out the door!

CB: You’ve had some national and international attention in the (relatively) recent period of your career – and now – NPR, the Comcast Jazz station – and other outlets. Why now? Why you? What’s going on with you and your work now that wasn’t there five years ago?

RM: Actually, if you Google Rene Marie and NPR, you’ll see that I’ve interviewed with them several times over the years. And my music has been played on Comcast and similar outlets for quite some time. And really, Cathie, I don’t even ask that question of ‘why now? why me?’ because it is self-limiting and pre-supposes something else should/could have happened or will happen, then, now or in the future.

For me, it’s self-defeating. Perhaps you’ve heard of how Picasso went through what critics call his ‘blue period’ or ‘rose period.’ I believe that if Picasso were alive today to see what’s been written about him, he would laugh at all these descriptions and critiques of his work that seek to categorize it into ‘periods.’ The act of creativity is simple: We seek to bring outside that which is inside and, when we are at our most creative, we aren’t thinking about what this will be called in the scheme of our creative work. We don’t question why. We just do what we do and hope there is more truth in it than lies.

Rene Marie With Love to Eartha Kitt “I Wanna Be Evil” will be live at the Little Nell in Aspen on June 26 at 27. Go here for more info.