Renè has a total of 10 solo albums and in all of them she has her heart in the right place and grooving all the way
Singers, just like instrumentalists, are creative performers. Gone are the days when jazz singers were not accorded meaningful appreciation by the genre’s enthusiasts, although tastes have changed. The art of jazz singing has evolved into a highly appreciated one and bandstands are getting more and more familiar with vocalists.
Renè Marie is one such a singer. The former American banker has evolved in the past 20 years with successive steps into becoming an experienced and a more admirable performer. She has a total of 10 solo albums and in all of them she has her heart in the right place and grooving all the way.
And if you want a piece of the jazz cake with a taste of swing, then look no further. Renè Marie’s How Can I Keep From Singing? has it all. Released in 2000, after performing for many years as a theatre artist and an aspiring professional singer, this album finds her performing in her true tone – unexaggerated singing and also showcasing her compositional skills and deeper insights into the standards.
The 12 songs tell of painful troubles and pleasurable moments, disappointments and celebrations in life. In finding her roots and the elements she needed to create good music in a very passionate style, Marie comes out telling stories in her smooth voice, in a sincere tone. These pieces rub along with each other smoothly. This session was jam-packed with strong, experienced jazz personalities – the late pianist Mulgrew Miller, soprano saxophonist Sam Newsome, drummer Gerald Cleaver, percussionist Jeffrey Haynes, guitarist Marvin Sewell and bassist Ugonna Okegwo.
But, as much as her singing on this session was enhanced by the fantastic backing, it takes thought by serious thinking to compose something that’s meaningful. Marie does exactly this on her three diverse compositions featured here – I Like You; Hurry Sundown and Take My Breath Away, a gorgeous romantic ballad she co-wrote with Bab Hallahan. On the first tune, her enviable skill as a composer comes to the fore.
This is a modern-day swinging piece where Miller props up her singing with his modal piano touches. But the mode on Hurry Sundown doesn’t necessarily reflect the song’s title – the beat isn’t rushed – it is a pensive ballad that captures Marie’s emotional yearnings. Also, this rendition comes out more like a duet as the piano dominates most of the accompaniment alongside the vocalist’s voice.
Marie shows her appreciation of the Brazilian bossa nova style with the complicated but soothing ballad Take My Breath Away. On this one, Sewell switches from the electric to acoustic guitar to give it an “authentic” bossa touch on his lyrically-crafted solo. But Renè Marie, 65, respects tradition. She covers the standards, classic which were composed and have been sung for years now by the legends.
For instance on the Billie Holiday classic God Bless The Child, Marie takes the bebop route; she manipulates harmonic textures as she also scats – in the styles of Sarah Vaughan and Betty Carter – the kind out of which her singing is formed. On yet another classic, Motherless Child, Marie, unaccompanied on this brief piece, is so melancholic, even the heart feels the lyrics’ heavy pressure! But she alters the tempo on the subsequent track, Four Women, by singer Nina Simone, the legend’s social statement on the race issue that befell black “Aunt Sarah,” who’s nicknamed “Peaches.”
This is a slow jazz-funk burner driven by drummer Cleaver, guitarist Sewell, and Miller, who plays entirely on the Fender Rhodes electric piano. Then, on the heavy blues Tennessee Waltz by Pee Wee King and Redd Stewart, there seems to be no sunshine here... as far as the narrative goes, it seems. But Renè moves on over this world of troubles singing her blues away with a tone of pain and optimism as she riffs the bluesy idiom. In tow along her side, Sewell and Miller vamp, riff and improvise so affectionately on guitar and piano, respectively.
In retrospect, though, no two people would seem to have the same troubles under similar circumstances since experiences are diverse and so are the troubles – they come in varied forms. How Can I Keep From Singing? is an elegant jazz album led by the distinctive and pleasant singer Renè Marie, showcasing her composing skills as well as paying homage to some of her most favourite singers and composers.