"And the question always facing us is this: How do I want to run my business? How do I want my "customers" to think of me and my "product"? Whatever your particular answer is, my advice to musicians is to keep this image of yourself fixed firmly in mind. Believe in this answer before even walking out your own door or talking on the phone to negotiate fees with a venue. Don’t just know what you want - also know what you don’t want. Know this before agreeing to a gig or a price. If you don’t know the answer, you’ll be too easily swayed by their reasoning and end up on the losing end almost every time. Hard as it may be sometimes to find another way, still I will find another way to do it or I just won’t do it at all. It’s become just that simple. I decided going in that, as much as I love to sing and compose and perform, I needed to be able to walk away from this if I don’t experience MORE of a reward than I would singing and jammin’ at home with friends. I want to blow my audience away when they come to hear me. I want them to have a life-altering experience and still be talking about it the next day. I want them to WANT to come back to hear me again and again, wherever I’m playing. Not because I’m at a certain venue (the venue owners want the customers to come back to their venue, regardless of who is playing the music), but because they want to hear ME. As far as I’m concerned, to consistently compromise almost all I stand for musically just to play in a venue and earn a few bucks means I’ve already lost."
"I might as well go back to working at the bank."
More songs to sing
Among those copies of Renaissance that René had sent out and which, for a while at least, she thought had done nothing but lie there gathering dust, was one that went to a newspaper in Washington DC. The reviewer there was Joel E. Siegel, who is also a record producer. "He had just finished reviewing another singer’s CD and knew that MaxJazz was a new label looking for more vocalists. My CD was on the top of a pile to be thrown away when Joel saw it and decided to give a listen to it. Coincidentally, I was going to have my first gig at Blues Alley in DC and I received a call from Joel informing me that he’d recommended my CD to Rich McDonnell of MaxJazz and that Rich was coming to Blues Alley that Monday night to hear me. Serendipity? Who knows? But MaxJazz’s hometown is in St. Louis and Rich McDonnell just happened to be on the east coast for business that weekend."
For some time, René had been thinking of changing her last name. The title of her own CD, Renaissance, means to be re-born and a change of name would reflect this fact. At first she thought of using the name Stoan, a combination of Stevens (her father’s surname), Stone (her mother’s maiden name) and Croan (her married name). In the end, she decided to drop all these surnames and just make her middle name, Marie, her surname. She did this shortly before signing with MaxJazz.
René’s first CD for MaxJazz, How Can I Keep From Singing? took off. It was placed #1 on the Gavin jazz charts and her profile rose when the Association for Independent Music Critics assessed her as Best Jazz Vocalist in 2001 and again in 2002. In 2002, her second CD for MaxJazz, Vertigo, was received with great critical acclaim with JazzTimes magazine naming it Best Jazz Vocal CD of 2002 and the Academie du Jazz in Paris presenting René with the Billie Holiday award for best international jazz vocalist for 2002. The following year’s release, Live At Jazz Standard continued to garner attention and accolades.