The sun was setting in the background, looking out the specatacular view of The Allen Room as dynamic new vocalist Rene Marie does her soundcheck for this evening's performance (January 21, 2005), sharing the bill with Bill Henderson at Jazz at Lincoln Center. The band sounds great and her voice is fresh and inspiring. I say "new vocalist," but she's actually been around for several years now, with four CD's out on MaxJazz label. Ms. Marie left her day job at a Richmond, Virginia bank in 1998 to pursue a career in singing. Within two years, she finished her first CD, performed at Blues Alley in Washington, D.C. and was signed by MaxJazz. Her 2003 release was in the top 20 on the Billboard Jazz Chart. As Ms. Marie puts it, "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." And that's exactly what she does as she sings out her own version of "Bolero" in a hypnotic, incredibly beautiful style. It was really moving. She doesn't just sing words, she makes sounds and creates colors and weaves magic. The band was full of fire and percussion and melody. They sounded full and really accentuated Ms. Marie's fresh, new sound. Band members included: pianist Takana Miyamoto, bassist Herman Burney and drummer Quentin Baxter. Her sound and the complete sound of her band, for some reason, reminded me of the beautiful music Flora Purim, Airto and George Duke usesd to make back in the day. Very melodic and romantic and free flowing. She was a real treat to see perform. I've been listening to her fourth CD for MaxJazz, entitled Senene Renegade... very nice.
"I took lessons from my own life and soaked my voice in them," the 49-year-old, self-taught mother of two explains. "So its flavored with everything that ever happened to me - from experiencing discrimination, to childbirth, to leaving my religion, to finding the mate for my soul."
"Exploring new territory (edgewalking) is my favorite hobby," said Ms. Marie earlier in anticipation for the show, "and singing at Jazz at Lincoln Center will definitely provided new space for new ideas and experiences. Other than a revealing of whatever truth emerges, I cannot say what the outcome will be, but what explorer can? We're gonna have some fun." And that we did.
Sharing the bill with Ms. Marie on this sold-out 3-day series of Singing' and Swingin' in The Allen Room was movie actor/singer Bill Henderson. He was in town for a rare East Coast appearance from his cozy California home?just in time for the big blizzard of January 2005! He explained to us how this frigid cold weather is tough on a singer's throat?and then belted out beautiful ballads in his baritone voice.
Sounding rich, full and the seasoned veteran that he is, Mr. Henderson entertained in true Hollywood style. Joking with the audience as he plied his trade, feeling comfortable in front of an appreciative crowd (that included Dr. Billy Taylor.) He worked his way through the standards, adding his personal touch to each song, bringing a great band with him that included: pianist Ed Vodicka, bassist Chris Connor and drummer Mark Stevens.
Mr. Henderson, a personable, talented and funny man, honed his singing chops with folks like Dizzy Gillespie, Oscar Peterson and Count Basie. More recently he has worked with bassist Charlie Haden. Mr. Henderson has appeared on my TV shows, including Cosby and ER. He is known for his hit in 1958 with Horace Silver's "Senor Blues."
As music critic Leonard Feather put it, " Henderson's phrasing is virtually his own copyright. He tends to space certain words as if the syllables were separated by commas even semicolons; yet every thing winds up as a perfectly constructed sentence. One can only hope that his acting gigs will not prevent him from keeping his vocal prowress in evidence on the jazz front."
Prior to his performance, Mr. Henderson dropped by the Jazz at Lincoln Center administrative headquarters to say "hi," visit Artistic Administrator Todd Barkan and take the Down Beat Blindfold Test with writer Ted Panken. It was a whirlwind appearance for Mr. Henderson, as he was obviously loved and respected and in turn appreciative of the attention. He was a pleasure to see.
The good thing about the new home for Jazz at Lincoln Center, Frederick P. Rose Hall, is that once you're done with a show in one of the adjoining venues (The Allen Room or Rose Theater), you can swing over to catch a set at Dizzy's Club Coca-Cola. All of them are located at Columbus Circle on the 5th floor, Broadway at 60th Street. And that's exactly what I did.
From a great night with Rene Marie and Bill Henderson, I strolled over to the next room to enjoy the Mulgrew Miller Trio with special guest saxophonist Gary Bartz! How cool is that?!