Tuesday, November 14, 7pm
Cafe Stritch, 374 S 1st St, San Jose
$30 advance; $35 door
In a span of two decades, 11 recordings and countless stage performances, vocalist René Marie has cemented her reputation as not only a singer but also a composer, arranger, theatrical performer and teacher. Guided and tempered by powerful life lessons and rooted in jazz traditions laid down by Ella Fitzgerald, Dinah Washington and other leading ladies of past generations, she borrows various elements of folk, R&B and even classical and country to create a captivating hybrid style. Her body of work is musical, but it’s more than just music. It’s an exploration of the bright and dark corners of the human experience, and an affirmation of the power of the human spirit.
René was born in November 1955 into a family of seven children in Warrenton, Virginia. While neither of her parents were formally trained musicians, radio and records of all kinds – blues, folk, bluegrass and classical – made up the soundtrack to her childhood. During her teenage years, she sang in a few R&B bands at musical functions in her community. She composed and sang her first piece with a band when she was 15. But René put her musical aspirations aside to make room for the obligations and responsibilities of adulthood. She married a former bandmate when she was 18, and by the mid-1990s, she was the mother of two and working in a bank.
When she was 41, her older son convinced her to start singing again, and she took a few tenuous steps into her local music scene, singing for tips one night a week in a hotel bar. It would be several months before she actually earned any real money as a singer. Her husband was initially supportive of her reboot to her musical career, but things changed by the end of 1997, when he issued an ultimatum: stop singing or leave their home. Tension over the issue escalated from emotional abuse to domestic violence, and she left the house and the marriage behind.
René’s self-produced CD, Renaissance, was released in 1999. In 2000, she signed onto the MaxJazz label and recorded four more over the next four years: How Can I Keep from Singing? (2000), Vertigo (2001), Live at Jazz Standard (2003) and Serene Renegade (2004). She parted ways with the label in 2005 to take more control of her own career track. She moved to Denver, where she recorded and co-produced her sixth CD, Experiment in Truth (2007). She also focused her musical and acting talents on a one-woman stage show, Slut Energy Theory: U’Dean, a play about overcoming abuse and incest. The play premiered in October 2009, and the soundtrack, released by the end of that same year, was the seventh instalment in her discography. In 2010, she launched a series of vocal therapy group sessions called SLAM.
René joined the Motéma label with 2011 release Voice of My Beautiful Country, followed later that same year by Black Lace Freudian Slip. Her 2013 followup, I Wanna Be Evil: With Love To Eartha Kitt, earned a Grammy nomination in the Best Jazz Vocals category.
The newest installment in her ever-expanding body of work is Sound of Red. Her first album of all-original material, the 11-song set provides insightful glimpses into the many small but profound turning points that are part of an individual life. René’s clever songcraft and sensual vocal delivery make those personal moments not only meaningful but enlightening to a broad audience. The album has been nominated for a 2016 Grammy Award for Best Jazz Vocal Album.