Catching Up With L’Tanya Mari
Jazz vocalist L’Tanya Mari certainly knows music. She graduated from Howard University and The University of the Arts with degrees in music business and jazz studies respectively and she is regular performer in the Philadelphia and Washington D.C. metro areas. L’Tanya has been described as a refined singer and a creative arranger so I was glad for the opportunity to ask her a few questions about her musical experiences and her new album A Teardrop of Sun.
Mimi Soul: How did you get your start as a jazz vocalist?
L’Tanya: I’ve always loved listening to all types of music; jazz, country, rock and rhythm and blues. No matter what, music was a part of my life. I started as an instrumentalist first, with piano upon my grandmother’s request followed by cello for seven years. I was so ecstatic about playing the cello that I would hum when I played. My cello teacher noticed an artistic quality about my voice that I was unaware of and she suggested that I add singing to my list of goals. So, I participated in areas of singing that included my church choir, high school glee club and taking voice lessons with Patsy Rowe, who also inspired me to pursue a career as a vocalist.
I grew up in Philadelphia and my home and outside environment was surrounded by jazz from recordings, radio and people’s daily conversations about past and present jazz legends. I remember hearing Charlie Parker’s recording of April in Paris one summer evening at the sweet age of sixteen. For a year, I noticed my ears were resonating towards instrumental and vocal fusion jazz artists like Airto and Flora Purim and Yellowjackets. Then my father became a major contributor by introducing me to traditional vocal jazz such as the earlier recordings of Sarah Vaughan (The George Gershwin Songbook), Ella Fitzgerald (The Complete Ella Fitzgerald & Louis Armstrong) and Carmen McRae (The Portrait of Carmen). By the time I was 17, I was out at record stores looking for other jazz vocal and instrumental albums.
Mimi Soul: What has been one of your most rewarding musical experiences thus far?
L’Tanya: I’ve heard many times the saying, “patience is a virtue”. However, recently, I read somewhere that patience is not a virtue. Patience is a state of balance that rises simply out of understanding; the unexpected gift experienced after a confluence of a sense of time, of struggle, of perspective, of judgment, of harnessing the mind. As artists, we must commit ourselves to what we love. We must understand that Rome was not built in a day. I recall a time when I was so entrenched in learning how to sing jazz that I totally lost the one concept of singing; “sing with your heart”.
I remember hearing Betty Carter say that it takes singers time to hone in on their craft. I believe there is so much music in the world that it can lead to other journeys. Today, singers can do much more than sing. They can become arrangers, bandleaders, songwriters, educators, authors, and beyond. For the road I travel, I‘ve derived a sense of faith; I have realized the importance of maintaining patience with time while studying the art form called jazz. Jazz is a lifetime journey in which you are constantly out at sea searching for a new horizon abroad.
Mimi Soul: Could you tell us a little about your new album, Teardrop of Sun?
L’Tanya: The CD has been a dream of mine for years since I finished graduate school. For the past two years, this album has revolved from and infused into my own life experiences. My concept was to have an eclectic mixture of songs that include fresh versions of standards along with numbers that are lesser-known but quite worthy; ranging from straight ahead jazz to bossa nova, samba, blues and modern fusion. Of the standards I particularly love is “Very Early” by Bill Evans, which is a modern jazz waltz composition.
The Milton Nascimento “Nothing Will Be as It Was” is an all-time Brazilian favorite song of mine. My first encounter with the song was Sarah Vaughan’s version from the Brazilian Romance album then the Flora Purim Tomorrow/Everyday album and then Milton Nascimento’s version; a raw recording. I loved all of the versions so much that I decided to infuse them into an arrangement with the help of Brazilian percussionist, Alejandro Luciano. We added a Brazilian groove odd meter 7/4 time called “baião”. One of my goals was too rebirth a standard that has been performed a thousand times by creating a unique arrangement.
“The More I See You” was a no brainer; I’ve heard this song performed many times by singers and instrumentalists. I wanted to be creative without risking the composer’s melody and form. So, I proposed an instrumental concept with an acapella refrain. I then introduced the song in its original form followed by scatting and trading 4”s with bassist, David Jernigan. Then I returned to the head; changing the melody notes and rhythm and transforming the lyrics into a conversational response with David. The Ella Fitzgerald and Louie Armstrong‘s collaboration “You Go To My Head” led me to a duet with guitarist, Paul Wingo.
Don Raye’s “Star Eyes”, an exquisite composition, remained the composer’s original intent with Lyle Link and I pairing from the very first lyric. A Teardrop of Sun derived from my early introduction to jazz music. My foundation was formed from these straight ahead, bossa nova and traditional songs sung by Ella, Sarah and Flora who have all shaped and formed me into who I am today. I feel a sense of commitment to keep the style and songs alive.
Mimi Soul: Are there any artists you’d like to work with in the future?
L’Tanya: Yes, I would like to perform live with Brazilian vocalist and guitarist, Rosa Passos and I’d like to record a duet with jazz guitarist, John Pizzarelli in the near future.
Mimi Soul: What do you want listeners to gain from your music?
L’Tanya: I want the listeners to be able to hear my emotional relationship with the composer’s music and lyrics; I want the listeners to be inspired by the composer’s message to reference into their own journey. The emotional core is maintaining a balance with a day to day quest of creating a musical and spiritual environment. The mission is to be able to transform your body into music which in return you’re able to transfer it to the audience; invite them to travel with you. Music is a powerful source of energy and everybody wants to be a part of it.
Thanks for sharing with us L’Tanya! You all can read more about L’Tanya by visiting her website and you can purchase A Teardrop of Sun from CD Baby.