"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." -L’Tanya Mari’
L’Tanya Mari’ has been a major force in the jazz scene of Virginia and the East Coast for the past decade. As a creative jazz singer, arranger, songwriter and educator, and as a performing artist for the Virginia Commission for the Arts since 2010, she is making an impact. The release of her debut CD, A Teardrop Of Sun, gave her strong recognition and she is now working on her next recording and the current showcase, Ella at 100 Celebration Tour Project.
L’Tanya Mari’ grew up in Philadelphia. She heard jazz from an early age and has never lost her enthusiasm for the music. “I remember hearing Flora Purim during her fusion days, singing Brazilian music that was very explorative. I originally enjoyed fusion the most, but when I was a teenager my father influenced me by buying me cassettes of Carmen McRae, Sarah Vaughan and Ella Fitzgerald. I soon also heard Nancy Wilson, Shirley Horn and Dee Dee Bridgewater and such instrumentalists as Wayne Shorter, John Coltrane, Branford Marsalis and Bill Evans including Evans’ recording with Claus Ogerman. By the time I was 17, I was out at record stores looking for other jazz albums.”
She originally studied cello for seven years along with piano. But because she often hummed along with her cello playing, L’Tanya was advised by her teacher to explore singing. She earned a Bachelor’s Degree in Music Business at Howard University, had important private lessons with drummer-singer Grady Tate, sat in at jam sessions, and started working at clubs in the Virginia/Washington D.C. area. Always wanting to learn more and to improve herself, L’Tanya worked towards a Master’s degree in Jazz Studies at the University Of The Arts. She learned how to combine together her classical voice training with jazz theory, and began to flourish as a highly individual and personal singer.
A few years ago, L’Tanya Mari’ recorded A Teardrop Of Sun. “The recording still sounds good to me,” she says. “The ideas and the music that we recorded were basically traditional straight-ahead standard jazz. I particularly like Bill Evans’ ‘Very Early,’ ‘Star Eyes’ and ‘You Go To My Head.’” L’Tanya’s voice sounds consistently beautiful throughout the program, and she makes the difficult interval jumps of “Very Early” and some of the other songs sound effortless. Her choice of notes is consistently inspired and her melodic improvisations both fit the songs and uplift the material. L’Tanya’s wide-ranging repertoire on the CD also includes Milton Nascimento’s “Nothing Will Be As It Was,” the swing standard “I Gotta Right To Sing The Blues,” Chick Corea’s “Crystal Silence” and “That Old Black Magic” to name a few. Included among the other highlights are tasteful duets with pianist Harry Appelman and guitarist Paul Wingo.
The release of A Teardrop Of Sun opened up L’Tanya Mari’s career, leading to some rewarding engagements and important exposure. A Teardrop Of Sun garnered airplay across the US and Canada with a chart status of #30 on the American Jazz Charts. She had already earned grants from the DC Commission on the Arts and Humanities during 2008-10. She was a finalist in the Billie Holiday Competitions of 2009-11. In 2010 after her CD came out, L’Tanya was nominated in four categories by the Washington Area Music Association: for Jazz Vocalist, Jazz Recording, New Artist Of The Year and Debut Recording.
That year, L’Tanya was selected as a performing artist by the Virginia Commission for the Arts, an association that has continued up to the present time. “Being one of their touring artists has given me opportunities to present my singing in different settings. While Virginia is geared more towards country, bluegrass and folk music, people there also love to hear something a bit different: jazz. I get to share my background and talk about the music in addition to having the opportunity to perform.”
In addition to performing, L’Tanya Mari’ loves to teach. “I enjoy working with students who want to improve their voice. I love being able to help those who have pitch problems and assist them with the technical side, giving them a solid foundation. After the technical side is taken care of, then we move on to the artistry side. It is rewarding passing on the knowledge that I have.”
Another project that L’Tanya Mari’ has recently become involved with came about when she was selected by a Washington D.C. arts organization to collaborate with a writer and a dancer in developing a play. “I thought it would be great to put Bill Evans, his life and his music on center stage. I was drawn to the relationships that he had with Scott La Faro and Paul Motian, the tragic death of Scott La Faro, and how Bill Evans dealt with losing his best friend.”
L’Tanya has performed regularly at the Ice House in Virginia since 2007. She particularly loves singing at that venue and at house concerts. “I enjoy those situations because everybody is listening. I prefer to perform in intimate settings where the audience is close by. I want to be able to share how I feel through the lyrics of songs that mean a lot to me.” Among the many other venues in which she has performed in recent times are are First Night Williamsburg, Barns of Rose Hill, the Arts Center Cape Charles, the Prizery Performing Art Center, the Smithsonian American Art Museum, Gloucester Arts on Main, The ArtBank of Southside Virginia, Wayne Theatre Alliance, The Prizery Performing Art Center, Pro Arts Organization, Lorton Workhouse Art Center, Mason District Park Concert Series, 2011 Vintage Wine Festival, 21st Annual African-American Heritage Festival, Jazz On The Lawn at Reynolds Homestead Virginia Tech, Source Festival, Dance DC Festival at the Atlas Art Performance Center, The Twins Jazz Club, The Bohemian Caverns, Jazzway 6004, International Women In Jazz, Andrea Clearfield Salon, and other Mid-Atlantic region venues.
The singer’ is enthusiastic about her next CD. “So far I’ve recorded ‘I Want To Talk About You,’ ’I’ll Remember April’ as a slow ballad (which gives it a different identity than usual) and Stephen Sondheim’s ‘I Wonder Why’ since I love Carmen McRae’s version. The CD will be a seasonal album about spring going into summer, and primarily a standards set.”
For the future, L’Tanya Mari’ says, “I’d like to do some touring and sing in public more extensively. I am always searching, wanting to evolve and not repeat myself. I really appreciate the freedom of jazz where I can be free to arrange a song by changing the tempo, using different instrumentation and varying my approach to make it my own. I plan to build upon the knowledge I have gained from living a life of music and share it with as many listeners as possible.”