'Bolder' jazz singer Rene Marie returns to Renfrew Jazz Festival

August 18, 2012|By AMY DULEBOHN |
  • Jazz singer Rene Marie will perform at Renfrew Institute's 21st annual Jazz Festival later this month.
Submitted photo

WAYNESBORO, Pa. — Jazz singer Rene Marie said she wants her music to be "like a verb."

During a telephone interview from her Virginia home, Rene Marie, 56, said her music has changed extensively since she began performing professionally in the late 1990s.

Her music, she said, "is more aggressive now than it used to be. As I get bolder, I get bolder," she said.

And this new style of music is what attendees will see on Sunday, Aug. 26, at Renfrew Institute's Jazz Festival. The 21st annual event is from 2 to 4 p.m. on the lawn behind the Renfrew Museum near Waynesboro.

Rene Marie also performed at the event in 1999. She said much has changed in her life since that time.

"I've taken a stand on a lot of things and I'm not afraid to speak out about issues that I don't have an answer to," she said. "I used to think I had to have an answer in order to write about something, but then I realized I could just sing about the question."

Music is about the connection, she said.

"I find that when I'm doing a song that really touches me, I can often catch the eye of someone in the audience and the look that they have on their face is a mixture of ‘Oh, my God, I can't believe she's singing about this,' and gratitude and joy," she said.

She cited the song "Tired," which is included on her latest album. She said the tongue-in-cheek single was inspired by a woman who approached her after a gig. Rene Marie was already exhausted from giving it her all in the performance, and the woman said, "Gosh, you look so tired."

"That just kind of stuck with me. The song was written to be the last song on the CD, like when you've finished your set and the audience wants an encore, which is always lovely, but I thought, ... it's kind of like all I want is to take these shoes off, have a drink, put my feet up, come on people," she said with a laugh.

Not all of her fans appreciate the sentiment, though.

 "At least two people found it necessary to come up to me after I've sung that song and say, 'don't ever sing that song again. We don't like that song.' (But) everybody else gets the joke," she said.

But she said it's about the message. "I'm just saying what other people, other musicians, are thinking. So why not sing about it?" she said.

Rene Marie doesn't shy away from controversial subjects such as substance abuse, homelessness, domestic abuse, sexuality and sensuality. And she doesn't apologize for her in-your-face style.

"All of it is good," she said. "Even if you get angry at me ... that's OK, because anger is a valid emotion, too. And if you just wanna get up and walk out, at least you're not yawning and looking at your watch wondering how much longer you gotta sit through this boring thing. If it makes you wanna get up and call your mother afterwards, and tell her you miss her, that's cool."

Rene Marie's current album, "Black Lace Freudian Slip," features an image of her smoking a cigar on the cover. But don't expect to see the singer chewing on a stogie during her appearance at the jazz festival.

"I've never smoked a cigarette or a cigar in my life, but I've always wanted to be the kind of woman that does smoke a cigar," she said.

She decided that with the double entendre in the album title, now was the time to  imagine doing so. "I had so much fun on that photo shoot. I admire women who smoke cigars. I don't know why. I guess maybe it kind of goes against the grain," she said.

The album was released in October, and features two songs composed by Andrew Sussman, executive director of the Cumberland Valley School of Music based in Chambersburg, Pa.

Rene Marie's relationship with Sussman dates back more than a decade, when the pair met in an online chatroom for musicians, and have recorded together in the past. "It's really cool the way everything has resolved," she said.

As for other projects, the singer, who wrote her first song at age 15, she is finishing more songs.

"Last year, I set my intention that I'm not doing any projects outside my own band, until I've finished these songs, half-finished songs  that I have in my file cabinet," she said.

Rene Marie says sometimes when inspiration hits, she will come up with an idea for a new song and these new songs, "kind of shoulder their way past these older songs and say, 'Look, you have got to finish me now. Forget about these old songs,'" she said. 

She cited an example of a song she wrote in January, which was completed in about a week's time.

"A lot of time I'm hesitant to finish the song because I don't have any formal training in terms of writing music or singing," she said. "I often have to get with my pianist and we have to sit down and go over the music together."

In addition, Rene Marie said she is working to overcome a tendency toward negative thinking.

"I'm doing some intensive internal work. I'm really focused on that and anxious to see what's gonna come out of that, creatively," she said. "It's so easy to get mired in negative thinking ... and so I'm working on that, letting the thoughts come out, but trying to shift my focus to (something more positive)."

If  you go ...

What: 21st annual Renfrew Jazz Festival featuring Rene Marie and her trio, with pianist Kevin Bales, bassist Elias Bailey and drummer Quentin Baxter

When: 2 to 4 p.m. Sunday, Aug. 26

Where: Lawn behind the Renfrew Museum, near Waynesboro, Pa. Parking is available in Renfrew's lower lot off Welty Road

Cost: Free; donations accepted

Contact: Call 717-762-0373, or go to

More: Attendees may bring lawn chairs and blankets, and picnics are welcome. In the event of rain, the concert will be held at Waynesboro Area Middle School Auditorium

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