Rene Marie's trombone vocals
by Seth Rogovoy

(GREAT BARRINGTON, Mass., October 3, 2002) -- Most jazz vocalists blast loud like trumpets, or glide like saxophones. The first thing you notice about Rene Marie’s singing on her terrific new album, “Vertigo” (MaxJazz), is the way in which her voice goes in and out like a trombone. The second thing you notice is how “Them There Eyes,” the album’s opener, has a full sound, even though it features only Marie’s vocals accompanied by Robert Hurst’s walking bass lines and Jeff “Tain” Watts’s skipping brushes on drums. Finally, you notice Marie’s vivid personality coming through her singing, which is as fully musical as it is narrative.

Later on you notice how you can hear Marie sing standards like “Surrey with the Fringe on Top” and “I Only Have Eyes for You” as if you’ve never heard them before. It helps that Marie is accompanied by an all-star ensemble on the effort, including pianist Mulgrew Miller, saxophonist Chris Potter and guitarist John Hart, but the sideman stay out of her way for the most part and let Marie take the lead, whether she’s singing the melody or improvising.

The Virginia native also shows herself to be something of a musical conceptualist. She solves the “Strange Fruit” problem – how to sing the song without merely replicating Billie Holiday’s signature arrangement – by daringly pairing it in a medley with “Dixie,” making an ominous song even more haunting. And in shades of Cassandra Wilson, she reinterprets the Beatles’ “Blackbird” as a haunted melody over African percussion.

Rene Marie, who recently beat out Jimmy Scott and Karrin Allyson for her second consecutive award from AFIM (Association for Independent Music) for Best Jazz and Cabaret Vocal, performs at Club Helsinki (528-3394) in Great Barrington on Saturday night.

Guitar gazing

There is going to be an awful lot of guitar talent concentrated in one place at one time beginning next month when Webnash Productions convenes its Traditional Acoustic Music Workshops of the Berkshires – or guitar camp, for short -- in nearby New Lebanon, N.Y.

On November 1, the first of what are projected to be monthly, three-day intensive courses will start, led by internationally renowned musician-teachers including Martin Simpson, Bob Brozman, Steve James, Pat Donohue, Happy Traum, Mary Flower, Muriel Anderson, Mike Dowling and Pat Kirtley.

The brainchild of Michael Erkkinen, of Ashley Falls, the workshops will take place at Shaker Meadows, an inn that over the years has played temporary home to blues and folk greats the likes of Rev. Gary Davis, Son House, Josh White and Burl Ives. At first, workshops are planned for guitar, but in the future offerings will include voice, banjo and percussion.

Workshops will include formal classes and informal jam sessions. Local audiences will also benefit when teachers from each workshop perform in concerts open to the public at the Spencertown (N.Y.) Academy.

Happy Traum and Mike Dowling kick off the series on November 1, followed by Muriel Anderson and Pat Donohue on November 15. Traum has played and recorded with Bob Dylan, Eric Andersen, Rory Block, Chris Smither, Maria Muldaur, Rick Danko and Levon Helm,and Dowling has worked with bluegrass fiddler Vassar Clements and has written songs for Emmylou Harris. Anderson is the first woman to have won the National Fingerpicking Guitar Championship, and Donohue is best known as a member of the cast of public radio’s “Prairie Home Companion” program.

Erkkinen got the idea for the guitar workshop from attending similar events throughout the Northeast. “I’d been to a few music camps in the past few years, and one day ruminated on the idea of hanging out with my guitar playing heroes every month. The only way that I could think of to afford that was to host my own camp.

“It’s sort of a round-about way to jump-start my own playing. I had previously made friends with people like Bob Brozman and Martin Simpson, so I called them up and asked them if they’d come to this area, and they said yes.

“After a weekend at ‘camp,’ participants will take home new skills and levels of musical understanding, enduring friendships, and positive memories that will last a lifetime.” For more information, call 413-243-3012 or visit

Radio Rogovoy

Another in our series of periodic tallies of the most-played recordings -- most new, some old – on our imaginary radio station:

1. Uri Caine, “Primal Light” (Winter and Winter)
2. Bruce Springsteen, “The Rising” (Columbia)
3. Steve Reich/Ossia and Alarm Will Sound, “Tehillim/The Desert Music” (Cantaloupe)
4. Alastair Moock, “A Life I Never Had” (Bad Moock Rising)
5. The Coma Savants, “Coma Savants” (Uvulittle)
6. Wolf Krakowski, “Goyrl: Destiny” (Tzadik)
7. Pharaoh’s Daughter, “Exile” (Knitting Factory)
8. Alarm Will Sound/Ossia, “Steve Reich: Tehillim/The Desert Music” (Cantaloupe)
9. Alice Peacock, “Alice Peacock” (Aware/Columbia)
10. Ani DiFranco, “So Much Shouting, So Much Laughter” (Righteous Babe)

[This column originally appeared in the Berkshire Eagle on October 3, 2002. Copyright Seth Rogovoy 2002. All rights reserved.]

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