For the love of jazz

Review: Rene Marie @ Berney Theatre (Izzy Asper Jazz Performance Series)

I was so high after meeting Canadian music legend Gordon Lightfoot last night, I barely slept. Everything was surreal and I knew the resulting story was great and I was so pleased with the way the review turned out. After five hours of restless “sleep”, I woke up and basked in all your wonderful comments and likes and loves. The whole thing was an incredible experience.

I went out for brunch with my family and as I sat there watching them enjoy their meals, I wondered what I was going to do with this concert review blog. I mean meeting Gordon was such a pinnacle. How in the world was I going to top this? And what do I do now? Should I just end on a high note and shut it down? What’s left to do?

Those questions nagged me even more when I realized I had a ticket to see Rene Marie at Berney Theatre tonight. Another “someone I’ve never heard of and don’t know” jazz show which had a chance of being a let down after the glory I experienced last night.

I trudged towards the Berney Theatre in the newly fallen snow and told myself I didn’t have to write a review if I didn’t feel like it. I’m not obligated, no one is paying me to do this. But I vowed to keep an open mind anyway.

The band came out smiling, which is usually a sign the audience is in for something good. Not necessarily “meet and greet a musical icon” good, but “relatively speaking” good.

The stage setup was interesting, with Quentin Baxter’s drums to the left, Elias Bailey’s bass towards the centre, and John Chin’s piano to the right. Which meant John was going to play the show with his back to the band. I’ve never seen that before and wondered how that was going to work because I know that visual cues between band members are usually important.

Rene Marie (centre) performing at the Berney Theatre with Quentin Baxter on drums, Elias Bailey on bass, John Chin on piano, Derrick Gardner on trumpet and Jon Gordon on saxophone. /PHOTO: Anne Martin

The show started with an original tune called “Sound Of Red” which included a great piano solo.

Rene warned everyone in the front row that she was going to talk to them during the show (which is yet another reason why I stay clear of the front row at any show) and then she went on to talk about the master class she taught earlier and how impressed she was with our hospitality.

“If You Were Mine” was written about a man Rene was interested in but couldn’t have because she was married. My favourite part of this song was Rene’s scatting near the end. It really showed off her range and the band was all smiles.

And let me tell you, there’s nothing better than jazz musicians who love jazz. Because when a jazz musician loves jazz, you’d have to be blind not to see it, and heartless (or not paying attention) to not let it move you. I get that jazz isn’t for everyone. But good Lord, when you watch someone enjoying what they’re doing so much, it’s infectious. It always makes my day.

After the song was over, Rene told us she loved the band members and they loved playing together and they wanted to convey that with their music and performance. Done!

“My Heart Belongs To Daddy” highlighted Rene’s showomanship and theatrical experience; there was plenty of attitude and sass. Elias played a bass solo with a bow and John’s piano solo was wonderful. He kept his eyes closed the entire time and it was then I realized that John plays purely with soul and feeling. He barely used his eyes at all. The song seemed to enter him, he accepted it, and then he released it through his fingers. Suddenly, it made sense that his back was to the band and again, the best part of that song was the improvising at the end.

“C’est Si Bon” was another tune that had a soulful solo by John and fantastic scatting by Rene at the end.

After intermission, Rene expressed her gratitude that we were all still there and told us she saved the good stuff for the second set. She mentioned there was a Leonard Cohen festival in Montreal right now, and she wanted to sing “Suzanne”, but she wanted to fuse it with Maurice Ravel’s “Bolero”, because they were two of her Dad’s favourite songs. The audience reacted with surprise and snickers due to the unusual pairing.

She started scatting Bolero solo, and she did it with such feeling and meaning that I was quickly taken by it. I am a sucker for songs that build and “Bolero” is pretty damn perfect, but I’ve never heard anyone scat it before and she was killing it. It was so very interesting.

Quietly, Quentin played the drum pattern for Bolero and gradually, Elias started with the bass. Rene switched to “Suzanne” and it was almost completely seamless. John came in and the song grew in volume and intensity.

Rene was singing her heart out and injecting “Bolero” scats in between. It was riveting and moving and I was goose bumping and tingling all over my body and at the end, the audience lost their mind. There was hooting and hollering, I was clapping my hands above my head,…and then it hit me.

Rene Marie belts it out on stage at the Berney Theatre. /PHOTO: Anne Martin

This is the core of my blog. Yeah, I had a moment where I met a musical icon and it was mind-blowing, but THIS…this feeling…this is why I keep doing what I do. I’d be crazy to shut this blog down. There’s still plenty to do and see and experience and my God, who knows what the future holds? The point isn’t to top meeting Gordon Lightfoot, the point is this feeling. And just like that, I figured it out.

The show went on and I kept writing. Local jazz greats, Derrick Gardner (trumpet) and Jon Gordon (saxophone) joined the band on stage for two tunes about snow.

“Winter Wonderland” was upbeat, jazzy and fun, and “Let It Snow” was soft and slow, thanks to John’s twinkling, jazzy piano. Quentin’s brushes on the snare felt like a lazy sleigh ride through a forest while Jon’s warm tones tumbled all over the audience. Rene forgot the words for a second, but it didn’t matter because she made it fun and the words she did remember, flowed from her mouth, velvety smooth.

“Joy Of Jazz” was written about the Joy Of Jazz festival in South Africa and it ended the set. The tune had a calypso feel to it, fun and upbeat. The band received a standing ovation.

I’m not sure what it is about the Izzy Asper Jazz Series audiences, but they don’t seem to understand the concept of an encore. People started getting their jackets on and leaving when the band left the stage. Many were actively walking out when the band took the stage again for the encore, and they had to awkwardly walk back to their seats. What’s the rush??? Relax!

Rene asked the audience what they wanted to hear and someone in the back yelled “Protest song!” Rene and the band’s mood darkened instantly, and they agreed to play the song.

Rene explained “This Is (Not) A Protest Song” was written about her brother who was a great painter, but he developed a problem with alcohol and became homeless. It was a heavy way to end the show, but it gave us something to think about.

At the end of the song, Rene told us her birthday was coming up and if we wanted to, we could donate to “The National Coalition For The Homeless” on Facebook. Check it out here:

Alright, now I’m tired…but I feel really good about the future. Thanks Rene and band, that was great!

Good night!

TicketMOMster is a Rock and Jazz-loving Mom; single-handedly keeping Ticketmaster alive in Winnipeg. Follow her musical journey here:

Anne Martin


TicketMOMster is a Rock and Jazz-loving Mom; single-handedly keeping Ticketmaster alive in Winnipeg. Follow her musical journey here:

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