This isn’t what New York’s Tatiana Eva-Marie signed up for, but if the singer can keep jazz alive for a new generation to embrace and appreciate, she’s more than willing to play the role of evangelist for the great American art form.
“I just did what I like,” she laughs. “I never thought this would be activism.”
But it is, even without that title on it. Playing every Wednesday at The Keep in Brooklyn and Vaucluse in Manhattan, the lead singer of Avalon Jazz Band, which recently released the album Je Suis Swing, is going back to move forward, celebrating a time and music that has sadly gone uncelebrated in recent years. And to do it in the Big Apple just adds to the appeal for her.
“We’re very fortunate to be playing this music because it’s social music,” she said. “People want to hear it in New York. It’s like the soundtrack to the city really for historical reasons. Even for the younger generation, there’s something very classic about that that they’re looking for.”
And according to Eva-Marie, her “hot jazz” is bringing that younger generation back into the scene.
“I get these comments sometimes where people say, ‘What are you going to do in five years when all your audience will be dead?’” she said. “And it’s not true. We’re building a new audience. I think pop culture has helped a lot. Some people are seeing this for the first time through Boardwalk Empire and Mad Men and going, ‘Hey, this is actually cool.’ People have no idea about what jazz is. It’s fascinating to me that jazz is not taught in schools. I think it should be because it’s so culturally important for this country with all the social history around jazz and how it helped the integration of communities. It’s so interesting and important, and people don’t know about it. Most people who actually take time to check it out find it fun.
“It (jazz) used to be pop,” Eva-Marie continues. “People have this idea that jazz is only for intellectuals, that it’s high brow and we have to nod our heads and pretend that we understand what’s going on. But jazz is like classical music. There are so many different types that you just can’t say, ‘I hate jazz,’ because it makes no sense. It’s about having a good time. Anyone can jump in with their feelings. You don’t have to sit down quietly and analyze it, you can just feel it.”
If she sounds like an old soul ahead of her time, that shouldn’t be a shocker. Born to musicians Louis Crelier and Anca Maria, Eva-Marie was taught from an early age to follow her own path, which led to some difficulties in school, as her classmates were listening to music far removed from what was on her personal playlist.
“It was always mixed reactions,” she admits. “Most people thought I was the village idiot. And a few thought I was super cool. There’s not much in between — it’s one or the other. But I didn’t really care because my parents are musicians and we were bohemians, so they thought we were weird anyway. So I was sort of doomed by family relations. (Laughs) I was always really different and I guess I just embraced that as a fatal thing that I couldn’t escape. I didn’t have friends at school that much. They were not very nice to me. But a close circle was very encouraging and I could listen to any sort of music with them and they were cool.”
That was probably something hard to understand for someone in the midst of pre-teen and teen adolescence, but Eva-Marie never felt the need to rebel or to try and fit in. She was raised to be her own person, and she had no problem with that.
“They (her parents) never treated me as a kid,” she said. “They treated me as just another adult in the family. So they were sharing this with me as a friend. And I think that changed the dynamic and didn’t make me feel like I had to rebel. I just thought I was being included into something different and super cool.”
So when it came time to choose her path as an adult, there was no second guessing. And no looking back. As for those kids in school that scoffed at her, c’est la vie.
“I was always taught to be myself and be okay with it, which is a really precious gift,” Eva-Marie said. “I think it was out of necessity more than courage. It made me happy and I had to be the way I am. And I had very encouraging parents. It seemed very natural because it was working and even if other kids thought I was a weirdo, it was still working for me. And the exterior eye didn’t seem to matter that much because of all the joy and enrichment it was bringing me. And I never had any doubt about what I wanted to do and the path I was choosing for myself. Yeah, I am seeing the world and I’m having a very exciting lifestyle, but honestly, I don’t think my childhood classmates would want this life.”
Oh yes, they would, even if they wouldn’t admit it. Tatiana Eva-Marie has found her place in the world and she’s embracing it and sharing it.
“We are real, every day working musicians and it’s so rare,” she said. “I’m not doing music and trying to be famous. I’m doing music and this is my job and I’m paying rent and I’m doing something I love.”
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