Featured Musician - June 2010

Name : Jessie Marquez

Jessie Marquez

Instrument: vocalist/composer.

Early Years/Education: I was born in Boston, where my parents were going to school at the time, but my early childhood was spent in San Juan, Puerto Rico. My dad's family left their homeland of Cuba in 1960 and re-settled in Puerto Rico. They had been supportive of the Cuban revolution, but later lost their small business and decided to leave. I come from a long line of Spanish and Italian anarchists.  When I was four, my parents, grandmother and I moved to Eugene. My mother was originally from Portland. She's a writer and my dad is a filmmaker. My grandmother taught Italian and Spanish classes in her home. When I was eight, my mom and I moved to San Francisco. She had a lot of artist friends, and they'd have parties where people would play music. It was at these parties where I learned how to sing and play country/western songs on the guitar. Sometimes, my mother's friends would take me to perform with them in bars. When I was twelve, we moved back to Eugene. I went to South Eugene High School, finished at sixteen, left home and stopped singing for a number of years. I went to Bard College, but finished up in '92 at NYU with a degree in comparative literature. In '93, I moved back to Eugene when I became pregnant with my first son, Samuel. Three years later, I had my second son, Jackson. This is when I started singing again.

Cuba: In 1996, my dad took me and my family to Cuba to see where he grew up and to hear what he grew up listening to. Cubans will sometimes talk about the Cuban character. That's what I recognized when I went there. It seemed familiar and new at the same time. So I started going back. (Cubans welcome Americans, Americans have to get a license to visit Cuba.) In Cuba I started working with a music teacher who one day called a friend of hers named Juan Carlos Marin, a trombone player and arranger for the Afro-Cuban All Stars; she had me sing a Cuban bolero for him over the phone. We then met and he offered to help me make a CD. The next year I came back to Cuba and we recorded together. He wrote all the arrangements for me, there were amazing musicians on the recording like Julito Padron (trumpet) David Alfaro (pianist)  

The following year, I returned to promote the CD on Cuban radio and television. I was introduced to the director of the National Orchestra for Television, who invited me to sing at an event with him accompanying me on guitar. That night also happened to be the birthday of the president of the national union for artists and writers. Everyone was drinking lots of rum, and as I sang this bolero, he stood up and announced he was going to invite me to participate in the annual bolero festival! A few months later, I came back and boarded a bus with all these artists from Havana, and we traveled throughout the island doing concerts. I was the only American vocalist. This was a tremendous education for me! I did that in 2005 and 2006. I ended up staying in Havana for eight months and going to school at the National School of Arts. I enrolled my children in school there, too. I sang as a guest artist in clubs and worked with a lot of wonderful musicians and composers. A lot of the material I do now I learned from composers I met there.

Today: I now have my own band. I work as a duo or quartet, depends on the venue. I work with a variety of musicians. I also write songs that are influenced by Cuban music, but I perform other types of music too. I like to sing in English and Spanish. I like the musicality of language. I like the sounds of words. I like Spanish because of the roundness of the vowels, the expressiveness of the language. I like the coolness of English. I've been writing music with different musicians in Portland and working with Clay Giberson, Greg Goebel, Tom Grant and Phil Baker, who will be producing my next CD. When I'm not performing, I do bi-lingual music workshops in libraries and schools. I also have a day job working with my father, who is a filmmaker/producer of educational media.

Musical Influences: Elis Regina, Elena Burke, Gal Costa, Marta Valdés, Merceditas Valdés, Jose Antonio Mendez, Marilys Gonzales, Celeste Mendoza, Joni Mitchell, Susana Baca, Maria Teresa Vera and Gustavo Rodriguez.

Most Satisfying Experience: Collaborating is really satisfying to me. In terms of performing, being on the national bolero tour in Cuba was definitely a high point. Just being surrounded by so many wonderful artists, I felt I was in the bosom of the culture. It was also really hard. They have a saying in Cuba which translates, “to dance in the house of the dancer.” That's how I felt on that tour.  

Favorite Recordings: Antonio Carlos Jobim and Elis Regina, “Elis & Tom”; Isaak Delgado, “Versos en El Cielo”; Pablo Milanes, “Canta a Nicolás Guillen,” “Filin 1”; Marta Valdés, “Various Artists”; Morelenbaum2/Sakamoto, “A Day in New York”; Stevie Wonder, “Songs in the Key of Life”; Heydee Milanes, “Heydee Milanes”; Orishas, “A lo Cubano”; Jill Scott, “Words and Sounds Vol. 1”; Gretchen Parlato, “In a Dream”; Sexto Sentido, “My Feeling”; Gal Costa, “Our Moments”; Take 6, “Join the Band”; and Charlie Hayden, “Nocturne.”

Discography: Jessie Marquez and Mike Denny, “Get the Feeling” (2007, Denmarq). This is a very “exposed” recording, just guitar and voice. It is the essence of Cuban “filin” music. When I came back from Cuba, I wanted to start developing this kind of music. “San Locura” (2004), Jessie Marquez with famous Cuban jazz musicians like trumpeter Julito Padron, pianist David Alfaro and trombonist Juan Carlos Marin. This self-produced CD was recorded in Cuba. My brother, who is a rapper, came with me when we recorded, and he's on it too. I also helped produce another CD of a singer named Marilys Gonzalez from Santiago, Cuba. I think she's the most beautiful, expressive singer I've ever seen and heard.

Gigs: Second Saturdays at Davis’ in Eugene. Third Saturdays at St Clouds in Seattle. June 18 at Vinideus. July 2 at Jimmy Maks. July 16 at the Brasserie. September 25, concert at the Miracle Theater. October 1, concert at Miracle Theater in Portland. Website jessiemarquez.com

Future Plans: I received a a “career opportunity grant” from the Oregon Arts Commission to do a live music video. My brother is a filmmaker, so we'll be collaborating on this. We're going to film in July in Portland. Musicians Clay Giberson, Charlie Doggett, Bobby Torres, Dave Captein and John Nastos will be on the gig. I also have a future CD in the works. Phil Baker will be producing it. Other plans include working with my other brother, Nick Marquez, a free-style rapper in San Francisco.

Other Comments: Cubans are really into American blues and jazz and are really influenced by cinema music too. In the '40s and '50s, bolero (traditional music form from the late 1800s) experienced a renaissance. They started adopting all these jazz chords, and it became freer rhythmically and harmonically. Cubans started calling it “filin” (pronounced feelin') music. This is a genre of Cuban jazz. 

When I think of Brazilian music, it's kind of funny because most of the Brazilian rhythms I play or sing are Cuban songs. Cubans are really interested in Brazilian music too, there's a lot of cross-over. 

-- by Rita Rega


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