Born: September 22, 1942 Primary Instrument: Vocal
She's known as a jazz artist, but some only knew her as a disco artist, while others yet think of her in an R&B mode. So who is Marlena Shaw? Well.....she is all of these. Ask Marlena and she'll flat out tell you she's a jazz artist, yet there's no denying her R&B sides and her disco undertakings.
Born Marlina Burgess on September 22, 1942 in New Rochelle, New York, she inherited her love of music and jazz in particular from her uncle. After her uncle, Jimmy Burgess, introduced her to the recordings of Dizzy Gillespie and Miles Davis, she caught the jazz bug, and purchased records by Al Hibbler, a vocalist who had a big influence on her singing style. When she was ten she performed at Harlem's Apollo Theater, and despite the enthusiastic reception she received in front of one of the world's toughest audiences, her mother refused to let her go on the road with her uncle, a trumpet player.
Shaw began attending the State Teachers' College in Potsdam, N.Y. but later dropped out. For a time in 1963 she worked around New England with a trio led by Howard McGhee. By the mid-1960's she was performing regularly for audiences in the Catskills, Playboy clubs and other New York area clubs. She was discovered by Chess Records in 1966 while singing on the Playboy lounge circuit. On Chess' Cadet subsidiary, under the aegis of producer Richard Evans, she performed vocal counterparts of jazz hits such as Mercy Mercy Mercy by Cannonball Adderley and Wade In The Water by Ramsey Lewis Trio. Chess released two albums and a series of singles before Shaw left the company in 1968.
Through her accountant, she was brought to the attention of bandleader Count Basie, and she ended up singing with the Basie band for four years. In 1972, after leaving the Basie Orchestra, Shaw was the first female vocalist signed to Blue Note Records, and she toured for a while with the late Sammy Davis, Jr. Shaw recorded five albums and several singles for Blue Note, and critics likened her singing style to Dinah Washington and Sarah Vaughan.
By 1977 Shaw was ready for a move. The move was two- fold, first to a new label, Columbia Records, and secondly to the more profitable pop and R&B arena. Her first offering was Sweet Beginnings. It produced the out-of-the-box smash Yu-Ma/Go Away Little Boy which has since become her trademark song. A second album followed in 1978, Acting Up which was finely crafted and well produced and contained the hit single Don't Ask To Stay Until Tomorrow. The song was the theme from the blockbuster movie Looking For Mr. Goodbar.
By 1979 Marlena was feeling the pressure from Columbia Records for another hit. Columbia has always been a hit- singles driven company unlike Blue Note or Verve which are more repertoire and artist driven. Disco was in full swing, and to many, Marlena sold-out by jumping on the disco band wagon. Ironically this, her most successful album for Columbia, would be her last for them. Take A Bite or the actual cover title music is a feast...so sit at my table and....Take A Bite was a triumphant smash.
In 1982 a small independent West Coast label contacted Marlena and she was persuaded to record one album for them. Let Me In Your Life was released after her disco- phase and before her return to jazz.
Like the prodigal child returning home, Marlena came back to her real love, jazz, in the mid 1980's. Two albums followed on the legendary Verve label, both to very favorable reviews. Followed by a move to the Concord Jazz label in the 1990's she released two more highly successful albums to rave reviews.
CBS/Sony released in 1999; Go Away Little Boy: The Sass & Soul Of Marlena Shaw.
In 2000, her tremendous overseas popularity led to “Anthology,” a splendid collection from London’s Soul Brother Records, and two hits for Sony Japan: “Live in Tokyo” (2002) and “Lookin’ for Love,” (2003
Looking and sounding better than ever, Shaw continues to dazzle audiences with her intoxicating blend of straight ahead jazz, soul, pop and classic R&B, but her recordings will also satisfy fans of traditional jazz who have no prejudices about blues and R&B.
Source: James Nadal