Maya Rae performs on Feb. 23 at Frankie’s Jazz Club. (photo by Saffron Kelly)
Vancouver jazz singer-songwriter Maya Rae will celebrate the release of her debut CD, Sapphire Birds, on Feb. 23 at Frankie’s Jazz Club. The album was produced by jazz impresario Cory Weeds, and features an ensemble of some of Vancouver’s greatest jazz musicians, including Miles Black, who played piano and acted as musical director, Weeds himself on saxophone, Joel Fountain on drums, André Lachance on bass and Vince Mai on trumpet and flugelhorn.
Rae’s burgeoning musical career – she is only 14 years old – had its genesis in nothing particularly special: band classes at school, a few musicians on her mother’s side of the family. Yet, from these modest beginnings, she has arrived on the Vancouver scene with a beautiful, textured voice well ahead of her years and a first CD that showcases excellent musicianship, both hers and that of the experienced ensemble brought together by Weeds and Black.
“If I had a dime for every time someone tells me they have a 14-year-old with tons of talent,” Weeds told the Independent, “I’d have retired in Mexico by now. When I heard Maya, I was pretty wowed, pretty shocked.”
Weeds said he carefully scrutinizes projects that are brought to him. “I don’t do these things for the money,” he said, “I do it because it’s a project I believe in. Miles Black was the X-factor behind the thing. He helped Maya select the music and charted it. It’s rare that a project goes so smoothly. The whole band gelled so well the album practically produced itself. It was just a real pleasurable experience.”
Rae agreed. Asked if working with such seasoned musicians was intimidating, she said it wasn’t. “It was great; we had so much fun. They were so helpful, and they taught me a lot. It was an incredible experience to work with musicians like that.”
Weeds admitted to hesitating before releasing the album on his own label, Cellar Live, due to Maya’s youth. When he heard the finished project, though, his hesitation vanished. “You’d have to be an idiot not to put this out,” he said. “The talent’s there and, when the talent is there, age is irrelevant.”
The CD features two original songs, the title track “Sapphire Birds” (about her family) and “So Caught Up” (about the obsession with appearances among teenage girls). The album also features some excellent covers of standards like “I Feel the Earth Move” and “Summertime”; and surprises, with some smooth and skilled scatting from Rae. Rae’s singing is delivered with strength, precise phrasing and nuance, and is alternately delicate and full, easily holding the listener’s interest throughout the album.
The CD release will be a benefit concert, with proceeds going to Covenant House, a local nonprofit that serves homeless youth. Last April, Rae held a benefit concert at Temple Sholom to benefit Syrian refugee families. “In March, I was asked to open for Champian Fulton, and so I had a band and a set list all worked out, and then I heard my synagogue was sponsoring two Syrian refugee families and that seemed like an important thing to support,” Rae explained. (For more on last year’s concert, see jewishindependent.ca/jazz-to-benefit-refugees.)
Rae also sings once a month at Louis Brier Home and Hospital, accompanied by guitarist Sami Ghawi. She tells a heartwarming story about an incident that happened there recently involving Kenny Colman, a well-known jazz vocalist who was a longtime friend and colleague of Frank Sinatra, among others, and who now lives at the Louis Brier.
“We have an open mic when we perform there,” Maya said. “Kenny came to watch the show, and he joined us and sang. He has advanced Parkinson’s, and they said he hadn’t sung in the eight months since he’d been there. It was very emotional for everyone.”
For more on Rae, visit facebook.com/mayaraemusic. While reservations are now closed for the Feb. 23 show, there will be limited tickets available at the door.
Matthew Gindin is a freelance journalist, writer and lecturer. He writes regularly for the Forward and All That Is Interesting, and has been published in Religion Dispatches, Situate Magazine, Tikkun and elsewhere. He can be found on Medium and Twitter.