Marie Clarke, saloniere, guitar player, jazz & folk singer, and born-again pianist pushed her various instruments aside and met me for breakfast at Ottolenghi in Islington last week to talk about her musical experiences.
On just this topic of instruments, she says, “Well, you know I can play anything I can get a sound out of: spoons, tambourine, bean jar shaker….”: in brief, Marie is a sparkling magpie musician: no spoon too bent to be left out of the music she makes.
Marie has been a successful landscape designer for many years [ the sole exception was her attempt to sort out my Barbican plant boxes, ruined by my own lax and lazy attempts to garden, or even let flourish what she had sown.] She and her husband architect Allan Conisbee have recently finished work on their house in Norfolk, the county where she sings when she isn’t in London.
Marie has always been musical, and she says, “One thing I know about singing is that for me it’s a pretty instinctive, visceral thing – something that needs to be done. I didn’t enjoy my early music lessons on piano, or singing in school. But as a teenager, armed with a guitar and a few chords, singing came easy. I don’t mean that my singing was always good, but sometimes it was, and I became aware the ways people respond to the human voice.” `I asked her about open-mike singing, and she surprised me by saying she hadn’t yet been to many, “but as a teenager, ad hoc singing at the drop of a hat was something I did do with chums, at any opportunity.” I hope she will start adding open-mike singing to her schedule soon!
I asked Marie how she came to singing jazz from her earlier, teenage experiences of folk singing: “I hadn’t really done much singing for many years and wanted to rekindle that joy. I couldn’t bear to go back to tired old pieces. I was in my 50s and in search of something new. I looked towards jazz, without too much knowledge of what that might entail. When I first went along to a City Lit class, it took the most enormous effort to summon up the courage to audition!”
What is clear as well is that Marie’s grounding as a musician is in the spirit of connection among instrumentalists, singers, and audience – -each having a share in what is produced by the whole group.
Last month, Marie and Alan hosted an evening of song at their house in Islington, which was a great mix of her friends, including some fellow jazz singers, and those whose roots are in more traditional folk music. After a delicious dinner, the chairs were pulled back, the long table dismantled and we listened to the wonderful pianist Simon Wallace accompany the guitar-playing and singing Marie, and some of her jazzing friends. It was great fun and it seemed to me that everyone enjoyed themselves, each other, and the collage of jazz and traditional music. It was something of a first for a few of us as well….listening to both folk and jazz in a welcoming environment.
And this is one of the central themes in Marie’s musical life. With links to many genres of music, she is happy to mix them up and see what happens – an alchemist of traditions!
Marie returned to her piano studies last year, and when I asked her how that is going, she gave voice to her fundamental seriousness as a student of both melody and theory. She is working now on setting traditional songs to jazz arrangements, as a way of bridging their distances, and creating a hybrid sound. Its an exciting project, and I think it belongs to the newer strands in jazz music by marrying the singer-songwriter tradition, which flourished in the 1960s and 1970s, and has been emerging again in the work of Sasha Osbourne, among other singers.
Marie is funny, and clever, and she has an open-hearted and welcoming approach to singing.
Can’t wait to hear her next folk-jazz arrangement!
And oh yes, Marie is about to welcome home Chester, the dog she and Alan are adopting. Maybe there is another musical collage ahead: the Chester, Marie and Alan Band!