An incredibly versatile and engaging vocalist Her sixties hit ‘California Soul’ has remained a staple of ‘rare groove’ compilations.
Marlena Shaw is among the most versatile and charismatic jazz vocalists on the scene today, and represents some of the best live jazz music in London. Her performances are marked by an artful blend of pop standards and straight-ahead jazz tunes. Her extroverted stage presence gives her an edge over other vocalists, and it’s clear to see that singing before an audience is where she feels most comfortable.
After her uncle 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 largely influenced her singing style. At ten years old she performed at Harlem's Apollo Theater, and although she received an enthusiastic reception in front of one of the world's toughest audiences, her mother refused to let her go on the road with her uncle who played the trumpet. Shaw attended the State Teachers' College in Potsdam, NY, but later dropped out.
She worked around New England for a while in 1963 with a trio led by Howard McGhee. By the mid-'60s she was performing regularly for audiences in the Catskills, Playboy clubs, and other New York area clubs. In 1966, she recorded "Mercy, Mercy, Mercy" and the single sold very well for an unknown singer. The single's success, prompted executives to encourage her to record a whole album 1967. The diversity of styles, including blues, jazz, and pop standards, is reflected in the album's title, Out of Different Bags. She was brought to the attention of bandleader Count Basie through her accountant, and ended up singing with the Basie band for four years.
See Marlena in action...