Marlena is an artist who has taken the classical sounds of Jazz and Blues from decades past and merged it with her own expressive sensual style, to take listeners and concert-goers alike to a place they’ve never been to before. “I have always been a songbird and I always will be,” she said. “If I cannot fly, let me sing!” Today she spoke with ETV about her musical journey, the many bands she has worked with throughout the years, and the raw emotions she feels when performing live.
The tune of freedom and adventure has always been an important part of Marlena’s life. She recalls memories of growing up Jamaica, Queens, where she would go outside after breakfast and return home until dinner time, having played with her friends all day. She organized a group of girls on her block and told them they were going to do a musical production including singing and dancing. Marlena chose the song “The Age of Aquarius” and took the lead, teaching the other girls how to do backup vocals and choreography.
“Oh, it was so much fun!” said Marlena. “We did that routine for anyone who would listen –neighbors, friends and family. I didn’t care who it was I just wanted to perform. Not much has changed since then and I have often thought of adding that song to my set list.”
She started singing old Gospel songs at a young age in her father’s church in New York and said Gospel songs have the power to become a lifeline that lasts throughout a lifetime. Her vocal style is a fusion of multiple genres, coming from the sounds of the 1920s, 30s, 40s, Blues, Jazz, and of course Gospel. With her vocal ability being so versatile, she can sing in any style she chooses and is known for letting a song captivate her.
“A song has the ability to change a moment in time and create a lasting memory,” Marlena said. “I like that, if a song moves me I’m gonna bring it to you in my own soulful and sultry way. People have told me, ‘Girl you have a lot of Class but you also bring a lot of Sass!’ That’s me.”
Throughout the years, Marlena has had the opportunity to work with several bands, each with their own distinct style and sound.
While living in New York in the 1980s, she sang with a group called The Soul Assassins, which she described as “a hard-edged, hard driving nitty gritty down dirty band reviving a new sound reminiscent of the 1960s.” The band was known to electrify the audience with an explosive sound that combined mean guitar riffs with funky bass groves. Marlena gained the nickname “Mean Jeanne” after singing her heart out in vinyl, Go Go Boots and memorable wigs.
Another band she performed with was One X One, fronted by leader Ralph Trimarchi, who Marlena described as an innovative songwriter and musical visionary. The music they performed was a fusion of new wave and alternative consisting of guitars and keyboards. The band would perform at the legendary Studio 54 shortly before they closed their doors.
“His vocals were different and unique and he inspired me to sing in a new way,” Marlena said. “I just loved the dreamy landscapes the band created together. The sound took you somewhere far away, somewhere you wanted to go. That’s called great music.”
After 30 years Ralph and Marlena found themselves collaborating again musically and she said it has been a thrill.
Marlena also performed with a band appropriately called After Five, playing the type of music people wanted to play after the 9 to 5 grind. They played dance songs, love songs, ballads and Rock N Roll — anything that people could remember and sing along to.
“My fellow Gal Pal and songstress was Miss Suzie Q as I affectionately named her,” Marlena said. “Suzie and Her Husband David were the driving force in starting our band. A wonderful dynamic duo they were then and still are today, with David on guitar and Suzie Q and I on lead vocals. Great times and fun music. I am so glad I had the chance to sing with such fine people. We played a lot and I enjoyed the diverse music and our wonderful friendship. Suzie and David went on to start their own band called Suzie and the Cruisers and they are bringing the Swing-to-Swing music in a really big way!”
Marlena would go on to perform with Mischief. It was an exciting band full of raw energy and high octane firepower.
“I do love to sing me some Rock N Roll and I can lay it down with the best of ‘em,” Marlena said. “But just like a dysfunctional family, a band is no different. There will always be differences of opinions and sometimes people just don’t have the same vision. But I still got a lot of love and respect for those boys. They are still rocking out in other bands doing their thing.”
With all of the musicians Marlena has worked with, she said they were all exceptionally talented and that she found inspiration from each and every one leading to an amazing musical journey where she has learned so much along the way.
However, after Mischief, she decided to re-evaluate her musical direction, and considering her love for the romantic style of the 1940s, it’s no surprise she chose to get back into the standard Blues and Jazz. She identifies with that era because the music moves her deeply, stating the timeless quality of it transcends the decades.
As far as new music, Marlena and her partner Tom have been writing songs for their new CD. They find themselves making a good team and although the work is challenging, Marlena looks forward to seeing what they can create. They put out their first CD “From My Heart to Yours” last June. The record received accolades from Magic Music Magazine Review, Joe Joe Keys from Indie Music plus and Franconia Mettalum Review, as well as many others in the music industry.
One song on “From My Heart to Yours” was the delicately somber Charlie Chaplin classic “Smile.”
“We recorded ‘Smile’ on Christmas morning,” Marlena said. “I was thinking of all the many lonely and brokenhearted people that feel such sadness during Christmas time. I think it’s the one holiday that can hurt so much when you feel alone. I sang that song as an inspiration for anyone who was feeling blue. I really do believe in the beautiful lyrics of this song because ‘You’ll see that life is still worthwhile if you just smile.’”
Marlena said she had a great time in the studio writing new songs together that will be featured on their upcoming album. With each song being a treasure and reflection of how she was feeling at the time, their upcoming album cannot be missed.
When they perform live, Marlena and Tom like to create a certain ambiance for their audience, adding a personal touch to make the night memorable for all.
“It’s a time for everyone to unwind and let go a little,” Marlena said. “It’s all about creating a magical moment for people to enjoy. We love to engage with our audience. I personally visit every table and I give the ladies a gift of flowers or chocolates. A moment to connect and say, ‘Thank you for coming, how are you?’ People love that personal interaction; they want to feel special and appreciated.”
“During my shows I hope people hear, feel, and see that I am actually bearing my soul to them,” she said. “I’m sharing my whole world with you: my life and my story if you really listen. Some say that makes you vulnerable, but on the contrary it brings to me a sense of healing and love to give a part of myself to you and to share who I am. If everyone started the day singing just think how happy the world could be.”
She said the holiday shows are especially fun because she likes theme nights and getting the audience into the spirit. Together with Tom, she dresses to impress to do something out of the ordinary. They typically play at fine dining establishments, supper clubs, lounges and private parties. Their upcoming shows are at Casa 425, located in Claremont, Calif. So if you’re in town, be sure to see them live.
“People feel the connection between us and it makes for a really lovely evening,” Marlena said. “It’s fun and completely satisfying to do the kind of music you love. People love our shows because it’s a night of romance and for some a beautiful connection to their past. Love is in the air; cocktails and classics. Now tell me what could be better?”
A typical show can three to four hours long, though they played a six hour show on New Year’s Eve. A total of 63 songs were performed that night.
“That was absolutely the longest show I have ever performed,” Marlena said. “I knew that it would be a challenge but I also knew that I could do it and I did in a really big way. It was a musical marathon and that is how I rang in the New Year or should I say ‘Sang in the New Year!’”
Ultimately, Marlena has performed countless shows throughout the years and has touched the lives of many with her singing. Her raw and genuine love for music, delivered by expression and passion, are from a one of a kind talent and must be heard to be believed. For anyone who enjoys Blues and Jazz (or just good music in general), be sure to check out the one and only Marlena. Check her out on Facebook , Twitter, Vimeo, YouTube, iTunes, and her website.