“Jazz Monthly Feature Interview” Althea Rene
Smitty: My next guest has quickly garnered a great deal of attention with her graceful and funky vibe. She’s one of the top flautists in the business. Perhaps you remember her from her last recording called Chocolate Rush. Her latest project is simply breathtaking, due to release February 21; it’s called In The Moment. Please give a very warm welcome for the incomparable Chocolate Caramel recording artist, the lovely and multi-talented Althea Rene. Althea, how are you? Welcome to Jazz Monthly.
Althea Rene (AR): Thank you! I’m doing great, Smitty. How are you?
Smitty: I’m feeling good, thank you. Let’s talk about this great new record. Girl, it’s fantastic! This is your follow-up to CHOCOLATE RUSH, a great CD and got such rave reviews, you did just a magnificent job with that project. You had some great players on there, a lot of Detroit sound, you know what I mean?
AR: Oh yeah, a lot of Detroit flavor.
AR: Best of the best.
Smitty: Yes, and your new record is called In The Moment, and this is sort of a different direction, but it still has a ton of funk. Talk to me about what moved you to do this record, IN THE MOMENT.
AR: Well, I sort of have a model, an outlook on life and, you know; it’s that the past is the past, the future is unknown, it’s in God’s hands, and we just have to pray on it. The things that we do have control over are the moments in life, and rather than complain about what’s not right, just enjoy the moment.
Smitty: Yes, great philosophy, and this CD certainly provokes a beautiful moment. I know when I first heard this record, my reaction was; ‘I was just overwhelmed by it and I recall looking at my arms, and showing you my forearms, and just seeing the goosebumps….I was just ecstatic over this great new record. And you’ve done such a great mix with it, a beautiful choice of songs, and I’ve gotta tell you right off my favorite song is Track 9, “And She Said”!
AR: Oh, okay.
Smitty: Incredible track. But let’s talk a little about your playing and how you were able to translate your feelings to song. Because I think you did a magnificent job of doing that. And when I listen to this record, I can feel Althea Rene, her voice, in every track. But tell me a little bit about how when you were doing this record, how you were able to put your voice into this and translate that to your audience. Because I’ve seen your live show and I know that you always have the audience in the palm of your hand each time I’ve seen you at a live show. Talk a little bit about how you’re able to put your voice into such a funky book of music.
AR: Well, in doing this project, I really felt like it was really close to home. It expressed a lot of where I am now in my career and in my life, and I was able to really express that. I did a lot more writing on this project than with the first project, and so that definitely lent a lot to being able to interject more of my personality, and just a feeling of being at peace. I am comfortable with where I am musically, as far as personality, and a lot of times with the flute, it typically has not been a popular instrument or an instrument that’s really been heard a lot in Smooth Jazz. I just feel like we have to represent, those of us that are performing or playing flute as a solo instrument. It’s something that I really want to be able to get across and I just have so much love for the instrument, and I’m hungry to get the sound out there and to just spread the word, spread the love.
Smitty: Yes and you have such a unique and beautiful way of accomplishing that.
AR: That’s what I’m about.
Smitty: What I’ve noticed on a regular basis from the reviews of your live performances, is the rave about the way in which you are able to bring the flute to the front and center, and put so much feeling and so much emotion in the instrument, and translate that to music. It’s just an unbelievable thing. Now, you began playing at four years old, so you’re no stranger to this instrument, are you?
AR: No, not at all. It’s been a long love affair. It’s the only thing that I’ve done my entire life without a break.
Smitty: Not everyone can say that.
AR: Without a break, you know? From the time I picked up the flute, it’s just been just a love affair.
Smitty: You’ve had some great musical influences and inspirational people in your life such as Yusef Lateef and Donald Bird. Talk about how those influences as well as others are incorporated into your music.
AR: Well, actually, very early on, my dad was an original musician with the Motown sound out of Detroit, so I had a great influence of music, between my dad playing jazz and Motown around the house, and my mother playing classical music. I have really had a chance to be exposed to a great deal of music. And one of the influences was Yusef Lateef. I happened to hear an album that my dad was playing and I heard him singing into the flute. I thought, ‘wow, that is really something, you know? He’s singing in the flute’. Then I thought, well, ‘I wonder if I could do that’? You know, being female, that if I did it with a higher range and everything, that might be something cool to do. So quite early I started experimenting with vocalizing into the flute and here I am now, just expressing myself. So it’s been great.
Smitty: Yes, it is. And I noticed the reaction of every audience that you have performed for; when you began to do your patented talking into the flute as you’re playing, it is just an emotional thing that gets a crowd so on the edge of their seat and really express themselves as to how much they appreciate your performances.
AR: Yeah, yeah.
Smitty: So it’s a great….
AR: A great feeling.
Smitty: Yes, can you tell me about your association or experience with the Detroit Symphony Orchestra?
AR: Oh yes. My teacher, who taught me a lot of breathing techniques, and he also was Hubert Laws’ teacher I found out many years later, Clement Stallone, he’s passed on now, but he was just a great teacher, great influence and he was the principal flutist for the Detroit Symphony Orchestra at the time. So he’s had many, many flutists that have gone on to great things and I’m just like, it’s an honor to have been able to say that I was a student of his.
Smitty: I’m sure you were a great student there as well, and he would be mighty proud of where you are now in your career. I want to get back to your new record, I think I mentioned it but did I get the release date right?
AR: The release date is February 21, 2006, and I’m just so excited. This is actually my first national release as an artist and I just can’t say how excited I am to get out here and push it and let everybody know and it’s a great feeling.
Smitty: Yes indeed. I’m equally as excited because I’ve watch your career for a number of years, and I’ve said for a long time that you deserve to be center stage and the world needs to hear your great music! So we’re happy that we can be a vehicle for that and that you’re finally getting your music out there to a wider audience to see what a great talent you truly are, it’s a beautiful thing. Let’s talk some more about some of the tracks on here. “More Than You Know” is a great track. You seem to put a lot of feeling in this song….
AR: Well, that was a tune that was very, very close to my heart. A very good friend of mine and writing buddy who until recently was the bassist for Vanessa Williams, Al Caldwell, we got together and collaborated on this song, and it just had such meaning.
At the time that we wrote it, I sang it just to kind of give it a voice, and Al was like “You should sing it,” and I’m thinking, well, I used to sing, but I haven’t really done any lead singing for quite some time. However, it was just so close to my heart; the words, the meaning and content of the song; that a lot of times in friendship you never really get to relate everything that you’re feeling at the time, and over the years when you’ve had long friendships with people and sometimes you never really get to tell them things that you want to tell them. In “More Than You Know” that’s what it’s about. So it’s very close to my heart.
Smitty: When I first heard the song, I remember asking you, “Is that you?” Because it’s so cool. (Both laughing)
AR: My mother, my people are from Nassau, Bahamas, so I think that style and style of music, and that kind of Caribbean jazz is something that I love. It’s definitely who I am and to be able to express that in this CD is great.
Smitty: Yes it is. I remember saying to you that you have been holding back on me. I had never heard you sing, I’ve always heard the flute. “In the Moment” is one of my favorite tracks as well. I’m so curious about the arrangement of this song.
AR: With “In the Moment” I collaborated with Gary Perez and he’s a drummer out of St. Louis. From the first couple of notes, the first few bars of that song; it took me like five minutes or less to come up with the whole melody, and the whole passion and idea for the song. The whole song came to me in like five minutes, and it just grabbed me and I just hope that people feel the same type of passion that I felt in writing the lead lines and doing the arrangements and everything. I just enjoyed producing and writing on this project. I’m ready to do the next project now. Okay, I’m psyched, I’m runnin’, I’m hyped.
Smitty: You’re having a good time, aren’t you? (Both laughing)
AR: I am. I am.
Smitty: Well that is very cool, and I’m happy to have you in Houston now, you’re close by.
AR: Yes, it’s good to be here. It’s different, I mean, I went through the first holidays without snow or ice! (Laughing) It’s just beautiful here now. It’s beautiful. It is going to take some getting used to because I’m definitely a northern girl.
Smitty: (Laughing) How about that? Even though there’s a larger audience that awaits you, you’ve accomplished quite a bit already. You have performed at some major festivals; Syracuse Jazz Festival, also in Detroit…
AR: Nancy Wilson.
Smitty: Yeah, Nancy Wilson, and you’ve performed with Al Jarreau.
Smitty: Rachelle Farrell and Kem, how ‘bout that?
AR: Yes, Kem…he’s a great person and really very down to earth. I enjoy working with him.
Smitty: And speaking of that, you will be performing with Kem in Houston as a “Special Guest” on March 17th. You must excited about that.
AR: Yes, I’m thrilled to be sharing the stage with Kem, he’s a great entertainer and it’s an honor to work with him in any capacity. It will be an exciting night of great music.
Smitty: Yeah, and what a mix that is. When you’re performing with these great artists, how are you able to allow yourself to keep your voice; because sometimes it can be a little overwhelming working with fantastic artists like Kem, Earl Klugh, the late Art Porter, and individuals like that, that are great talents. How are you able to keep your grounded sense of playing and let your voice deliver when you’re in those types of experiences?
AR: Well, because I feel that the gift that I have is a God given gift, I’m working through Him. So when I’m performing, I’m just expressing. So it really isn’t about any competition or anything. It’s about expression. I just put everything outside of my mind except making sure that I’m expressing what I have inside.
Smitty: Very cool. I like that, very sweet. You’re going to release this record in February, any idea what’s going to radio first?
AR: “In the Moment” is the title track. That’s the single and that’s going to be the first single for radio.
Smitty: Excellent choice. I must say that I am just in love with this artwork on this CD.
AR: I don’t have to tell you what I did to get to that point. It’s safe to say that I haven’t had any surgery. (Both laughing)
Smitty: Oh, man. Well, that’s good to know, but I will tell you that its great artwork and my hats off to everyone involved in putting this whole cover together, the liner notes and everything, because it is truly magnificent. Man, oh, man.
AR: Well, the heart of Chocolate Caramel is Luther, my husband, and he definitely has been very supportive through all of this, and all of the artwork and the Web site, marketing, strategy, that area I have to say, that’s him.
Smitty: Yeah, Luther’s a great talent himself, that’s for sure.
AR: Yes, he is.
Smitty: Speaking of your website, give me your web address.
Smitty: All right. I’ve been to your web site on numerous occasions and I must say it is a very well designed site, so I’ve got to give it up for Luther.
AR: Thank you.
Smitty: Very user friendly and you can hear some of the great tracks on there and some great photos, and it’s very informative. I love the site.
AR: Oh, great. Thank you, thank you. That’s what we hope to do, you know, and keep it updated. That’s the main thing, so that when you go there you can get a feel of where I’m performing and what I’m doing. That’s the best place to keep up with me.
Smitty: Oh, very cool. All right, and people can e-mail you there as well?
AR: Oh yeah, and I do respond to e-mails.
Smitty: That’s a beautiful thing that you communicate with your fans.
AR: I try to.
Smitty: Yeah, I think it’s fantastic when artists can respond and interact with their fans as to their feelings and questions, that kind of thing. I think that’s very cool.
AR: Yeah, it’s very important.
Smitty: So what’s up for Althea Rene this spring and the summer? What’s happening?
AR: Well, I’m going be doing a promotional tour to support IN THE MOMENT, so I’ll be going to various cities and doing signings and in-store promotional things.
AR: And I’ll also be working closely with radio. Doing interviews and possibly perform. So I’ll definitely be performing in different cities, doing festivals, oh yeah.
Smitty: All right. So now, give the fans an idea of what they can expect when they come to an Althea Rene performance.
AR: They can expect to be shocked. They can expect to be entertained, and definitely hear some sounds and feel some things that they have not….hopefully that you haven’t felt in a long time or maybe never. (Laughing)
Smitty: Althea, I can attest to that because I know your live performances are like no other and they are always cool and people are always standing and cheering during and at the end of your performances. You are so on the money there because your live performances are fantastic, that’s for sure.
AR: Well thank you, thank you. I think that I have a duty….a lot of people have a certain perception of when you say, well, she plays flute, they think, “Oh, I don’t know if I like the flute,” you know, and so I always set out to make sure that people are entertained and that they go away saying “Hey, flute is cool, “I like the flute.”
Smitty: Talk to me about that, because sometimes in this strange world, not only the instrument itself, but for a woman to perform, perhaps there are perhaps some reservations, especially when you have a combination of a female and the flute, you know. Have you met any obstacles there?
AR: I think, yeah, over the years definitely I have, but I think now, after my shows, they don’t comment so much on the fact that they didn’t feel that a female could play, but more of how much they enjoyed this flute and that they may not have known all of the sounds that the flute could have, and also a lot of people who say “I don’t like jazz typically, but I like jazz now after hearing you.” So I think that’s the most important thing that I hear, is that people who thought that they didn’t like jazz can now say “I like jazz,” because jazz does have many, many faces and that’s why it’s important for artists like myself and other artists get out and put a personality and a face behind the music. Because people need to be able to connect.
Smitty: Yes, I love the conversion factor. I love it when a performer can win an audience by their performances, their personality, and just their overall talent, to help people to see that there’s a lot of diversity in music. Also, if they would just take the time and listen, they would truly love and appreciate what they are hearing.
AR: Yes, and you can’t please everyone.
Smitty: That’s true.
AR: However, I’ve only heard the positive.
Smitty: Same here. You have really scored a serious hit with this record. It is a great mix of tunes. You’ve really showcased the flute and I think you really, in my description, put a lot of funk in the flute, and I love that sound.
AR: Thank you. Thank you so much.
Smitty: You are so welcome! Check out her website for her tour schedule, and catch her live performance, I can truly say that you will not be disappointed in any way. In fact, you will be shocked at the great talent that this young lady has. Althea, thank you so much for sitting down for a few minutes and talking about this powerful CD and all of the things that you’re doing in 2006, and we certainly want to extend our best to you in this coming year.
AR: Well, thank you and thank you so much for supporting artists, and emerging artists and just keeping people abreast, so thank you.
Smitty: You are so welcome. It’s always a pleasure. We’ve been talking with Chocolate Caramel recording artist Althea Rene. She’s about to release her great new project February 21, you must have this one in your CD changer. It’s called IN THE MOMENT. Althea, thanks again and all the best to you my friend!
AR: Okay, thank you.
Baldwin “Smitty” Smith
For More Information Visit www.althearene.com.
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