St. Louis-based musician Ryan Marquez has been cooking a cauldron of tunes for many years, and a fresh new brew is ready to be served. A new single called “Serenity” is the first track he has just released as he leads up to a full CD called “Saint Unity” coming this fall. The implications of the CD’s title may be obvious but not without impact: We are united in our human spirit, having overcome an unforeseeable crisis in this working-towards-post-pandemic world.
For “Serenity,” released in April, Marquez has invited the honey-voiced vocalist Anita Jackson and trumpet player Dawn Weber who sets fire to the edges of the sound. The other tracks include the luminous and breezy “Tonight, Tonight” featuring intelligent storyteller Paige Alyssa on vocals, and the warm, sweet-vibed “When You Love Somebody” infused with the delicate melodic voicings of Chrissy Renick, plus a nice handful more for a total of 12 tracks.
How did you first get exposed to music and what was the “aha!” moment when you decided this is what you would do in life?
Music picked me. I didn’t pick music. Ever since I can remember there has always been an innate love for music and particularly the piano/organ. My mom told me that she used to play recorded piano music while I was still in the womb, so I’ve been listening for as long as possible! She told me recently that she always wished she could learn to play the piano, but wasn’t able to afford lessons as a child, so I feel in essence that I carry a shared dream.
I remember being drawn to the stage whenever I encountered one and getting that butterfly feeling. I was fortunate to attend a performing arts school in Northeast Kansas City starting in kindergarten that instilled a foundation in me of music, dance, art, drama and art. Once I got a taste of being on the stage and having an audience, I knew that there was no other life for me but creating and performing.
What do you play?
I play artist/producer/songwriter but mostly identify as “Creative.” Instrument-wise, I primarily play piano/keyboards/organ but also have a deep love for the bass. I always tell people I’m a bass player trapped in a keyboard player’s body. I think that’s why I love the organ so much, especially when I’m responsible for key bass.
How would you describe the music scene in St. Louis now, coming out of the pandemic?
ON FIRE! St. Louis has an incredible depth of original music artists that work together as one giant organism of family. We are right on the cusp of bursting onto the national scene as a unit, similar to the legendary scenes like Motown, Grunge in Seattle, Laurel Canyon, Stax, etc. Everyone supports each other’s projects and through the pandemic we all worked together via the mail and essentially on the front lines to produce monumental artistic works. As the world has been opening back up, artists/bands have been coming out blazing hot!
What elements of the other genres inspired you to combine them for your own personal sound – hip-hop and soul and even rock?
I consider myself a jazz/pop/hip-hop artist, so those flavors will always be present in any music I produce. I grew up listening to the rock music of yesteryear, whether it’s the Flower Power bands my mom loves like The Beatles, The Byrds or The Mama’s & the Papas, or the jazz fusion rock bands like Chicago, Steely Dan, Santana that my Dad turned me onto. There are only two types of music to me: good and bad, and the listener gets to decide! In my opinion, gospel music is the grandmother of all music so I would say, at my roots, the energy of my music comes from conjuring the intrinsic spirit that permeates the soul through various sounds that extend for divine purpose.
When did you come up with this album idea for “Saint Unity” and talk about naming it.
The concept was something that came to me over an extended period of time. It really required a lot of marination, maturation and fermentation.
The first song from the project, “Anything You Like,” came through me about 7-8 years ago. It was such a different flavor from what I was writing at the time that I didn’t know what to do with it. I put it on the shelf and let it age for almost a decade.
In the interim I went through a period of life where I realized that I needed more female voices in my music catalog in terms of listening and works written. I went on a strict diet of about two years of only listening to female artists/bands. This set the foundation for my idea of “Saint Unity” to feature female voices of my STL music family on this record.
The name came to me clearly as wanting to pay tribute to my current residence of the great city of St. Louis, but also signify a movement of joining forces as a community and propelling the collective art in our region to new heights.
How did you identify the vocalists you wanted on this album?
I picked vocalists that I’m legit a fan of. I follow their original projects and collaborate in support of their artistic voices directly in many cases. They’re also all amazing humans that I have a firm connection with in the spiritual realm. The energy that they each bring to the table is electric and contagious! It is an honor to bring them all together in the name of “Saint Unity.”
What did you enjoy about producing “Serenity” and why is it the first track to be released?
“Serenity” is a very special track to me and I very much have enjoyed its evolution as a song. I wrote it circa 2017 and recorded it on my first jazz trio album “Moving Forward in Time” (2018) as an instrumental.
Around that time I met Anita Jackson and became an instant fan of her art of storytelling through her powerful voice. We cultivated a strong friendship and she has bestowed upon me much wisdom and inspiration! I believe it was the night that I met her, I gave her my trio album. The next time I saw her she told me she loved “Serenity” and listened to it on repeat in her car. The love that she expressed with me inspired me to dream up lyrics for it with her in mind as the vocalist. After showing her my lines and pitching her my idea, we worked together to craft the prose you hear on the track.
After all that we’ve been through collectively in our world the past year with the pandemic as well as the tumultuous social struggles the city of St. Louis has been through the last decade, I felt that “Serenity” was a message of intention that could properly introduce the essence of the entire record.
Talk about your work with students in your community. Do you see sparks of interest in jazz, and are you hopeful for a new emerging generation of musicians?
I was a private lessons instructor for about 12 years here in St. Louis before music performance/business became my full-time focus. I am now thankful that I still get to contribute to jazz education but in a much larger role.
Through great organizations like Jazz St. Louis and The Lincoln Center Jazz program, I play in an ensemble with other St. Louis musicians that go into elementary schools and give performance demonstrations about the “main ingredients of jazz.” Through programs like The HEAL Center for the Arts and the Kranzberg Arts Foundation “Wednesday Night Jazz Jams,” I am able to connect with the next generation of jazz musicians in a formal and informal setting.
Music is a conversation and it’s great to hear what these youngins are talking about! I have great confidence in the future of jazz from our great state of Missouri. MO is a fertile ground for jazz as it falls in the sweet spot of the two largest (and jazziest rivers) in the USA/world. I am privileged to call both St. Louis and Kansas City my hometowns. These two cities have been innovating and revolutionizing the trajectory of “jazz” since its inception. I’m thankful to now be a character in this never-ending story.
For more information visit http://www.ryanmarquez.com.
Photos courtesy of and with permission of the artist.
© 2021 Debbie Burke