There is only one avenue that someone with jazz singer Marge Notte’s natural born gifts can pursue. With a face that radiates warmth as brightly as actress Marisa Tomei and a register that permeates of passion in every cell so emblematic of Eydie Gorme, Margie Notte has no choice but to seek a life in show biz. Her debut album, Just You, Just Me & Friends was recorded live in April 2008 at Cecil’s, the jazz club owned by drummer Cecil Brooks III that is located in West Orange, New Jersey. Brooks is also featured on the recording and was introduced to Notte through her husband, Guy.
She explains, "I met my husband, Guy Notte just about 8 years ago. He is a musician and also a chiropractor. He introduced me to Cecil Brooks III who, at the time, was about to open Cecil’s Jazz Club here in West Orange, New Jersey. I figured what a great place to meet and get back into music, so I began bartending there a few nights a week. The music I was exposed to, and the people I met, woke up that music bug in me. Being able to listen to the musicians talk amongst themselves, and to get to know them on a personal level, was a privilege and an education all in itself."
The pieces started to fall into place when Notte was introduced to saxophonist Don Braden, who would not only play on her debut recording but also produce it. She recalls, "I met Don while working at Cecil’s, but did not become friends with him until after a friend of mine told him to come and check me out. I was singing with a piano player at a local restaurant and he came in one night. He told me I should tighten up my sound a bit, that I was a good singer but had the ability to become even better. He hooked me up with the great vocalist Roseanna Vitro who has taught me so much, not just about jazz singing and theory, but of life by just being one of the most wonderful and magical performers on Earth."
She reflects, "I am a lucky woman to have Don Braden as a friend and mentor. He has done a fabulous job with the production of this record, and I am proud of it."
Notte met the remaining members of her band, pianist Jason Teborek and bassist Tom DiCarlo, through her new found connections. "I met Jason through Roseanna Vitro and he is one hell of a pianist and a great guy. There is such a comfortability factor between us. I was supposed to have Calvin Jones on bass for the recording, but he was called out of this country for an extended gig, so Tom stepped in and did a fabulous job. And Cecil, well he’s just one of my favorite people in the whole world."
She admits, "Cecil Brooks III, himself and his club, for me, has been a catalyst for finding my true self as a vocalist. Even just as a patron hanging out, listening to people talk of music and life, when at Cecil’s, that’s what it’s all about... you, me and friends," alluding to the title of her debut recording.
She surmises, "How many places in this world can make you feel so at home, and what better place than to record a debut album than in front of friends who give you their support and encouragement? It was a truly wonderful experience," she glows.
The songs that she chose to sing on her debut outing were mainly standards, songs that are a staple of American culture and its musical fabric. She notes, "Each song does have a special meaning. I could go on all day explaining, but I will mention only a few."
She discerns, "’Cry Me A River,’ I think, at one time or another, in every woman’s life, she would like to say, ‘Yeah, yeah, yeah, right cry me a river, will ya.’"
She brings up, "’I’m Thru With Love,’ I’ve loved this song since I was a young girl and heard Marilyn Monroe sing it in the movie, Some Like It Hot."
Another favorite tune that she mentions, "’You Go To My Head,’ although we don’t like to admit it and show our vulnerability, oh my," she intones, "but love can be intoxicating."
Which brings her to another moonstruck-inspired number, "’I’ve Got You Under My Skin,’ well that’s just a sexy and inviting lyric."
The album is infused in love potion-embalmed tunes like "Bewitched, Bothered And Bewildered," "Loverman," and "The Very Thought Of You." Margie Notte makes the listener shiver in a good way with her delivery of these songs, which makes one wonder how did she learn to do that. In order to answer that, you need to re-trace her steps and return to her life with her parents. A home that was consumed in the lulling sounds of jazz music from the moment anyone walked over the threshold.
She remembers, "My father and mother were big fans of the big band jazz era of the ‘30s and ‘40s. All the greats were always being listened to in our home." She lists, "Cab Calloway, Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington my dad loved Dinah Washington, and Eartha Kitt was his girl. I remember my mom would get jealous over Eartha."
The music saturated every blood vessel in young Margaret’s body as she recollects, "I always sang. My mom says I was either crying or laughing and singing as a baby. Singing was my way of finding solace as a child, a form of escape. I started lessons at 9 years old with a local voice and piano instructor, Patricia Domino, and also guitar with Carl Botti. There were numerous vocal coaches throughout the years. I loved the old standards, even though it was not my era of music, per say. I’ve always felt most comfortable singing the old standards."
She deduces about her affinity for jazz music, "Because my mom had five brothers that had served in World War II, I believe the songs from that era lent a certain romanticism, and for me, added a unique view of how I see life."
One of her first outings as a singer in public was when she joined a local band called Ecstasy. She recounts, "That was a short lived stint, kind of a favor to a friend. It was fun and helped me overcome any anxiety about singing in front of a live audience. That was a long time ago."
She remarks, "I never thought of myself as a rocker. I could do it, but unless I feel the lyric and the vibe gets me, it’s like a caricature of myself. I love to sing soft rock. I love folk and country, but with jazz, I can really lose myself in the song. At any given time, the spontaneity emotionally is priceless."
Maybe it was having five jazz-enthusiastic uncles and growing up in a household with parents who raised her on a healthy dose of classic jazz singers that fostered her affinity for jazz, but for a time, the link was weak. The opportunities to channel her talents in the jazz forum that she most craved, eluded her. She tells, "There was a long time in my life where, although, I continued my studies with Carla Wood - mezzo soprano in New York City, I was also working two jobs and raising my daughter. I would sing on and off at a few local venues, but nothing really to speak of."
It was her voice lessons that kept her attached to the music that she loved so much. It was like she was preparing herself to someday be a part of a movement, spurred on by jazz enthusiasts, who wanted to turn cabaret jazz in the direction of mainstream.
She emphasizes, "It is very important to keep studying and practicing. I’ve learned, as a singer, you should try to do vocalese exercises at least fifteen minutes a day. You learn different things through different instructors. You also learn that your own capabilities can be endless. And as far as theory, I’ve barely cracked open the door."
She articulates, "I feel that singing is so personal. It’s giving of yourself, opening up and letting go in front of strangers, and when they are there to catch you and cheer you on, then you have made a connection with those people, and have shared with them a small but meaningful part of this life."
For Notte, singing on a record and singing live come from the same place. Both situations require her to abandon the reins holding back her emotions. Both forums allow her to let go as she observes, "My take on performances is that it’s always a personal experience whether you have a full band behind you or just a piano accompaniment. As a vocalist, you are giving of yourself and exposing your vulnerability. What else could be more personal than that?"
Her debut album is a taste of what audiences can expect from her at live shows. She expresses eagerness about playing more shows in the future, "I will be performing at Trumpets Jazz Club in Montclair, New Jersey on March 29th, 2009. As far as festivals go, I put myself out there, now waiting on calls, etc."
She addresses that she "worked hard with getting the album out before the New Year." And the label which put out her debut recording, GNote Records was formed by her husband, Guy. She discusses about the venture, "GNote Records is a result of this project. Since I wasn’t signed to a record label and was going independent, my husband, Guy formed my company, GNote Records & Productions, LLC. so there would be a legal entity."
Any master builder will tell you that you need a strong foundation before you start any construction project, and sturdy lallies and girders to hold the ramparts in place. Margie Notte has those elements in place with a voice worth building for and a stamina able to hold her steady through the fickle winds of show business. It’s been a while since cabaret jazz was a part of mainstream music, and for Notte, it is a natural place for jazz music to be. She seems thrilled just to be a part of making that a reality, and her debut album drives her towards that goal.