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René Marie

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When she was in her teens, René Marie sang with an R&B band in her native Roanoke, Va., and performed solo in a cafeteria that had a grand piano in its foyer. “Then I married at 18,” she reflects, “and got pregnant early, so any thought of a singing career fell by the wayside.” For nearly 20 years, she worked at a variety of nonmusical jobs to help support her family. With her two sons in college, she returned to singing in the mid-’90s, making appearances at clubs and festivals in Virginia and Pennsylvania. Two years ago last month, Marie debuted at Blues Alley—with Richard O’Donnell of MaxJazz Records in the audience. He offered Marie a contract at the end of her first set. How Can I Keep From Singing?, her initial recording for the label, won the Association for Independent Musicians award for the Best Jazz Vocal of 2000. This week, Marie returns to Blues Alley for three nights to launch her new MaxJazz CD, Vertigo. Backed by an all-star septet including pianist Mulgrew Miller, saxophonist Chris Potter, guitarist John Hart, and drummer Jeff “Tain” Watts, Marie combines fresh interpretations of standards (a lilting, Brazilian-tinged “I Only Have Eyes for You,” a searingly ironic medley of “Dixie” and “Strange Fruit”) with three of her superior original compositions, “I’d Rather Talk About You,” “Don’t Look at Me Like That,” and the dizzying title song. But no recording thus far has captured the energy of Marie’s uninhibited live performances: When the sounds and emotions that she kept bottled up for two decades burst forth, the experience is electrifying. She plays at XX p.m. Friday, Sept. 14 to Sunday, Sept 16, at Blues Alley, 1073 Wisconsin Avenue NW. $XX. (202) 337-4141. XXPlease call ahead to verify that this event is happeningXX. (Joel E. Siegel)