Fourteen-year-old Vancouver artist Maya Rae brings youthful influences to vocal jazz

Maya Rae photo

Photo credit: Saffron Kelly
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Sapphire Birds album launch
Feb. 23, 8 p.m., Frankie’s
Tickets $20
Reservations at http://www.coastaljazz.ca/

She’s just 14 years old, but Vancouver jazz vocalist Maya Rae already knows exactly who she is as an artist.

Her debut album, Sapphire Birds, showcases her beguiling, understated vocal style and her totally unique repertoire, which ranges from originals inspired by life at school and home to fresh covers of jazz standards and unique renditions of favourite pop songs by artists such as Meghan Trainor and Christina Aguilera.

In fact, the opening track of Sapphire Birds, a cover of Trainor’s “Close Your Eyes,” immediately puts the listener on notice that Maya is her own kind of artist. She strips the song of Trainor’s girly, bubble gum pop vocal affectations, and replaces them with real swing and soul. A-list Vancouver Jazz pianist Miles Black and Maya’s mentor, West Coast saxophonist and jazz impresario Cory Weeds give the piece a gorgeous vintage doo-wop feel that leaves the whole thing sounding 100 times better than the original.

But lest listeners find themselves doubting Maya’s true blue jazz credentials, she follows up the Trainor tune almost immediately with a pitch perfect rendition of “Lullaby of Birdland,” inspired by former teen jazz singer Nikki Yanofsky’s version and again, made totally her own. She approaches the piece with a youthful energy similar to Yanofsky’s but replaces the aggressive whoops and growls with a more joyful, airy approach.

Maya also demonstrates her songwriting promise on this album with two originals: “Sapphire Birds,” a love song to her supportive family that features a touching flugelhorn solo by Vince Mai, and “So Caught Up,” a heartfelt lament about the superficiality of adolescents and the personal struggle to fit in.

The album closes with a stunning, minimalist – and bilingual! – vocal-over-bass cover of “Summertime,” which showcases Maya’s pleasing tone.

The theme of Sapphire Birds is embracing life and feeling comfortable in your own skin, something Maya has clearly mastered at an age when most kids are far more concerned about fitting in than being themselves.

She made her performance debut at the Vancouver International Jazz Festival at the age of 12, the same year she performed with Tim Tamashiro at an event in White Rock where she met Weeds and shared the stage with leading Vancouver jazz bassist Jodi Proznick.

Twelve was also the age at which Maya and her cousin began busking regularly on Granville Island.

She’s been studying voice since Grade Three and had fallen in love with jazz after her mother, a lover of music, introduced her to female jazz greats such as Ella Fitzgerald.

She has also taken lessons on piano, guitar, double bass and violin.

These days, Maya is working on her songwriting skills and embarking on an extremely promising career as a performer.

With her captivating voice, phenomenal versatility, and fearless embrace of diverse musical tastes, Maya seems poised to go a very long way.

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