Our NY Entertainer of the Week is Tatiana Eva-Marie. Tatiana is a singer and actress living in New York City. She was named “one of the best singers around” by the Wall Street Journal and was included in Vanity Fair’s list of rising jazz stars, alongside Cyrille Aimée and Cécile McLorin Salvant. Tatiana is the lead singer of the Gypsy-French Avalon Jazz Band.
Check out our interview!
upfrontNY: Can you tell us how you got involved with music and what you love most about it?
Tatiana Eva-Marie: My parents – Anca Maria and Louis Crelier – are both professional musicians, so my involvement started in the womb really, as my mom was playing violin in the orchestra pit and my dad was singing the Beatles to her belly. There wasn’t a single day without music and for a long time it was a mystery to me that other children didn’t grow up like I did. I was always backstage at concerts, hanging out in recording studios, falling asleep to the sound of my dad composing in the other room… it was never really a “career choice” for me, but more of an ineluctable way of life that I was born into. That’s what I love most about it. It’s not just about the love of music, it’s about all the adventures music takes you on, all the places and all the people it brings you together with. I believe that music – and especially the voice – resonates with the human soul like no other art form. Being able to touch people’s hearts in such an intimate way is the greatest gift I could ever wish for.
upfrontNY: How did your childhood influence music in your life?
Tatiana Eva-Marie: My obsession for jazz started when I was three years old, at Disneyland, when I heard a barbershop quartet singing “Do you know what it means to miss New Orleans?” I turned to my mom and said: “that’s what I want to do”. The following year I discovered Louis Prima through the Jungle Book and Marilyn Monroe in Some Like it Hot and that was the point of no return for me. When my parents and I were dining out I would wander off and sing “boop- oop-a-doop” from table to table. For tips. My parents were amused and decided they would start training me as a professional, since I displayed such a natural knack for show business. Most of what I practice in my career today, I learned from these childhood years working with my parents.
upfrontNY: How would you describe your music?
Tatiana Eva-Marie: The music I am known for today is a mixture of American swing and French hot jazz, with influences of Gypsy and Eastern European folklore – which were passed on to me by my Romanian mother. Everything I do is strongly inspired by the 1930s, but I do not approach jazz as a museum piece. It used to be pop back then, and that’s still how I see it today. My musicians and I play it and transform it and make it our own. People are often intimidated by the word “jazz” because they imagine something boring and highbrow, but when they listen to the music I play they are always surprised to see how fun and accessible it is, even to a neophyte. There is a true jazz renaissance in motion right now and younger generations are rediscovering this old pop music, finding that it’s easy to dance to and provides an alternative to the humdrum top 40 sound effects that are being blasted everywhere, from clubs to supermarkets. Many people want to escape and find a more human, acoustic connection to art and music. Swing is now a new kind of underground.
upfrontNY: You moved to Paris at the age of 16. How has that experience inspired you?
Tatiana Eva-Marie: When I was sixteen, I barely knew how to blow my own nose. My parents were at the same time irresponsible and overprotective. Though they taught me so much artistically, they didn’t teach me any mundane skills. I knew how to mix a track and give stage directions, but I couldn’t ride a bike or do laundry. Being suddenly thrown alone in such a big metropolis was unbelievably thrilling, though I realize now how badly it could have gone. To me, Paris was the gateway to absolute freedom and I relished every second of it. I wanted to live like my bohemian heroes, the French Romantic poets of the 19th century and the Existentialists of post-war Saint-Germain. And I did just that. Wondering the streets at night, discoursing with old bearded writers in tiny bookstores and playing music with Gypsies. It was a magical time and those memories are what I delve into for inspiration every day.
upfrontNY: Can you tell us about Avalon Jazz Band and how it got its start?
Tatiana Eva-Marie: The idea for the band came to me while I was still in Paris. I had realized that although many French people were playing American jazz, they were snubbing French jazz, deeming it corny and obsolete. I’ve always found the French jazz repertoire charming and inspiring, it has a childlike decadence to it that particularly moves me. I wanted to bring these songs back to life. Upon my arrival in New York, I created Avalon Jazz Band with violinist Adrien Chevalier, and we played all over the city, slowly but steadily gaining recognition and momentum, until we opened for Norah Jones and that’s when it really started taking off.
upfrontNY: What can people expect from your album, Je suis swing?
Tatiana Eva-Marie: Insolent joy. This album is a tribute to the Zazous, the swing kids of wartime Paris who protested the war through song and dance, gathering for secret wild parties in the medieval cellars underneath the city. These were hard times but they wanted to live their youth to the fullest and rebel against the gloomy climate of Occupied France. I think this sentiment is still relevant today. We still need to retaliate with insolent joy. This album helps you “leave your troubles on the doorstep” so to speak, and it has a very infectious innocent and romantic quality, two sentiments lacking in our modern society.
upfrontNY: Do you have a favorite song from the album?
Tatiana Eva-Marie: My favorite one is La Complainte de la Butte (“the lament of the hill”). It’s a song about Montmartre at the turn of the century, a love story between a poet and a beggar girl. He can’t find her anymore and writes a song that he teaches to the street musicians, hoping that some day she will hear it as she walks by. One lyric I particularly love is when he says her lips are like those of a malnourished child and have the perfume of fever. Finding beauty and tenderness in misery is very typical of those old French songs. It is special to me because the first apartment I moved into when I was sixteen was nested on the steps that lead to the top of that hill. It is the most picturesque part of Paris and is hauntingly beautiful. I used to take my guitar to the top of the steps and watch the sun set over the city. Often I would sing this song, which is the hymn of Montmartre. Including it in the album was a nostalgic tribute to my adolescence in Paris.
upfrontNY: If you could go back in time, what year or decade would you like to go to and where would you like to go?
Tatiana Eva-Marie: The problem with this question is that every era that interests me is either riddled with plague or war, or both. But I would have to say Paris in the 1940s. Precisely, I would want to know what it’s like to be fifteen years old in 1945: run away from home to become a Zazou, witness the Liberation of Paris and smoke cigarettes in existentialist cabarets with Jean-Paul Sartre, Boris Vian and Juliette Gréco. It must have been a very exciting time for artistic exploration and freedom of expression.
upfrontNY: What do you love most about living and performing in New York City?
Tatiana Eva-Marie: I love the passion of artists I meet in this city. The musicians here are out of their minds. An average day for them is practicing all afternoon in the darkness of their tiny windowless overpriced rooms, then playing a gig and afterwards going to a jam session to play some more until 3am. They are basically monomaniacal musical sociopaths. And I don’t know why I keep saying “they” because I am totally guilty of the same behavior. But that’s what makes New York so special, all the crazy charming people you get to rub elbows with. It keeps performing interesting and fun. If you are not somewhat mental you can’t survive in a jungle-city like New York.
upfrontNY: Do you have a favorite venue that you have performed in?
Tatiana Eva-Marie: I was ecstatic to perform with my band at Lincoln Center’s Midsummer Night Swing festival. My mom used to take me there when I was a kid and I always had that “maybe someday…” moment when I saw the bands on that stage. It was very special when they called to book me for that festival. The day of the performance, I was devastated because it had been pouring all afternoon and I was sure the concert would be cancelled, but a magical thing happened: the rain stopped ten minutes before the beginning of the show… and resumed as soon as we stopped playing. Then I went skipping about under the rain like a wild child. Absolutely magical.
upfrontNY: Do you have a venue that you have always wanted to perform?
Tatiana Eva-Marie: To me it’s not really about the venues, but more about the people and the traveling. I can be happy playing for five people or a thousand people just the same. A dream of mine is to go perform in Russia, because the Russians are very fond of French culture and music. There is a long history of mutual artistic admiration between France and Russia and it would be interesting to keep exploring it.