B i o g r a p h y
MJ (Mari Jo) has been a fan of the Great American Songbook ever since she heard her mother singing show tunes while doing the nightly dishes. She remembers playing over and over, the soundtrack albums her parents brought home after they saw the Toronto productions of Camelot and My Fair Lady. Her earliest recollection of jazz was Moe Koffman’s Swinging Shepherd Blues on a TV commercial. She heard those cool sounds and her love affair began.
MJ sang in the church choir in elementary school in Aurora, Ontario. The nuns at Our Lady of Grace always picked her and one other girl to solo. They had good voices and could stay in tune. High School in her small town only offered a R.O.T.C. marching band and no other music program so she passed on that. She did go through a few years of painful piano lessons. At university, the folk years saw MJ purchase and take lessons on a guitar. She sang Joni Mitchell tunes to her roommates.
After university, music performance was left behind for many years, until she met the love of her life, John, a professional jazz musician. While watching a showcase performance that he was involved in, a vocal workshop put on by Viviane Martin one evening, she saw amateur singers get up on stage and sing the standard they had practiced. She thought, “I could do that”. Her sister, Chris, purchased the workshop package for her next birthday as a surprise - and as a dare. MJ fell in love with the whole thing. She studied with Viviane for several years after this and owes a debt of gratitude to her for her support and encouragement to continue.
She studied with Cheryl Fisher for several years on a semi regular basis and made great strides due to Cheryl's input. Studies with many international vocalists followed and have included workshops and private lessons with Jay Clayton, Nancy King, Roberta Gambarini, Mary Stallings, Rene Marie, Cyrille Aimee and Dena DeRose among others.
Over the years, she has developed a large repertoire that contains swing, Latin, blues, show tunes, cabaret standards and torch songs. Her special interest is uncovering the overlooked songs from the backfiles, B-sides, but nonetheless great - songs unsung!
Calgary performance venues have included Lolita’s, Cucina 500, the Main Dish, the Palliser Hotel, Niko’s, Dickens Pub, Ironwood Stage & Grill, and the former Piq Niq. She also has appeared at the Sylvan Lake Jazz Festival. As well as performing intimately in small group and duo formats, she also sings regularly with the 18 piece Wednesday Night Big Band.
Since retiring from her wonderful career as a primary elementary school teacher several years ago, she has found more time for music and has completed an album of some of her favourite - mostly B-side tunes that feature "worldly" ballads, with an attempt to balance those somewhat sad songs with lighter happier fare.