By Grace Galarraga
Feature Photo: Craig Allyn Photography
Sharon Marie Cline has been in the LA jazz game for about 18 years now, and she feels like she’s only getting better as time passes. Her relationship with jazz was sparked in college and has since blossomed into a stunning career. She has performed at several clubs within the Los Angeles area, including Catalina Jazz Club, a place that always intends to provide “Nothing But The Best In Jazz.” A once reserved, shy girl living in the suburbs of Jacksonville, Florida has taken LA by the hand and introduced it to her smooth, sensual songs and sultry voice.
Her new single, a remake of the Kenny Loggins song “Love Will Follow” is set to release on October 7th and can only be described as an “anthem of love.”
Besides being a magnificent talent, Sharon Marie Cline is poised, elegant and insightful. We had the pleasure of being able to speak with her about her life, both past and present. Here is our conversation:
Bronze Magazine: I understand that you grew up in Jacksonville, Florida before relocating to Los Angeles. Can you tell me a little bit about your life when you were growing up in Florida and how you became involved with music?
Sharon Marie Cline: The truth of that is I was actually born in Los Angeles, but I grew up in Florida- I came back home. It was a very suburban kind of lifestyle. I guess I was kind of shy, although I’m not sure if that’s the right word. I was not a person who expressed herself easily as a child, but my mom could see that there was a lot of emotion in me. So, she enrolled me in theater, community groups and things like that to help me find a way to express what was deep inside. That’s how I got involved in the arts. It seemed to be the key that opened the door for me to share my expression and in a safe space.
BM: Can you tell me one of your earliest and best memories of when you first got into the jazz and music industry?
SMC: I became interested in jazz while in college before I moved out here (Los Angeles) and maybe even before that. I grew up singing in opera companies, which is a rare thing for a little Black girl. Since I had such a serious musical background, I started vocal coaching quite early. I do like classical music, I have quite a large range. Opera is a marriage between theater and music, so I fell into the opera company early on and it helped to encourage my ability to perform. From my background in opera and then going to college and doing a lot of musical theater, my senior thesis was a nightclub act. There was a part of me that wasn’t a traditional opera singer, I would always add a little bit of blues. I started researching Billie Holiday, Sarah Vaughn, the composer Carmichael, and Duke Ellington.
It was a wonderful exploration to my last year of college preparing for my thesis, and it kind of opened me up to a whole new expression of music. So, for me, jazz became about marrying melody and harmony because you’re harmonizing with other instruments, you’re not just playing one note. It’s also about the emotion, because jazz for me is very emotional, very moody. It evokes things in a much deeper way than classical does. Classical music does its thing. Musical Theater does its thing, but there is a deep embodied emotionality that can be available to you in jazz. That’s kind of how I started leading into that direction for my thesis.
I started going to clubs when I moved down to Los Angeles after college. I started going to jam sessions and other people’s concerts where they allowed you to sit in, meaning you can come up and sing a song or two with the band. That was a huge door opening of networking for me. As I was trying to get gigs, I took really wonderful workshops and would meet all types of people. I like to call it my extra graduate school of music with my mentors like Sarah Vaughn and Diana Krall, Barbra Streisand and Tony Bennett. They’re amazing mentors. Tony has the best phrasing in the world. He could really communicate. Frank Sinatra had the best timing, I really learned to swing from listening to him.
BM: What’s the LA jazz scene like? What are some of your favorite spots to perform in? I know you’ve performed in several throughout LA.
SMC: I do love Catalina Jazz. It’s iconic- anyone who’s anyone has played there over the years, so it really means a lot when you walk through those doors and being able to feel the history when you’re in the dressing room. Anyone who’s working now as a jazz artist internationally, if they come through to California, they’re going to play Catalina. I just love being on that stage. The sound is amazing, the room is gorgeous and lush- it’s one of my favorite spots. Vibrato Jazz in Bel-air is probably one of the most beautiful rooms I’ve seen. Herb Albert owns that property and it’s gorgeous. There’s abstract art around you, there’s people dining as you perform. It’s like a high-end supper club from back in the day but modern.
There are a lot of little places to perform jazz in LA. The Baked Potato is another one. Feinstein’s in Studio City is another cool little spot. There are lots of new spots that are popping up. The art of the supper club is not as alive in LA anymore as it used to be. There was a time when jazz was everywhere and you could go to listening rooms, but now they’re like small spots, little holes in the walls where you can go and hear some great jazz. Lots of places closed during COVID, but they are starting to reopen and develop a following now. There’s a lot to discover.
BM: How long have you been performing jazz?
SMC: I’ve been working on jazz in LA for approximately 18 years.
BM: That’s incredible. How do you think things have changed since then? What are the differences?
SMC: Back in the day, there were so many opportunities figured out when it came to where you wanted to get your entertainment from. People were a little bit more focused on the fast, flashy, lights – and jazz really isn’t that. Jazz takes a certain amount of willingness to open yourself up and appreciate it and be drawn into a performance or a song or a show. So, I feel that it was harder, a lot harder. I feel like my audience is finding me easier now. The pandemic slowed everyone down and now people are open to different things and are discovering things that have been there forever. One of the obstacles for me in this industry was that I wasn’t a rock and roll girl, I’m a jazz girl. It was harder to find your audience but if you stick with it like I did, your audience eventually finds you. So that’s one of the major differences. People wanting you to bring a crowd instead of having a crowd that you perform for is something that’s a major challenge when you’re doing regular venues in this city. Because it’s LA and there’s so many people trying to do so many things, it relies on artists creating an audience, but it really should be the other way around.
BM: I know you perform with the Bad Boys of Jazz, which is amazing now by the way. What was it like finding people to collaborate with and who understand what you’re trying to do?
SMC: Well, I’ll let you in on a little secret. The Bad Boys of Jazz aren’t always the same people. The guys who I work with are all at the top of their craft. They’re either on the road with Chaka Khan or Barry Manilow or working on other projects with many people, so I have what I call a stable of Bad Boys. We’ll rotate out depending on who’s in town and who’s on tour. So the Bad Boys vary. What the main rule is for me is that you must be on the top of your game. Great musicians who listen because listening is extremely important in jazz. When you’re up on stage, you don’t just play what you have in your head, you must work together. So, they have to be willing to collaborate and listen to each other and that’s really important. What’s also just as important to me is that they have great hearts. Yeah, so those are my major requirements for Bad Boys, other than having to make me their queen…
BM: As they should, naturally. Can you tell me about a time in your jazz career that you’re most proud of?
SMC: I’ll tell you when I’m most proud is when I walk out on stage and I hit every mark, which is a goal that I’ve set for myself. My goals are simple, but you’d be surprised at how hard it is to do. I’m most proud when I’m authentically myself, very present, listening to my band, feeling like I’m clearly communicating and, in my element, and having fun. I would say when I performed at Catalina jazz club for my last concert, which was my Summer of Love concert, that I was extremely proud of the level of musicianship, the amount of connection with the audience, the number of fans that I gained. There was just a whole new level of notoriety that came from that concert because we hit every mark together. We’re at the top of our game and I’m very proud of that. I feel like right now I’m in that stride. I’m at the best of my career so far, and I feel like it’s just beginning. I’ve been doing this for a long time, but now I feel like I’ve walked through a door, and something has just started.
BM: What’s in store in the future for you? Or on the new single?
SMC: I have a new single coming out on different platforms on October 7th. It’s a little bit of a crossover for me. I’m a jazz artist, but I’m a soulful jazz artist. It has more of a soulful, smooth, jazzy, R&B feel to it. It’s a remake of a Kenny Loggins song called “Love Will Follow,” and I’m really proud of it. It’s sexy and sensual, it’s an anthem of love that kind of marries my philosophy on life. I have a short form podcast called Navigating the Heart where I share little nuggets of wisdom or encouragement to lead your life from your own inspiration and authentic desires. I feel like that’s the only way to live. My tagline for my podcast is “Navigate with your heart and love will follow.” So, the song Love Will Follow that I’ve done a remake of, I’ve totally rearranged it, it’s like my own anthem of love. That’s coming out October 7, so I’m really excited for that.
BM: Is there anything else on the horizon?
SMC: Right now, I’m going to be in the process of releasing new singles every couple of months. It will ultimately be put into an anthology, or we might halfway through pick an album date and add those singles to the album and then add five more. We haven’t fully figured out that cut off point yet but right now, this will be the first single and every couple of months you’re going to get another one. That’s the plan right now.
BM: Is there anything you do to get ready before you get on stage and perform?
SMC: I always need to have private time. I meditate every day anyway but I try to do separate meditations, one visualizing the gig, one the day before the show, and one on the day of the show. Even if I have a makeup artist and a soundcheck person and all these things going on, I need to have 10 to 20 minutes by myself. I do deep breathing, which helps to ground me and makes me feel present. I also make it my business to be light during the day, no matter what happens I condition myself to think that all things are in divine right order. I keep my mind set only on the fact that I love what I do. Before I walk on stage I’m just as nervous as anyone, but I decide that my nerves are my excitement.
BM: Did you always know you were destined to be working in music and being a musician?
SMC: It is something that I’ve always wanted to do. I’ve always wanted to be an artist. I approach my life like an artist, even if I’m a receptionist or coaching someone, I do it from an artistic standpoint. To answer your question, I’ve always known that this was my way of sharing my light, through music or performing. Did I always feel like I would be successful in it, or that people would want to listen to me? No, but that’s the journey of someone with artistic nature. We have self-doubt. I’ve known that I’ve wanted it, I don’t know if I’ve always known that I could continue doing it. But time, my will and desire have proven to me that, yes, this is who I am, this is what I’m destined to do, and this is how I continue to express my light. I know it now. Whether I actually become Barbra Streisand or not it doesn’t matter, but this is what I’m meant to do.
BM: How do you get past the self-doubt?
SMC: That’s a good question. Sometimes with help, like through life coaches. Your will helps you get past it. Even if you have all the best coaches, if you don’t have whatever it is that’s inside you that tells you to keep going- you’re not going to get past it. The willingness to go through a failure and keep going helps you deal with self-doubt and then the reflection of those who love you, want the best for you, work with you to get you there, your teachers – that reflection is how you move past it. And with practice. The more you work at something the more confident you are in it.
Make sure to keep an eye out for any new work from Sharon Marie Cline through her social media and her website: http://sharonmariecline.com/