Wednesday, December 02, 2009

Behind the Mic With Mary Talbot Fee

Photos by Rick Gould

It's never too late to pursue your dreams. Just ask Mary Talbot Fee who released her debut CD, Midwinter's Night Dream earlier this year. After a few career changes and raising a son, she transformed herself into a jazz chanteuse and is set to step out onto the San Diego music scene.

Chica Lit: Tell me about yourself and your background.

Mary Fee: I'm a late bloomer. I've had other careers but I've always been infatuated with music. My mother was an opera singer and musical comedy soloist in church for 25 years. She did a show at Carnegie Hall. I felt I had her voice but I wasn't comfortable expressing myself.

Chica Lit: So was there "a moment" when you decided you were going to go for it?

Mary Fee: It was a five-year long moment! My mother got Alzheimer's and she died last June. If you hear the whole album, there's a song called, Angela and that was her name. I wanted to do a song in her honor so my arranger and producer had heard of the song. I sang it in Portuguese to represent the change in communication that happens when you're communicating with someone who has Alzheimer's. She'd lose her train of thought, words and then her voice for last six months of her life. The translation [of the song] was very appropriate ... so beautiful but different.

My mother has always overshadowed me. She was a very powerful person; I'm a little bit more reserved by nature. I sensed she didn't want competition. When I was little, she'd be playing her songs and I'd learn them faster than she did and she would say, "Hey! How did you learn that?" It was funny.

My relationship with her changed as I cared for her. I think maybe I learned more of who I am as a separate individual and was able to love her in a new way. When you have a successful, powerful person in your life, it is inspiring and [it can] make you kind of intimidated!

Chica Lit: How did you start on the path of recording your first CD?

Mary Fee: It was very serendipitous. I went through vocal coaches who were less than what I'd hoped for but then a friend of mine gave me the name of Amber Whitlock. I took lessons from her for awhile and her husband, Rob had a label, Sketchin' Records. She asked me if I wanted to record and I said yes and yes and yes!

Rob is the arranger of the album and the process took about a year from conceptualization to final product. Recording took six months followed by the engineering and mixing and making of the actual CD.

Chica Lit: Take me into the recording studio. What is it like? What happens in there?!?

Mary Fee: Some people record live and some people record in a club setting and they're done. Most people who really want a high quality album lay down rhythm tracks first, then bass, drums, guitars and piano ... that takes a little while.

Chica Lit: For writers, the first part of our journey is "finding our voice." Is it the same for singers?

Mary Fee: Yes! It's important to find your own voice. I went through years trying to emulate Sarah Vaughan, Ella Fitzgerald and Billie Holiday. It's important to learn their process and then let it settle and find what it is that you want to express.

I was developing in this style [even though] I'd done jazz for a long, long time. Amber changed my sound a little bit. I had done choir singing and lots of jazz and I tried to push it. [Amber] said my voice was more intimate and so she pulled me back. I was learning how to sing right into someone's ear.

Chica Lit: It seems that our popular culture celebrates the child star even though girls like Britney Spears and Lindsay Lohan don't always fare well as adults! Do you think that life experience has helped you in this endeavor?

Mary Fee: Absolutely. For one thing, I have a son who's 18. But I'm not going to be focusing on settling down. Having had a number of different careers, I think I have the advantage of really seeing the world.

Child prodigies are fascinating but I hope to be an inspiration to people who were like me, a little shy about expressing their art. Maybe they will try and not feel that because they're over a certain age that life is over.

A lot of these kinds of measurements of time began when people didn't live as long. I feel sad for woman who have babies and then they think now what? You have tons of time left after you raise your children. Think about how long it takes to learn when a person starts to study music at 10. They have it down pretty well by the time they're 18. That’s only eight years so if you start at 40 and begin at 48, you have 20 years of really good time and much more.

I think we need to reevaluate time and be more generous with how we feel about people and what they're doing.

From now till December 31st, purchase Mary Talbot Fee's new CD, Midwinter Night's Dream for $12.99 at