Musician Review: Meryl Romer

Swing with Soul

Vocalist Meryl Romer brings to classic jazz landscapes what Claude Monet brought to Impressionist Art, hues that tingle the sensations and images that are dreamy reflections of beauty. Her debut album, “So Sure” is an expression of her vocal register’s elasticity and ability to live in the mood of the songs as she conveys a repertoire of music that she enjoyed as a child, and transcribed into modern form. The song selection for her album revive a few jazz standards such as the ones that you grew up listening to like “Lady Is A Tramp,” “Big Spender,” and “Boulevard Of Dreams,” a few tracks that expand her vocal parameters like Bob Dylan’s “You’re A Big Boy Now” and Cassandra Wilson’s “Solomon Song,” and a few tunes that her friend and mentor, Casey Collins wrote for her like the title track, “I’ve Waited Long Enough,” “Right On Time” and the title track. Her delivery on the recording makes her sound like a seasoned professional, although it was not until 2002, at the age of 51, that Romer actively pursued becoming a solo singer.

Her earliest experiences with music came through the world of dance. She records on her website that while living in Brooklyn, New York, she was 11 years old when she remembers feeling inspired to dance and sing through the rooms of her family’s
apartment to the music from “77 Sunset Strip,” “Jelly Roll Blues” and “Lazy River.” Too shy to sing in public, she went on to study and immerse herself in the world of dance through her twenties, studying ballet, modern, jazz, African, and improvisation. After college she received her Master's Degree in Dance and Movement Therapy, and moved to Boulder, Colorado with her husband, Sheldon where she worked as a therapist and continues along line of work today.

Her move to Boulder in 1977 was sparked from an visceral connection with the outdoors as she reminisces, “Sheldon and I had traveled through the Canadian Rockies years before, and fell in love with them. We vowed to someday live in the
mountains, so when you put both scenarios together, it all seemed very romantic. I thought we’d stay a year and go home. Low and behold, we’re still here. I love the physical beauty of Boulder and find the lifestyle here very easy. I work hard at what
I do, but the lifestyle of Boulder has a sort of effortlessness and creativity about it.”

Boulder proved to be fertile territory not only for Romer to raise her family but also to foster her dream of singing and becoming a live performer. She acquired the courage to become a professional singer after suffering from a herniated disc which ensued into a chronic case of sciatica. How one situation led into the other, Romer explains, “I signed up for several months of non-surgical treatments to help my back pain. These treatments had me lying on a mechanical table daily while my spine was being elongated. I believe the time spent on the table, being out of my daily work routine, and the energy that was released in my spine from the treatments, caused a shift. I
began questioning what I had not yet attempted in my life of importance. What came up was to hike again, get a dog, girlfriends again… I had been raising my daughters for a long time, and to sing jazz. I began with joining a fun and really funky choir in Boulder, but soon realized I didn’t want to harmonize with anyone. I really wanted to sing on my own. At first, I was embarrassed to admit that, but it soon became clear. I knew I needed to find a teacher to help me develop skills. At 51, the desire to sing jazz became stronger than the fear of opening my mouth.”

Her vocal journey began in 2002 when she started working with vocal coach Randy Michaels, and continued on with jazz vocalist and coach, Marguerite Jueneman who performed with the local band Rare Silk. By January of 2003, Meryl embarked on an
intensive course of study and training with Casey Collins, a vocalist and coach, and his accompanist, Erik Deutsch, a music coach and jazz pianist, composer, arranger
and producer.

She tells, “I heard about a 7-week intensive performance workshop class with vocalist/vocal coach Casey Collins and his jazz pianist/ accompanist Erik Deutsch. I studied extensively with both of them from January 2003 until approximately 2007.
Casey helped me to develop skills needed to sing on pitch, expand my vocal range, use my instrument effectively, and most importantly, express meaning through the song.”

She remarks that “Erik taught me to read music, transpose charts, understand rhythm/tempo, listen and count. Within two years, I was accumulating the fundamentals needed to begin to have fun with this music. I worked with Erik and Casey weekly for 3-4 years. It became clear to me that beginning a sophisticated discipline later in life required working hard and moving quickly. My first solo concert was in April 2004 to a group of about 100 folks. This adventure of seeking out gigs in the community began after this concert. One might say I graduated from music high school.”

Romer articulates on her website‘s bio, "Singing gives me a chance to open to and play with aspects of life that are an expansion of my daily landscape. The songs offer me
an opportunity to explore a palette of characters, emotions, stories, rhythms and moods. It is through my voice that I experience the shapes, shadows and subtlety of
the movements that allow me to step out of daily routine."

She additionally muses, “We all do laundry, make breakfast, and show up for work on time; music is a source that allows us to sweeten and soften our relationship to each moment. The music is my avenue to give voice to the yearnings of my heart and soul."

After working intensively with Collins and Deutsch, it was her husband, Sheldon who began the wheels turning for her to record her first solo album, “So Sure,” which he took the role of executive producer for, as she unveils, “The initial idea to record
[So Sure] came from my husband, Sheldon. He had asked Casey Collins to write a few original songs for me.”

Collins penned three original songs, “I've Waited Long Enough,” “Right On Time,” and “So Sure” with composer, Eric Moon. As a trilogy, these songs chronicle the heartfelt path Romer has traveled in realizing her dream to becoming a singer. These songs tell the story of her journey to becoming a solo artist, starting with her childhood longing to sing in “I’ve Waited Long Enough” to embracing and realizing that vision in “Right On Time,” and then coming to completion with Romer's tribute to her enduring love for her husband in the title track.

She recalls, “When it was time to plan the recording, it seemed natural to ask Erik to record with me. We have worked on so many songs together and he really knows my voice/style so well. Erik is a masterful piano player as well as a brilliant accompanist for singers. His ability to allow feeling to come through his music, and his sensitivity to the singer is a pleasure. Erik was responsible for arranging several of the songs, particularly ‘Bluesette’ and ‘This Is Always,’ and also served as bandleader.”

Deutsch led a band of musicians that included guitarist Bill Kopper, bassist Jonti Siman, saxophonist/flutist Robert Kyle, and drummers Marc Dalio and Brian McRae. Romer describes about the recording on her website, "It was like stepping onto a
musical express train, one I'd always longed to board."

Romer covers several standards on the album that range from Toots Thielemans to Rodgers and Hart, and newer selections by Cassandra Wilson and Bob Dylan. She says about the recording “You‘re A Big Boy Now“ written by Bob Dylan, “I believe
my husband had asked me to look at this song. Erik began playing it years ago for me and I started singing. What began to emerge was our own take on this song. My interpretation was less about the bitterness of love lost than a lamenting plea of
‘Let’s not give up yet… I can make it through / Oh honey, you can make it too… what’s the sense of changing’ horses in mid-stream,‘” she extrapolates from the song.

She discerns, “I have often sensed that people are less willing to work on problems in relationships than ever before. Maybe it seems easier to just move on and change horses. I believe in doing the hard work that it usually takes to have a long-term
relationship. This has been my philosophy through my adult life, and so far, it’s working. When I sing this song, I ask my listeners to not give up on each other too quickly, but value what you have, and see if there is reality to make it work. At least
to be able to say you tried.”

Recording “So Sure“ caused several buried emotions to come to the surface for Romer. She admits, “I’ve often said that I have been singing these songs my whole life....I just never opened my mouth. I began whispering lyrics when I was 11 years old, and gathered the courage to begin to sing forty years later."

She professes in her bio, “The feelings these songs elicit from me conjure shapes and sounds that tell stories that resonate with my own. Songs are like trying on tailored dresses. Some are like jeweled gowns which tell my story and others allow me to embody imagined, dreamt of characters.”

Meryl Romer performed with her band at the Rock ‘n’ Soul Café in Boulder, Colorado on March 12,, 2009, and has been performing virtually nonstop since then. She shares, “Once the release performances are completed, I will be exploring options for touring. Would love to go to Europe and any part of this country or Canada seem enticing. I do have a sense though, that I will need to take this music beyond my home town.”

Meryl Romer is an artist whose expressive style of singing was made for live shows. Though she is relatively new to performing as a solo artist on stage, she seems well suited and instinctively prepared for the endeavor. She gives some credit for this to her upbringing in Brooklyn, New York. “Brooklyn is in my soul,“ she declares, “playing ball in the yards, riding the trains, experiencing a rich cultural community, apartment building dwelling, and Prospect Park, the Botanic Gardens are all part of my most vivid memories. Brooklyn’s New York City’s rhythm, tempo and sounds had a creative effect on me. When I go back, I feel at home as if I’d never left. I still enjoy visiting my favorite places… groceries, restaurants, friends, etc. Growing up in Brooklyn made me tough when it comes to making my way in the world. I learned to be comfortable with people of all cultural backgrounds and to communicate to get my needs met.”

http://www.merylromer.com

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Susan Frances