By Kevin Ransom
AnnArbor.com Freelance Journalist
You might say that Marlena Studer is a bit of a Renaissance woman.
She's certainly versatile and multi-talented. She has a PhD in sociology, she worked as a sociology professor for 10 years at Tulane University in New Orleans, she’s a wine importer / entrepreneur, and she runs a non-profit group.
Oh, and, she’s also a talented, expressive, seductive jazz singer who’s worked with some of the top jazz musicians in the Ann Arbor / Detroit area since returning here in 2001. (After leaving New Orleans in ’99, she also worked as a professor at American University before coming back to Ann Arbor—she did a previous stint here when she earned her PhD from the University of Michigan in the late 1980s.)
Studer has released three outstanding albums since returning to Ann Arbor and deciding she wanted to devote more of her time to making music.
One of those, the very appealing “A Jazzy Little Christmas,” is released this month, and to celebrate, she and some of the area’s top players will perform at Kerrytown Concert House on Sunday. The show is also a CD release party, and copies of the disc will be for sale at the gig, where she’ll be backed by George Benson on saxophone, Cliff Monear on piano, Paul Keller on bass and Scott Kretzer on drums.
A silent auction will also be held at the concert, with proceeds going to the Michigan Ovarian Cancer Alliance.
Studer’s two previous albums were the equally stellar "Crazy He Calls Me" in 2004, and "Sip It Slowly" in 2006. Studer says that, “by popular request, I'll probably also do some other jazz tunes” in addition to Christmas songs.
Prior to returning to to Ann Arbor, Studer had performed with the Jubilation big band and the Jazz Barristers quartet, both in Washington. Before that, her public performing was mostly in church choirs, a capella choirs, and some musical theater.
But it was while she was living in New Orleans that she “really got bit by the jazz bug,” she says.
“That’s when I really began to listen to jazz, and feel what jazz has to offer, which is more of an improvisational dialogue between the singer and the musicians. I discovered how it had a whole different feel, compared to singing classical pieces in choirs—it allows for music to come out in unstructured way, and gives you an opportunity to create the music on the spot, and to make music based its feel and emotion.”
When Studer came back to Ann Arbor in ‘01, it was because her then-husband had been offered a job at the University of Michigan. But she got divorced in 2005, and by then, she had been off of the academic “tenure track” for several years.
So, she pondered what direction to go in, and eventually decided to start her wine business, and created a label, Solterra, which imports wines from Chile and distributes them in Michigan and various other states.