It’s not like she’s going totally Gaga—at last count Stefani Joanne Angelina Germanotta had 22,400,000 followers on Instagram—but Maya Rae is not doing badly for a high-school student in out-of-the-way Vancouver.
Rae’s got 1,191 devotees on the popular social-media site, plus 2,345 Facebook friends, and that’s without trying particularly hard. For this unfathomably grounded 14-year-old, there’s little to love about trawling for likes.
Far more important, she contends, is finding an original voice as a singer and musician—and having something to say with it.
Now, we’re not going to argue that Rae’s debut, Sapphire Birds, is going to change the world. It isn’t going to be a source of timeless tunes, as was Thelonious Monk’s Genius of Modern Music, or a genre-defining mission statement like Ornette Coleman’s Something Else!!!!. But if you didn’t read the liner notes, you’d never guess that this artist is still two years away from slapping an L on the back of her parents’ car.
Backed by an A-list cast of Vancouver jazz musicians, Rae sounds every bit as mature as they are—although kicking off her record with a cover of Meghan Trainor’s “Close Your Eyes” hints that she doesn’t necessarily spend every waking hour listening to vintage swing.
Even more promising is that while Rae already has an impressive grasp of the jazz form, she’s determined to make this classic style speak to kids her own age, both by covering pop hits and by writing songs that express the everyday concerns of Generation Selfie. Here, that would be “So Caught Up”, a cautionary tale inspired by a recent switch in schools and the social anxiety that came with it.
“We’re kind of growing up in the social-media world, and that’s a big thing for people my age,” Rae explains in a telephone interview from her Vancouver home. “They really care about how many likes they get on Instagram, how many comments and so on, and it’s hard to see that happening at my school, right in front of me with my friends. So that’s why I wrote that song about being ‘so caught up’ in social media, and not focusing on the present and on loving who you are. Those are the kind of songs that I like to sing.”
Rae’s other lyrical contribution to Sapphire Birds is the title track. She was nine when she wrote it.
“I have a very musical family,” says the singer, pianist, and aspiring upright bass player. “I’ve always loved music, of course. And I love all genres, but jazz really intrigues me, and it’s such a broad genre—you can do so many things with it.”
A jazz-festival gig with a school choir put her in touch with Coastal Jazz and Blues Society booker and saxophonist Cory Weeds, who played on and coproduced Sapphire Birds, which he also released on his Cellar Live record label.
Rae counts Weeds, pianist Miles Black, and her bass teacher, Jodi Proznick, as important mentors; the first two will join the singer for her upcoming CD–release concert, with bassist André Lachance, drummer Joel Fountain, and trumpeter Vince Mai rounding out the band.
Rae will no doubt enjoy the attention—both on-stage and online—that Sapphire Birds is going to bring her, but she’s still going to work her passion for social justice into its celebratory gala. Past performances have raised money for Nepalese earthquake victims, Syrian refugees, and an antibullying campaign; this time around, she’s putting her art into supporting an initiative that, again, targets her generation.
“All the proceeds from my CD release—ticket sales and album sales—are going to Covenant House, an organization that supports homeless youth and troubled youth in Vancouver,” she says. “So I’m really excited about that. It’s a very important cause.”
Maya Rae hosts a CD–release party for Sapphire Birds at Frankie’s Jazz Club on Thursday (February 23).