Maria Howell is a real working musician with range

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Maria Howell (Photo by April Freidline)

Everyone sounds great in the shower, but being a working musician is different. There is the perfecting of a craft, with all the fine details of diction, theory, timing and leading a group. You have to know your favorite key for each song, you have to keep the rhythms and shapes, and you have to be able to accommodate a crowd – whether it’s a few tens or a few thousand. In other words, most singers just sing; only a few singers are musicians. Maria Howell is a musician, and many of Charlotte’s best musicians are ready to attest to that.

“Maria is an incredible musical conversation partner,” says pianist Noel Freidline, Howell’s most frequent collaborator. The two have released several albums together and even co-host a website so fans can find where they’ll be performing together next. “She is naturally gifted and she works hard at her craft. And beyond that, she’s a wonderful human – as genuine and graceful off the stage as she is on this one.

Veteran saxophonist and conductor Ziad Rabie also loves working with Howell.

“She’s a real professional,” he says. “She makes a performance easy for everyone. Maria is an incredible singer, and she is also a great artist.

For this reason, Rabie and his band – including Freidline, Ron Brendle on bass and Alfred Sergel IV on drums – were delighted that Howell would join them for the reopening of the Jazz at the Bechtler series on September 10. This popular series is still selling, and the group will surely be ready to go wild after a long time apart.

Originally from Gastonia, Maria Howell has taken her profession seriously since singing in church and with choirs in her youth. The energy of a congregation that called her back as she sang a solo in church opened up the musical world to her. She thought she wanted to sing professionally, but the routes of traditional music schools did not present themselves. She received a medical degree from college, but continued to surpass herself musically.

His former high school choir teacher testified to this in the middle of one of Howell’s Bechtler concerts a few years ago.

“She got up after I recognized her from the stage,” Howell recalls. “She told the crowd that she remembered me saying, ‘I want to sing every note better than the last note.’ And it’s true. I am my own challenge. I am my own standard. And I always push myself.

Howell also played a good role, appearing in numerous TV shows and feature films. Her career started when she landed a role in the film The color purple, and continued from there, recently including a role in Hidden numbers. She’s also done animation, video games, voiceovers, and karaoke tracks – almost anything a talented voice like hers could be used for.

At every opportunity, she uses her art to tell a story like only Maria Howell can. You can see his versatility in one of his multiple upcoming performances in Charlotte.

During an August engagement at the Middle C Jazz Club, where she and Freidline are regular performers, the duo and their group will tackle Chicago’s horn-infused rock catalog.

“I consider myself to be a stylist,” Howell says. “I can work in any genre. I want to be able to tell a story and do it in a way that has integrity, class and style.

She is also due to perform at the newly reconstructed Memorial Stadium for a to come Tosco Music Party, a local mash-up of acoustic performances that serves as a blend of MTV Unplugged and Charlotte’s version of the Governor’s Ball. The stadium concert will be part of the popular Charlotte SHOUT festival, which will take place in Uptown at the end of September.

At Bechtler and other jazz-friendly venues, she’ll float to the top of her rhythm section while scattering a bebop line, then shoot tears with an old torchlight song, then dig deep into blues lore. Along the way, you will see and hear the influence of Nancy Wilson and Sarah Vaughan.

Howell knows the tradition deeply. She’s been a professional long enough, however, that she now influences others.

Forced to choose a gender preference, Howell reverts to The Great American Songbook, a collection of songs from the best and most influential composers of the first half of the 20th century.

“These songs cause wonder,” she said. “They don’t tell you everything. They invite you to imagine sets with the songwriter and the performer.

For someone willing to tell a story through all the little details of their craft, they are the perfect vehicle. She’s sure to have the right songs chosen when she and her fellow musicians perform on stages around Charlotte and beyond in the months to come.

For Howell’s music and performance schedule, visit his website.




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