Marya Lawrence was born into a talented family of musicians, and from her first day on the planet was surrounded by music. Her father, saxophone legend the late Arnie Lawrence, would bring Marya to his gigs, where she heard and absorbed the best musicians in New York. She was soaking up the sounds like a sponge and learning jazz vernacular straight from the source. Her first public performance was at “Jazz Vespers” at St. Peter’s Church in New York City, “The Jazz Church,” an institution within the international jazz community. “I was dancing modern ballet all over the church while my Dad played,” says Marya. “I think I was six. Soon after, I started singing. And I knew that was all that I wanted to do.”
Marya (rhymes with aria) focused on music while in elementary school, playing flute in the band, and was the featured vocal soloist throughout school. She was recognized at a young age for her remarkable ear. Her strong improvisational chops began to develop naturally. “I sat in with Dad at any gig he thought was loose enough for a kid to do her thing. Mostly I would scat. The first standard I learned was ‘Summertime.’ Dad wrote the words on a napkin and pushed me onstage when I was ten.” Marya began composing at around that time. One of her earliest compositions, “Candles,” was composed when she was eleven, and appears in a fully realized version on her debut recording, “All the Way Back.” In high school, she sang in chorus, as well as with the jazz band and played percussion in the orchestra. She continued to perform at St. Peter’s and around New York, an experience which often placed her onstage with premier jazz artists, like Clark Terry, Dizzy Gillespie, Jimmy Cobb, Kirk Nurock and Bob Dorough.
Marya studied at The New School for Jazz and Contemporary Music, (of which her father is creator and co-founder). Clearly not limited to any particular genre of music, she’s played percussion for the Williamsburg Virginia Symphony Orchestra, when her father composed a jazz symphony featuring Dizzy Gillespie. Marya has also performed with Arnie’s quartet and with Arnie Lawrence and the International Co-Elation. She has recorded with legendary drummers Winston Grennan, Chico Hamilton, and Leon Parker. Marya honed her craft under the watchful eyes of legendary vocalists Jon Hendricks, Sheila Jordan, Jay Clayton, Gail Wynters, and Marion Cowings. She has performed onstage with John Popper, Levon Helm, Joan Osborne, Warren Hanes, Bernard Purdy, Rashid Ali, the members of Spin Doctors, Catherine Russell, Doug E Fresh, and many others.
She was selected to attend the prestigious Thelonious Monk Institute on a full scholarship and recently won first place in The 2017 First Annual Jazz Forum Jazz Vocalist competition. Marya performed in concert with the legendary Bob Dorough with “Schoolhouse Rock — Live,” assuming the role of the iconic Blossom Dearie, and has performed for more than 20 years with vocal hip-hop improvisational groups like Beatboxer Entertainment, Nu Voices, and Urban Acapella. Marya is a former member and soloist with reggae artist Winston Grennan’s Ska Rocks Band. She performs regularly with her Grammy award-winning saxophonist/flutist brother, Erik Lawrence, with Steven Bernstein’s Millennial Territory Orchestra, The Istanbul Orchestra, and is a featured vocalist in Billy Harper’s Voices. She has led her own jazz bands; an all-female band called Bitches Brew, and her innovative jazz groups, Metamorphosis, Treasure Island, and The Pursuit of Happiness. Currently, Marya Lawrence sings with several musical ventures, including jingles. She is the founder and ambassador of The Universal Co-Elation for Music.