At just 17 years old, Anaïs Reno has racked up a lifetime of achievements. The Ella Fitzgerald Scholar not only took home the 2016 Forte International Competition’s Platinum Award at Carnegie Hall and was presented the Julie Wilson Award in fall 2020 (among a host of other prizes) but also has released her own celebrated record, Lovesome Thing, which peaked at no. 6 on iTunes’ Top 40 U.S. Jazz Albums. In addition, Reno just had the honor of performing “America the Beautiful” at a September Yankees/Mets game to mark the 20th anniversary of 9/11. We caught up with the talented singer, composer, and performer to get a sense of what she has been up to and where she is headed.
My mom is a classically trained violinist and violin teacher, while my dad is a former opera singer. It’s safe to say that there was always music around the apartment, but I never felt forced into it. I started singing along to the Aladdin soundtrack when I was about 5 years old, which is when my parents started to notice my affinity for music. That developed over the years into jazz when my voice teacher suggested I sing Etta James’ “At Last” at 8 years old, which quickly bridged into standards. I remember feeling drawn to how complex the sounds were and how romantic the lyrics were. Of course, I didn’t understand at the time that the sophistication of jazz is what helps me understand myself as a person, but the attraction was always there.
That album is something I’m very thankful to have made, because it is simply me in a body of work. It’s things my subconscious has set to sound. The music of Duke Ellington and Billy Strayhorn is a songbook in particular that has aided me in understanding myself better.
I had been given the great honor of being a part of a video with NYC Next that celebrated New York City opening back up, through the song “New York State of Mind.” Lorraine Hamilton, who works over at CitiField, was shown the video by Maryam Banikarim, from NYC Next, and offered the opportunity. I don’t know in what world anyone would have ever said no to something like that. I hadn’t even dreamt of it, due to it seeming light years away in possibility.
I remember I was a little nervous in the green room because of technical reasons: I had some gunk in my throat, and my resonance wasn’t great that day. I thought that walking through the crowd to get to the field would make me nervous. However, seeing those tens of thousands of people calmed me down. My throat cleared up; my voice flowed easy, and I wasn’t emotionally shutdown anymore. That realization reconfirmed something I’ve known for a long time, which is that performing is where I can be free. It was one of the most liberating experiences I’ve had in my life.
Right now, I’m focused on my studies and the gigs I have outside of class. I’m trying to not only get better at certain aspects of jazz singing but also actually understand why the music is constructed and felt the way it is. I have several ideas for new albums; none of them are set in stone as the choice for the second one, but I definitely won’t wait too long… recording is too much fun.