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Tina Marsh

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Tina Marsh Obituary
Tina Marsh — bandleader, vocalist, composer, dreamer, founder of the Creative Opportunity Orchestra — was the creative beacon of the Austin jazz scene for the past 30 years. Her music and her life were defined by the breadth of her artistic curiosity and depth of her compassion. "Creativity poured out of her like the scent of honeysuckle. It came naturally," said Val Marsh, Tina's younger sister, during the last days of the singer's life. "She pushed the envelope, pushed us all to see the beauty around us, to experience the moment in a way that is deep and knowing and peaceful." Marsh died of cancer Tuesday at her Austin home, where she spent her last days surrounded by family and friends, collaborators and admirers, whose lives were touched by her fanciful spirit as well as the themes of peace and possibility, humanity and transcendence, expressed through her art. She was 55. As the leader of the Creative Opportunity Orchestra, Marsh was the champion of eclectic big-band jazz that often ventured into the avant-garde. The band's most acclaimed recordings — such as "Migration" or "The Heaven Line" — were nowhere close to commercial successes. But what set the orchestra apart was its sense of daring, the social and spiritual undercurrents, and an emphasis on community. Marsh's creative interests were not confined to the Creative Opportunity Orchestra, however. She created, arranged and performed music for the choreographer Sally Jacques; recorded an intimate solo album of arias, ballads and standards; and staged an eclectic annual jazz series. She also conceived a popular multidenominational holiday program of music and culture called "Circle of Light" — which has been performed in Austin schools for more than 10 years and involves dozens of Austin musicians. As she demonstrated in her treatment of a song such as Ornette Coleman's "Lonely Woman," Marsh was in equal measure a "vocalist" and "singer." She could scat, but her wordless vocal lines were more sophisticated than that. Marsh used her voice as an instrument to convey literal effects — the coo of birds, the flutter of wings — and in other contexts approximate the figurative: turbulence, vastness or longing. Marsh was born in Annapolis, Md., and raised in a military family. After seeking her fortune in New York, Marsh "discovered" the beauty of jazz following her move to Austin in the late 1970s and never turned her gaze from it again. She is survived by her mother, Dorothy Marsh; her sister, Val Marsh; and two sons, Clay and Zeke Zimmerman. "I'm no expert," Val Marsh said. "But when I sing and reach a pure note, I feel as close to God as I can get. And I know Tina was doing that all the time. It was like her constant prayer or chant or meditation. But beyond that, she had the genius and capacity to carry an audience with her."
Published in Austin American-Statesman from June 16 to June 29, 2009
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