Death completely consumed Jenna Marotta after her father, brother, and dear friend passed away, one after the other.
“I lost my brother, Michael Bruzgis,” she said. “He passed away six months after my father and it was very hard to lose him.”
A few months later, she lost a close friend.
“He was the doorman at The Bitter End for many years,” she said. “When he passed in August of last year, I was very sad.”
Completely distraught, Weehawken resident Marotta harnessed her pain and channeled it into her music. She began recording a CD which she released this past May.
Marotta’s losses combined with the 9/11 anniversary served as inspiration for her song “Never Forget.” The pain and sorrow in her voice are easily identifiable on the track.
“They had a benefit for him and when I performed, it wasn’t quite finished yet,” she said. “Then four days later was 9/11 and everything on the news was ‘never forget’ and it came to me. It became about them. It became about the wives and the families that they lost on 9/11.”
A natural artist
Marotta’s passion for music and performance was always a constant in her life. From an early age, her mom put her in numerous activities including piano and dancing. She was a self-proclaimed natural.
“I excelled at all of them,” she said. “It was clear from the start that I was supposed to be something.”
Marotta just didn’t quite know what that “something” was yet though she knew she’d never give up until she figured it out. Marotta’s journey to self-discovery would be filled with setbacks, struggles and pain but she’d never allow any of it to deter her.
“I had won a scholarship for Future Teachers of America N.J. because I was going to become a teacher,” said Marotta. “When I started college, it was ‘do the safe thing’.”
“People have to find the path that’s right for them. Appreciate every blessing big and small and follow the path that was meant for you.” – Jenna Marotta
Marotta graduated from the University of Tampa in 2006 with a Bachelors Degree in Performing Arts. Before finally settling in Weehawken, Marotta lived in Chicago where she had a taste of fame.
A chance of a lifetime: The Apollo Theater
“I was doing my thing in Chicago and a good friend of mine brought me to this tour show at this casino in Indiana, and I got booed off faster than you could tell,” said Marotta. “A year later the tour show came out again and I went back (to audition) and I did it the right way. The Apollo is all about class and style. The Apollo has this rich history. When you go there it’s an honor and a privilege.”
Marotta was then chosen to participate on the national TV show Amateur Night on Showtime at the Apollo in New York City where she received a standing ovation for her cover of Gladys Knight’s ‘Neither One of Us’.
After that, she knew that this is where she needed to be make her dreams come true.
“When I flew up here to do the Apollo, my whole idea changed,” said Marotta. “My friends were like, ‘Come to Hoboken, you’ll love it’ and that’s what I did. I came and I did more for music than I had in 10 years and I was like ‘okay this is the place’.”
Born in Philadelphia and raised in Palmyra, N.J., Marotta quickly fell in love with Weehawken’s charm and proximity to the capital of the world. “[Palmyra] is a small town about 1.6 square miles and maybe 8,000 people, so it’s very similar to Weehawken if you just kinda make it a little bit grander, because it’s obviously [close to] New York,” she said.
“I think that’s why I wound up settling here in Hudson County, Weehawken, specifically, because it kinda just felt like home. I live half a block from the bus now,” she said. “Weehawken has an amazing school system so I wouldn’t mind raising my children there. I’d be happy to do that. It’s a really great town.”
The birth of ‘Gypsy’
“I started working in the city and it took me a long time before I could even play in front of people,” she said. “I only had four songs to start and I just kept at it and kept at it and that’s me in a nutshell. I haven’t quit yet and I’m not gonna.”
Marotta realized that she needed a full-length album in order to garner the success and recognition she always craved.
”It was about three years ago when I finally decided I needed an album,” she said. “This is a business for me. Yes, it’s my love, it’s my passion but you should do that as your business and every business has a product that they’re selling. I didn’t have a product.”
Marotta tried to get funded through a Kickstarter campaign but was not able to raise the $5,000 she budgeted for six to eight songs.
“With Kickstarter, if you don’t make the full amount in pledges they don’t give you anything,” she said. “I wasn’t successful in my campaign, and then a month later my father passed away. It was obvious to me that it wasn’t meant to be at that time.”
A year later, Marotta was ready to begin recording the songs she’d worked on during her time of healing and growth. “I wanted it to be as ready for radio and as good as it could get doing it on my own,” she said. “In three days we knocked out nine songs. I wanted guys that could nail it and that’s what they did. I tried to release it really fast that year but I didn’t have the money to do a CD and I did an online release.”
Marotta’s CD was released on May 31, and features “Never Forget” in addition to “Gypsy” and “Diesel Woman,” songs that represent her free spirit. Marotta’s sound is self-described as adult contemporary pop rock with noticeable similarities to Janis Joplin, Alanis Morissette and Lisa Loeb.
“It’s not for the teeny boppers,” said Marotta. “The themes of my songs are a little bit more mature. When you hit your 20s and 30s, people appreciate the fact that somebody else has already lived through some of what they’re living through.”
Marotta currently performs at Manhattan venues such as Gavin Degraw’s recently-closed bar National Underground, the West Village’s Caffe Vivaldi, and The Bitter End, her favorite venue.
“I’ve been performing at The Bitter End for about five years now,” she said. “It’s where all the greats got started. I go there and it’s my home. We’re like family there.”
Marotta’s ultimate goal is to get picked up by a major record label but she hopes it won’t compromise her musical integrity.
“I wouldn’t want to have it hinder me but I’d like to be part of a major record label,” she said. “I’d just like to have commercial music that deserves mass-marketing. I have the talent and product so I’d really like to get it out there; to be one of the big ones.”
Despite the adversity she’s faced, her faith has never faltered and she hopes her father would be proud of what she’s accomplished.
‘I’m very faithful’
“I found strength in prayer and faith,” she said. “My father was a very believing man. He loved God. I just looked to faith for guidance to make him proud. My father told me once ‘Don’t think about the bad memories. Just think about the good things’.”
When Marotta isn’t performing or writing music, she’s working as a real estate agent for Re/Max, which she feels comes quite naturally to her.
Marotta was recently scheduled to appear on Thursday, Aug. 21 at Rapture Lounge in Astoria, Queens, where she’ll be celebrating her birthday. She is on Twitter @jeanaeluv and her website is www.jennamarottamusic.com.
Marotta knows firsthand that self-reflection, perseverance and faith are key to making dreams a reality, and giving up is not an option.
“People have to find the path that’s right for them,” she said. “Be honest with yourself then go get it. Never give up. Appreciate every blessing big and small and follow the path that was meant for you.”