Born on June 23, 1977, in Mechanicsville, VA; son of Tom and June Mraz. Addresses: Record company--Elektra Records, 75 Rockefeller Plaza, New York, NY 10019, website: http://www.elektra.com. Website--Jason Mraz Official Website: http://www.jasonmraz.com.
Jason Mraz has only released two albums, yet he has a large and loyal following of fans who bought almost a million copies of his first record largely on the strength of word-of-mouth marketing. The singer-songwriter combines a smooth voice, meaningful lyrics, and a little hip-hop twist in his singing style. Although he got his start singing in coffeehouses, he has since performed at classical venues and on the PBS network, as well as in popular concert halls.
Mraz, whose name rhymes with "has" and means "frost" in Czechoslovakian, grew up in Mechanicsville, Virginia, the son of Tom Mraz, a local postal worker, and June Mraz. As a child, he heard a great deal of pop music, mostly on the oldies station his father listened to that played 1950s and 1960s soul and Motown. As he grew older he became interested in hip-hop and dance music. When he was in high school he was influenced by singer-songwriter Dave Mathews, and realized he could write songs that told stories, and then sing them. "Through Mathews, I started listening to jazz because suddenly there was a saxophone in my life," he told Fred Shuster in the Los Angeles Daily News. He added, "I really love writing lyrics. I love words and internal rhymes. I think of lyrics as a very rhythmic instrument and to twist a message around in there is fun. That's where I really get the most pleasure."
He starred in school musicals and got his first professional gig when he was 13, playing in a local R&B band called Dressed to Kill. The other members were all in their twenties; Mraz, whose voice had not yet changed, sang all the high parts. He recalled to Marisa Laudadio in People, "My hair was like Jordan Knight from New Kids on the Block, and I wore big shoulder pads in my jacket."
Gained Experience in New York
After graduating from high school, Mraz went to New York City to study musical theater at the American Musical and Dramatic Academy, but his plans changed when someone gave him a guitar. "I dropped out of school and spent my days in Central Park learning to play from whoever was out there," he told Rob Brunner in Entertainment Weekly.
After spending time in New York, Mraz moved to San Diego, where he played in coffeehouses and earned a weekly gig every Thursday night at Java Joe's, the same Ocean Beach coffeehouse that had hosted a young Jewel's early career. After he had sung there for six months, his performances were sold out for the next year and a half. "It got to the point where I was like, "Joe, can I live here?" he told Brunner. He slept in a booth in the back of the store, and spent his free time hanging out at the beach, playing pool, and drinking coffee.
Mraz's demo disc earned airplay on a San Diego radio station, and he was soon being courted by recording companies, signing with Elektra in 2002. The label's vice president of marketing and artist development, Dane Venable, recalled to Fred Shuster in the Los Angeles Daily News that the company held its first showcase for Mraz at the Mercury Lounge in New York City in 2002. "We thought there'd be 50 to 75 company people and that would be it. When we got to the club, the entire front of the stage was filled with college-age fans who knew every single word to every single song." The fans had learned of the performance through e-mail. Venable said this experience taught him how loyal Mraz's fan base was, and how effective word-of-mouth marketing was for him.
Mraz teamed up with Elektra producer John Alagia and released his first album, Waiting for My Rocket to Come, in October of 2003. Mraz backed up the album with relentless touring and an energetic live show. The album soon took off, largely due to his touring efforts and to one track, "The Remedy (I Won't Worry)," which became a top 40 single. He wrote the song after one of his close friends, Charlie Mingroni, was diagnosed with bone cancer. Mingroni told Mraz that he would live through it, and he did go into remission. Mraz later used the money he made from the song to pay the rent on an apartment in Los Angeles that he lent to Mingroni. Another song from that album, "You and I Both," also became a top radio song. By June of 2004, the album had sold almost 800,000 copies.
In the Palm Beach Post Christa Nieminen wrote, "Mraz has a pitch-perfect voice. His voice both soothes and smiles and nicely complements his laid-back guitar playing." In the Florida Times Nick Marino compared him to singer-songwriters John Mayer and Dave Mathews, but noted that "Mraz's twist is his percussive vocal phrasing. When he gets into a groove, his songs traffic between the coffee house rumblings of Ani DiFranco and the white-boy hip-hop of G. Love."
Mraz has continued to tour and promote his work to an exhausting degree. His father, Tom, observed to Rob Brunner of Entertainment Weekly, "He got into this business because he didn't want to have a day job. But now he's working night and day." On a visit to New York City, Mraz chatted with the cast of the show Rent, who were fans of his work. According to Brunner, Mraz asked them, "You guys do the same show every night. How do you re-create that passion?" He listened gratefully to their advice: "Some days it sucks and you just want to cry. But there are so many people who are watching it for the first time. Even though it's old to us, it's new to them. You have to honor that."
"Jason's Doing a Lot of Things Right"
Mraz's folky, easygoing style led him to cross over to unexpected venues and audiences, and in the summer of 2004 he took off on a solo acoustic tour, along with blind guitarist Raul Midon and Hawaiian slack-key guitarist Makana. He was the first pop artist to perform at Disney Hall, a classical music venue in Los Angeles. Shuster commented, "Mraz's tuneful, syncopated delivery and slyly autobiographical songs fit the bill." For the event Mraz performed without his band, using just a singer and his guitar. He told Shuster, "I'll have the freedom to tell stories and talk to the audience. It'll be a complete change of pace."
Gary Bongiovanni, editor of the music industry publication Pollstar, told Shuster, "Jason's doing a lot of things right. He developed organically before radio started playing him so he wasn't rammed down everyone's throats." For his second album Mraz took the bold step of releasing a recording of a live performance. Tonight---Not Again: Jazon Mraz Live at the Eagle Ballroom was recorded at a show in October of 2003 at a Milwaukee, Wisconsin, venue, with guest appearances by Blues Traveler frontman John Popper. The CD came with a DVD showing interviews and backstage action, as well as the concert itself. Mraz told Gary Graff of the Cleveland, Ohio, Plain Dealer, "I'm really proud of it. It was probably one of the most nerve-wracking nights on the tour; we tried to make it just like any other normal day, but it wasn't, with the audience all lit up and the cameras coming from all angles. We were all sweating and nervous, but it came out great. It's a great representation of what we did last year and earlier this year."
Mraz is notably modest and low-key, and has not adopted a big-star persona. While on tour, Mraz brings a stuffed animal named Foster along for good luck. Foster, a chicken, was tossed up onto the stage during a concert, and Mraz noticed that he looked almost exactly like "Binky," his childhood security toy. "I honestly believe Foster is a reincarnation of Binky," Mraz told Laudadio. He told Doreen Arriaga in Teen People, "My dad told me it's important to love what you do. I feel like my wish is granted." Of his chance to live a wild, rock-star life, he said he wasn't interested: "My dream is to live in a house by the sea with a cat."
by Kelly Winters
Jason Mraz's Career
Began singing as a young teen in a local band, Dressed to Kill; sang on the street in New York City; earned permanent gig at Java Joe's coffeehouse in San Diego, California; signed with Elektra Records, 2002; released debut album, Waiting for My Rocket to Come, 2003; released Tonight, Not Again---Jason Mraz Live at the Eagles Ballroom, 2004.
- Selected discography
- Waiting for My Rocket to Come Elektra, 2003.
- Tonight, Not Again---Jason Mraz Live at the Eagles Ballroom Elektra, 2004.
- Daily News (Los Angeles, CA), June 15, 2004, p. U4.
- Entertainment Weekly, April 25, 2003, p. 150; July 18, 2003, p. 42; August 20, 2004, p. 123.
- Florida Times Union, June 13, 2003, p. We-13; November 28, 2003, p. WE-15.
- Palm Beach Post, June 13, 2003, p. 27.
- People, August 25, 2003, p. 40.
- Plain Dealer (Cleveland, OH), August 8, 2003, p. E4; May 24, 2004, p. D1.
- Sarasota Herald Tribune, May 28, 2004, p. 8.
- Seattle Times, November 7, 2003, p. H4; June 4, 2004, p. H4.
- Teen People, October 1, 2003, p. 70; February 1, 2004, p. 85.
- Washington Times, December 1, 2003, p. B05.
- Jason Mraz Official Website, http://www.jasonmraz.com/ (October 19, 2004).