René Marie

Who She Is:  A self-taught singer from Virginia who didn’t start singing professionally until she was in her forties. Her latest effort, Live at Jazz 

Her Sound: Cassandra Wilson after three cups of espresso.

Why We Like Her: Because she’s got moxie. “There are three things Black folks in the South hate: the word nigger, the rebel flag and the song ‘Dixie,’ ” says Marie, who turned 48 last month. On her 2001 release, Vertigo, she bravely set the nostalgia of “Dixie” against the weight of “Strange Fruit” in a powerful medley that reveals her unique perspective.
Leela James

Who She Is: A 26-year-old from Los Angeles who began singing professionally when a teacher, who was also a producer, heard her singing in class and sent her into the studio.

Her Sound: A throaty alto with a nostalgic soul sound.

Why We Like Her: A Change Is Gonna Come, James’s debut CD set to be released early next year, has that old-school feeling that makes you reminisce without feeling old.

Jason Moran

Who He Is: A 28-year-old jazz pianist who grew up in Houston, Texas, where he founded his first jazz quartet at age 16.

His Sound: Thelonius Monk meets Radiohead.

Why We Like Him: Moran sees beyond the rigid rules of jazz, building songs around sampled phone calls (in Turkish, no less) and doing a piano version of Afrika Bambaataa’s “Planet Rock” on his latest release, The Bandwagon. He wants to be Jay-Z for the jazz set. “I don’t wear Sean John or rap,” he says. “But I have that attitude.”