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This article by Richard J. Skelly was prepared for the April 6,
2005 issue of U.S. 1 Newspaper. All rights reserved.
Pushing the Limits of Jazz
‘With this album, I think I was responding to my own musical interests
and curiosities," vocalist Kate McGarry says. "Of course, one hopes
the jazz audience is going to follow you, and I think they will, if
you’re presenting the material in the right way. When I’m taking a
contemporary song, it becomes a vehicle for improvisation and
interaction with your group, so you can move the genre and change it."
McGarry takes a decidedly eclectic approach to jazz vocals on her new
album, "Mercy Streets," for the New York-based Palmetto Records label.
She interprets, with startlingly fresh arrangements, songs by Joni
Mitchell, Peter Gabriel, Brazilian composer Toninho Horta, even
Icelandic pop singer Bjork and Great American Songbook standards. She
performs on Friday, April 8, at the Mount-Burke Theater at the Peddie
McGarry, one of 10 children (she is number six), was raised on Cape
Cod. She was first bit by the jazz bug in high school, when she
started singing, at the encouragement of her music teacher. "In high
school, I was taking piano and organ lessons, and I had a teacher who
gave me a Bill Evans record and an Ella Fitzgerald record," she says,
adding she doesn’t perform publicly on piano, but instead uses the
instrument as an aid to her own composing. While just two of her own
compositions are on "Mercy Streets," an earlier release, "Show Me,"
includes more of her originals.
Her father worked for New England Bell and her mother was a registered
nurse, "but to have all the kids she kind of stopped doing that for a
while," McGarry says in a phone interview from her home in Tarrytown,
New York. "Out on Cape Cod, we were our own town in a way. We played
together, sang music together, had different bands and made Super 8
movies together. All of my brothers and sisters were musically
inclined, and there were family jam sessions. Before TV, this was how
people would entertain themselves, and my parents loved the Mills
Brothers and other vocal groups. Both my parents were great singers
with wonderful voices, and they really considered music to be the
people’s entertainment – the notion that music belonged to everybody,
not just the stars or people who were already famous."
"When I was a junior in high school and checking out colleges, I feel
that jazz definitely chose me at that point in time," she says. While
majoring in African-American music and jazz at the University of
Massachusetts at Amherst, McGarry immersed herself in the recordings
of the classic jazz vocalists: Jon Hendricks, Sarah Vaughan, Ella
Fitzgerald, and Carmen McRae. "Sarah and Ella and Carmen, they’re
really the ones who defined jazz vocals for women," she says. "Their
influence still stays with me."
After graduating from U-Mass/Amherst in 1985, McGarry moved to Boston,
then to Los Angeles for a few years, where she secured gigs leading
her own bands at prestigious clubs, including the Jazz Bakery,
Catalina’s and the Vine Street Bar and Grille.
While in Los Angeles she also worked with Kenny Loggins, vocalist
Bobby McFerrin, trumpeter Clark Terry, and pianist Hank Jones. She
wrote or performed songs for the films "Caught" and "Boiling Point,"
and also appeared on-screen.
In 1996 McGarry moved back east to upstate New York and lived for a
while at a non-profit ashram, where she taught music courses. She
moved to New York City in 1999 and married to guitarist Keith Ganz a
few years ago. Ganz plays and arranges several tunes on "Mercy
Streets." Recently the couple settled in Tarrytown.
On "Mercy Streets" McGarry offers up creative takes on Joni Mitchell’s
"Chelsea Morning," Irving Berlin’s "How Deep Is The Ocean," Peter
Gabriel’s "Mercy Street," and the jazz classic, "Do You Know What It
Means To Miss New Orleans," a tune made famous in recent years by
actor/singer Harry Connick Jr.
At the Mount-Burke Theater concert at the Peddie School, and at her
official album release party at Joe’s Pub in New York City on April
15, McGarry will be accompanied by her husband on acoustic guitars,
Sean Smith on acoustic bass, and Stefan Schatz on drums. A
question-and-answer session will precede her performance at Peddie.
McGarry says: "It’s very intimate, the way we play together. We’re
playing some standards but with very unique arrangements. We’re also
playing some contemporary songs that are set in a more modern context.
We’re focused on the feeling of the song, that’s the most important
thing to me. The feeling of the song has to come through, and I like
getting that across to people and sharing it."
– Richard J. Skelly
Peddie School, Hightstown. $15. 609-490-7550. McGarry also performs
Friday, April 15, at Joe’s Pub, New York City; and Tuesday, May 17,
World Cafe, Philadelphia.
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