All the buzz I’ve heard about Kate McGarry was good. I knew her 2005 album, Mercy Street, was called “one of the most important vocal albums of the year” by All About Jazz. The Target was named one of the best jazz vocal albums of 2007 by Downbeat. Her 2008 album, If Less Is More, Nothing Is Everything, was nominated for a Grammy Award, with The Wall Street Journal calling it “an exceptionally appealing blend of folk and jazz.” And her brand new album, "Girl Talk" included a duet with one of my favorite male jazz singers, Kurt Elling. All good stuff. But I hadn’t heard her live and so... I really didn't know what to expect.
The evening went way beyond my expectations. I found myself entranced by the musical melding of these four talented musicians…for the entire performance. McGarry’s husband and partner, guitarist and co-arranger on many of the tunes, Keith Ganz was fascinating to watch as he mouthed the words to each song , almost in rapture…with the music? with Kate? with the overall experience? His playing was flawless... sensitive and nuanced. To the listener, Ganz’s extraordinary skill appears seamless, deceptively effortless.
Keith Ganz serenades Kate
Despite the fact that they chose not to include an upright bass player, Gary Versace’s B3 Hammond organ playing covered the low frequencies and his unique approach to the entire arrangement for each song was used brilliantly, contributing to the collective swing. And the drummer, Clarence Penn, never missed an opportunity to add something elegant, tasteful and swinging. He bounced off every intricate rhythmic twist McGarry threw at him without stepping on the space. Truly remarkable.
From the moment Kate and her band started playing, they never stopped smiling ear to ear. Their apparent love of their work, their passion for the music and their enjoyment playing together translated into intelligent and moving music, pure and sophisticated. You could feel and see them all anticipating each other's every nuanced improvisation and delighting in it.
McGarry’s skill in redefining and rearranging classic standards as well as her passionate delivery makes you believe in the song and puts a new spin on the lyrics of songs like "Girl Talk" (an homage to the female jazz musicians who inspired her such as Betty Carter and Shirley Horn), "I Just Found Out About Love," and Dylan’s "The Times They Are A-Changin." Her almost inaudible whisper “I hope so” at the end of that song wasn’t lost on me. In the classic song “We Kiss in the Shadows,” (from The King and I) about illicit love, McGarry sends a deep message of support to same sex partners. I have since found out that her interpretation of this song was inspired by the much-publicized suicide of the bullied gay teen from New Jersey. Her clear and sweet voice is at its best in this moving song.
McGarry’s repertoire included several Brazilian songs, which I found breathtaking. She mentioned that she would be singing one of these beautiful songs, “O Contador,” with Kurt Elling the following evening in a New York performance. I would kill to hear that performance.
She topped off the evening with a gorgeous duet with her Cape Cod-based brother, singer Alan McGarry. When they sang a childhood song, you could’ve heard a pin drop. Everyone in the room was mesmerized by the sweetness of their voices blending in perfect harmony. My only regret was not videotaping this spontaneous performance but I couldn’t take my eyes (and ears) off them.
McGarry’s rise in the music world has not gotten in the way of her rather humble and appreciative response to the audience. And let me say again, this girl can talk—I mean sing!Kate sings "I Know You Know"