For the love of music…That’s right! The love of music is the reason I decided to produce the “Joy of Jazz Concerts” series in Vancouver. Over a year ago now I began to sculpt and hone and shape my idea of presenting a small concert series which would enable the musicians to perform a nuanced and dynamic program where each and every note, phrase, word and musical line would be heard by the audience. It’s all about the intimate and shared experience of a jazz performance whereby freedom of expression and playing in the moment help create the situation where both the listener and the music makers come together and connect and experience a type of bond.
The 3rd and final concert of this inaugural season takes place at the end on Sunday May 31 at St. James Hall. Entitled “Songbird of May” the concert will feature Grammy nominee vocalist Kate McGarry and her husband Keith Ganz; an absolutely exceptional guitarist. This will be their Canadian debut and I certainly wish for a warm Vancouver welcome for the two of them. It is true that here in Vancouver Kate and Keith might not necessarily be house hold names. I am one of several jazz fans who admire and appreciate these two fine artists and their approach to music making. Together they have made several recording together within larger ensembles and their latest release “Genevieve & Ferdinand” is a celebration of their ten year marriage and musical relationship. It’s a duo record and the recording has been receiving rave reviews from music columnists and reviewers everywhere. If not yet widely known in Vancouver, Kate and Keith are certainly well known in the USA and beyond and they have fans all around the world.
As I am concert presenter I believe I must cling to that adage “if you build it, they will come” and I need to continue to work on spreading the word of the upcoming concert in a variety of ways. I admit to having had a few insomnia-filled nights as I worry about how to attract a full house for these acclaimed musicians. Let me tell you more about Kate McGarry and Keith Ganz and why I love their music so much.
Kate and Keith perform what I call “music without glam or glitz”. It’s all about the soul, the story, the improvisations. Those who know, really KNOW about these two great musicians and are well aware of their exciting musical chemistry and the high level of artistry they present in concerts and on recordings. Kate and Keith dig deep within songs you may have heard before but will hear again for the first time as new meaning announces itself within the lyric interpretation and harmonic development and soundscape. They seem to dig deeper still into their own souls and reveal some fragility while remaining strong at the same time (yes, that might sound like a contradiction) The duo remain confident in their exploration of the human condition. Their candor and truth allows us to experience our own personal stories and emotions and reactions. We are gently led on a type of journey that lays it all out on the table: this is life, this is love, this is sorrow, this is beauty, this is in the moment, this happened, this is connection…
It’s not all a deep chasm of serious stuff. There’s joyful abandon in the musical motifs and rhythms and improvisations. There’s exhilaration in the energy release in the faster burning grooves and the interplay between voice and guitar. Above all there remains this truth seeking within each song interpretation. We breathe more deeply, we listen, we dance, we experience, we think, we identify, we remember.
Tickets are available now at Brownpapertickets.com or follow links at www.joyofjazzconcerts.com You can also buy tickets at Red Cat Records on Main Street in Vancouver.
Special thank you to The Georgia Straight, Stikjazz Music, The Rogue Folk Club, Oceanwest Construction and to Coastal Jazz and Blues Society.
Interview with vocalist JOHN ALCORN by Karin Plato
(John performs in Vancouver February 14 as part of the Joy of Jazz concert series at St. James Hall)
Karin. Who are some of your favorite vocalists John?
John. Billie Holiday, Carmen McRae, Shirley Horn, Frank Sinatra, Tony Bennett, Chet Baker
K. Are there certain vocalists who have particularly influenced your own style/sound?
J. See above. For me, Billie is #1; the others follow her.
K. What are your thoughts about what qualities might define someone as jazz vocalist?
J. Here are some of the qualities that Billie possessed: an innate feel for swing, a natural instinct for improvisation, intellectual curiosity, storytelling (the ability to understand and express text – and explore subtext), a constant need to “tell her truth” in song. These are some of the essential qualities that I search for in other singers – and that I strive for myself.
K.Besides singing and playing the piano, do you play any other instruments?
J. In my early years, I studied violin and tenor sax, but was a dismal failure at both!
K. Were you always destined to be a professional musician or are there other professions that intrigued you?
J. In my teens, I was passionate about the visual arts. First, with painting and drawing (I once fantasized about a career as a commercial artist), then, later, with photography. I still harbour the dream of returning to photography one day, as a secondary creative outlet.
K.Do you enjoy the process of composing/creating a new composition?
J. I love music in general. I also love words. Though I “wear many hats”, I tend to obsess on whichever project is immediately in front of me. So, when I’m in composer or lyricist mode, it becomes my passion – for better or worse. Yes, I love it! Additionally, I believe that each mode of creative expression feeds into the others. For example, exploring the best work of the great 20 th century composers absolutely influences my own writing. Conversely, as I pay close attention to my own song-writing, it only heightens my respect for other writers and inspires me to do my best to honour their art when I’m performing.
K. Could you name a few of your favorite song composers?
J. Of the Great American Songbook gang, Harold Arlen is at the top of my list of favourite composers, along with Cole Porter and Richard Rodgers. The lyrics of Johnny Mercer astound, inspire and move me – always. Stephen Sondheim, though jazz singers rarely explore his work, is really a genius, I think.
K. What’s one of your favorite things about working in the world of music and entertainment?
J. For me, having the ongoing opportunity to explore and perform exquisitely-crafted songs in the company of brilliant, creative musicians is truly a blessing and a gift. I cannot imagine a more rewarding life.
K .Do you have a special regime you follow to keep your voice strong and healthy?
J. I should. But I don’t. Well…I never eat a large meal before performing. Does that count? (lol)
K. If you could choose from the entire world of musicians, who might you include in your dream band?
J. I already work with them – Reg Schwager and Steve Wallace – my dream team! That said, I am over-the-moon excited about playing with Bill Coon and Darren Radtke in Vancouver!
K. Do you have any plans of making a new recording in the future?
J. We already have one “in the can”, but the release is on hold temporarily. Other than that, I have a long list of recording projects I hope to bring to life someday – including a CD of the songs I’ve been co-writing with Reg Schwager.
K. What do you hope an audience gets or receives by attending a John Alcorn concert?
J. Every time I’m onstage, whether by myself or with other musicians, I try to approach each song as though this were the first time I’d sung it. I search for new meaning, fresh nuance; try to deepen my understanding of both music and text – and share that journey with the audience. This is the goal. I do not always achieve it. However, if some audience members have a flash of discovery, a twinge of real emotion, a new insight into a song they may have heard countless times before – if they believe that they are witnessing and sharing a moment of truth – then I’ll feel that I’ve done my job.
Thanks John. I’m looking forward to hearing you and Bill and Darren in concert on February 14th!
It really is time. The New Year approaches and therefore I feel the need (as do so many of us it seems) to take the time to look back over the past year’s accomplishments, disappointments, joys and adventures. Mostly (although I do love reminiscing about what has happened; i.e. last year this time I was in New York City!!) I do tend to be a person who looks ahead at what’s to come. Sometimes that’s a good thing since there can be a level of excitement and anticipation. Sometimes that can be a burden such as when it leaves me with a worried mind or the idea of the unknown sets within me with a feeling of hesitation or trepidation. Some days I seem to be a crow sitting on a branch, steadfast in my choices; in my decisions. Some days I view the world the world like a huge art gallery full of creativity and possibility and unique perspectives and ideas. Those are good days!
Well it’s been a great year. Thank you 2014 for all you had to offer in the way of music, friendship, family and experience, good health and life lessons too.
2015 is arriving any day now and I know I am a lucky person. I live in Canada. I have people in my life that are intelligent, creative, fun loving and kind and thoughtful. I am able to live my life with relative ease and I know for that alone I am indeed lucky. I have music and I do have TIME to make music and create opportunities within music such as my JOY OF JAZZ CONCERT SERIES. That began in 2014 and now will continue into 2015.
There were a few worries (ha, let’s say there were lots!) about the expense, time and effort that went into preparing for the first of the concert series in November. Was it successful? Yes indeed it was and Hurrah for that! The audience was appreciative about the music presented and with the artists I had chosen. Jillian Lebeck, Adam Thomas and James Danderfer played and sang beautifully and I was able to sing a set of music with the three of them as well; sort of kicking off the series I suppose since now for the remaining concerts in the series I am simply Artistic Director and chairs and table mover AND audience member. I love music, particularly when you can hear every nuance the artist intends and that’s what I am after in presenting this concert series: intimate, natural and nuanced music where dynamics are heard and experienced.
The ambience and over all warmth in St. James Hall is something that I personally find very satisfying. This hall enables an audience to get comfortable, settle in and really experience an intimate concert with great sound and mood, perfect lighting to relax and simply listen and experience MUSIC.
What I look forward to now in 2015 is presenting John Alcorn in concert at St. James Hall for a special Valentine’s Day themed show. This second concert in the Joy of Jazz series is called “My Funny Valentine” and certainly this will be a concert geared towards people who enjoy the great jazz standards. It will be an evening featuring the superb and perhaps underrated Canadian vocalist John Alcorn singing with two of Vancouver’s jazz greats: guitarist Bill Coon and bassist Darren Radtke. THIS concert I know will be a wonderful experience and I’ll work hard to try to sell tickets and promote these great artists so that they have welcoming audience to perform to. Tickets are already on sale through the website: joyofjazzconcerts.com
I continue to work on my own music and I ponder the ways I could, should, might use some of those new songs and arrangements. It appears that I am still in my “simmer mode” when it comes to my own music career. I suppose there is no one waiting for more “Karin Plato music” and thus when the TIME is right and when I feel strongly enough about recording or presenting more of myself, I’ll work towards that end. Now is simply the time to work on my labor of love for this season (that would be The Joy of Jazz Concert Series) and also I’m embracing fully the performance opportunities that I accept or seek. I see some lovely ones on the horizon but that’s for another TIME…
No really, have you heard about it? No? Well, that’s probably because it’s not exactly trending news or some hot topic that the general population will care about. Let me tell you a little something about what this jazz singer (that would be me) dreamed about and schemed about and now is putting into works here in Vancouver. I have been involved in concerts over the years where I’ve been the producer, promoter, artist, arranger and “poster-putter-upper” This time around it’s true that I’ll be performing as part of a double bill for the first of the 3 concert series and after that date I’ll just be the puttin’ up posters and chairs and enjoying the music and musicians that I admire and appreciate as I try to bring my dream to life. The concert series takes place at St. James Hall in Vancouver and the website for the concert series has lots of information about the entire series: www.joyofjazzconcerts.com. I’ll write more about that in another post but for now I’ll talk about the first concert which takes place Thursday November 27th.
Jillian Lebeck and Adam Thomas are two extraordinary jazz musicians and together they exist as a unique duo, both vocally and instrumentally. I’ve been a fan of both artists for many years now and I’ve seen them perform in various concert situations and witnessed what I would describe as a special musical chemistry. The mutual affection and admiration for each other is revealed in the music that they play and it’s obvious that although they are both strong solo artists they share a similar language and style when it comes to their vocal duets. Jillian and Adam each have such pure and lovely sounding voices and I feel happy and sad at the same time when I hear them sing. That’s possible in music!! There’s something very natural and unaffected and candid about how they perform a song and I witnessed this last July in my music studio. I had booked Jillian and Adam to play as the rhythm section for a Vocal Jazz Summer Intensive that I taught and I asked if they might perform a couple of songs together for the participants. Even in the casual atmosphere of a classroom in the span of just a few moments as they played and sang it was obvious that the magic was there and it was fun to watch the workshop participants’ faces as they too recognized the special shared gift Jillian and Adam have. New and instant fans were made that day.
So, that’s about the duo work of Jillian and Adam. For the first concert I thought it would be a fun and fresh idea to sing with Jillian and Adam as my band for the first show and sculpt a set around what I might like to share with them and also to include one of my favorite instrumentalists in Vancouver to be on stage with us. James Danderfer plays his clarinet or his bass clarinet and always “brings it” and by that I mean he always has something musical to say with his instrument and he’s always listening carefully and contributing beautiful melodies and harmonies when I am singing. This approach makes the notion of singing and playing in the moment a wonderful experience. There’s comfort and freedom in knowing that the people you are playing with can ebb and flow in that tide with you. Of course I have been lucky to experience that musical ebb and flow with many great musicians over the years and that’s what makes jazz based music such a thrill at times. I anticipate quite some excitement in sharing the stage with Jillian and Adam and James and I look forward to hearing what the four of us will sound like together.
Has the band been informed that I’ll have my uke Clooney along for the musical ride? Well…that’s not exactly a trending topic either so it’s possible that they don’t yet know but I’ll be sure to tell them soon…
I’m in the finally planning stages for this 5 day vocal jazz workshop in July featuring pianist Jillian Lebeck, bassist Adam Thomas & guitarist Bill Coon. It’s a “from prepare to perform” style workshop for vocalists interested in singing jazz and blues music. Contact me via email for further information: firstname.lastname@example.org
I count myself lucky to have experienced this past Christmas holiday in a very exciting and inspiring city. That would be New York City! I should mention too that I believe NY must also be one of the most “efficient” cities around because even as the snow began to fall at the beginning of what was to become a huge snow storm in NYC and surrounding areas, the city prepared to handle the snow and ice everywhere by attaching snowplows on the front of each one of their city garbage trucks. They were able to clear the streets in this way and then upon the return trip once the roads were passable again, they were able to pick up the trash. It might sound simplistic and perhaps insignificant however in a city the size of NY with the amount of garbage including paper and plastic that is placed out on the sidewalk each week, the efficiency and speed seemed a remarkable thing to witness.
New York was indeed remarkable and of course that wasn’t just to do with the snow removal technique. I come back to my home inspired by all the wonderful art and music and culture I was able to take in. Jazz music, classical music, Musical Theatre and art from classical to modern were some of the things NY had to offer. People, everywhere PEOPLE as the city’s population grew with the days leading up to the ball dropping in Time Square on New Year’s Eve. You could see and feel the excitement on the sidewalks throughout the day even on the more cold and bitter December days. People didn’t care about the cold; they were there to experience the city that makes New Year’s Eve famous. They were there to shop, to eat, to line up for hours waiting to see The Empire State Building, they were going to see the famous sights and there was a joyful spirit in the air somehow. Yes, NY was a buzz of joy and excitement and perhaps it always has that no matter what the season. We didn’t join the throng (that would be over a million people) on New Year’s Eve but it was exciting to be there in the city and get a sense of the sheer number of people that were there to experience the famous ball drop in Time’s Square.
One musical highlight and personal thrill to me was getting to meet vocalist Kate McGarry in person and hearing her perform twice and discovering that yes, she is as wonderful live as she is on all her recordings. I do hope we’ll be able to get her to Vancouver to perform this year. We were able to hear her in a brand new project in which she is collaborating with vibraphonist James Shipp, pianist Vitor Concalves and drummer Ritchie Barshay. They perform an eclectic array of songs including some of Kate’s originals. I love Kate’s original songs. They ring true and they leave an impact on you as a listener. In fact everything she sings leaves an impact it seems. She makes you feel the depth and possibility of the song’s story. Her voice is dynamic and full of expression and yet she is never gratuitous in any way as she sings the song’s story and sculpts an emotional contour. There is never a false note or an ending that disappears too soon and you hear every syllable and consonant and above all you are captivated. Whether she is burning through a bebop tune or caressing a lullaby’s lyric, Kate McGarry appears to sing with ease and precision and freedom and truth. Can you tell that I am a big fan? I am!
Vibraphonist James Shipp is a monster musician with a whacky sense of humor and ease on the stage. He created some truly fascinating arrangements that enabled the group to have a very specific sound suited to Kate’s approach to music making. I think they make a great team and they really began to develop a group sound. Certainly I hope they will be recording some of this fine music. In any event I think Kate McGarry is a jazz vocalist that people need to check out if they haven’t already done so.
There was much more music that we heard but perhaps I’ll go on to the art now. Getting a chance to view some art galleries opened up our minds and excited us about creative possibilities and that will remain a strong memory of this holiday as well. Huge installation art displays such as those on display at DIA were large in scope and at times also in philosophy it seems. Some art seemed to make more sense and more of an impact once a person could read a little bit more about the artist’s intention. Certain artist’s definitely impacted the way I came to see shape, form, contrast, mood and emotion when viewing or walking through and around some of the art installation. One artist, Richard Serra makes enormous and I mean ENORMOUS pieces with metal. You might walk around something resembling a sunken ship or walk through and around a type of path within 2 metal sloping walls where each person walking through will experience their own sensations with respect to space, or lack thereof or height and slope etc. I found this quite fascinating since most of the art I’ve ever viewed has been on a wall or has been a sculpture perhaps smaller in scale than the size of a sunken ship.
One huge hall at DIA displayed a long series of related works by Andy Warhol. Just walking through and viewing an entire room devoted to a series with one painting and all its numerous variations was really quite an experience. It wouldn’t be the same seeing only a few of them on display I imagine.
I loved every minute of being in one of the smaller galleries in NYC too. The Whitney Museum was where I was able to see much of Alexander Calder’s work. Getting a chance to walk through and witness the history of an artist’s work and see where he developed and changed styles and approaches was fascinating. To see that development and change in the works left behind and realize that certain experiences in the artist’s life will have him/her change directions and completely work towards a completely new direction is revealing. Perhaps it reminded me that there is always time to change and follow your muse so long as you are open to it, even if you have been doing something a certain way for a long time.
I suppose in some way being able to view some of the art I saw was a way to shake me out of my box and open my eyes to other possibilities in creativity or creative thinking at least. As a musician I believe this is very useful, this “shaking of the box” or the mindset one might find oneself in. You might not know immediately how this experience will affect your own art but certainly it must. We’ll see as the year 2014 unfolds…