Q&A with vocalist Kate McGarry

December 29, 2018


It’s no secret that I am a big fan of vocalist Kate McGarry! I am just one of legions of fans that she has around the world. Kate is like a quiet star gently ascending without a big production or fanfare. Perhaps you know what I mean when I say this or maybe you’ll discover this to be true as you listen to Kate for the first time. Recording after recording and concert after concert there is a steady and persuasive climb up through the many vocal jazz artists in the world. Year after year more people discover the true artistry of Kate McGarry.

She’s a composer, a song stylist and a vocal improviser. She has a pure and direct voice that can burn a blues while at other times coax and caress a tender melody that leaves you breathless or teary-eyed. She can sing truly difficult compositions with ease and grace. She can turn something simple and seemingly straightforward into a work of art.

2019 marks Kate McGarry’s second Grammy nomination, this time for “The Subject Tonight Is Love” recorded with guitarist/husband Keith Ganz and pianist/organist Gary Versace.


The fact is that many acclaimed artists have included Kate in their own recording or concert projects or, have appeared as guests on Kate’s own projects. People like acclaimed pianist Fred Hersh, vocalist Kurt Elling, arranger/composer John Hollenbeck, vocalist Theo Bleckmann, vocalist Tierney Sutton, composer/arranger Jeremy Fox and others have played, performed and recorded with Kate.

Here is my recent Q&A interview with Kate in advance of the January 10 Vancouver Pyatt Hall concert presented by Joy of Jazz Concerts. (www.joyofjazzconcerts.com)

1. Kate, could you name for us some specific musical influences you have had over the years?

My influences ranged from the singer songwriters of the 70’s such as Cat Stevens, James Taylor, Joni Mitchell, to Irish folk singers like the Chieftains to jazz singers such as Carmen McRae, Anita O’Day, Betty Carter, Shirley Horn, John Hendricks, and of course Sarah Vaughan and Ella. During the 80’s and 90’s I fell in love with Milton Nascimento, Tom Jobim, Toninho Horta, Elis Regina.

2. What are some of the reasons that these artists were/are influential to you?

I tend to be most affected by the storytellers and how intimately they’re able to get across the point to you. This may happen through a lyric, ability, or certain kinds of rhythms. All these things made a mark on me. Whatever methods the artist used to tell their story was what influenced me.

3. Along with jazz-based music what other specific styles of music you currently listen to or enjoy singing?

I am enjoying some of the jazz vocalists of today- Jazzmeia Horn, René Marie are some of my favorites.

4. We are delighted for you, Keith and Gary about being nominated for a Grammy Award for “The Subject TonightIs Love”. What does this nomination mean to the three of you?

For me this nomination represents the fact that an artist can follow your instincts and make a body of work that truly reflects how they feel without pandering or worrying about how it will be received-and strangely enough, find that the work is received at the highest level from their community of colleagues. There are a few things as satisfying as this. To feel heard and valued as an artist by your community and to be honored in this way-I don’t really have language for it but it satisfies me at a very very deep level.

I am also filled with gratitude for all of the people who helped us make this record! This was our very first fan funded project and that is even more of an exhilarating surprise to know that you don’t have to be on a big label and have machinery behind you to you have your work recognized.

5. When you were working on “The SubjectTonightIs Love” how did you go about selecting the songs?

Our approach was to gather as a trio for about four days and play through our repertoire – try different instrument combinations and arrangement ideas. We went into the studio with way too much material. As we recorded themes began to become apparent.

6. Where do you turn if you find yourself in need of fresh inspiration creatively speaking?

Mother Nature is my nurturer. Also, I find if I unplug and take time to sit and contemplate and “do nothing “I am at first exhausted and usually fall asleep, but pretty soon after start to be filled with energy again and new ideas.

7. Do you enjoy being on stage performing concerts and going on tour?

I have to be honest here-the experience of performing and being on stage ranges from sublime to excruciating-depending upon the sound quality and the vibe and my own mental state and how connected or disconnected I feel from my bandmates. When it’s good it’s the best! And so far, after 36 years, I can still say it is worth it. It is a journey I am always willing to take and feel I constantly grow from

8. What is the most challenging and perhaps disheartening aspect to your existence as a jazz musician?

That’s tough-I think the thing that is hardest is the many ways that the profit motive   Makes creating music harder and harder. The more our culture and society is focused on the bottom line and on making the highest amount of profit from each interaction, the harder it is to create artistic and creative spaces that are free from the desire for profit. These two intentions usually don’t align or produce the same results.

9. While composing your own material do you use the piano, voice alone or, another instrument in your process?

I use the piano, although sometimes a melody or an idea just comes to me when I am walking out in nature.

10. In your opinion what is the most important in playing music: pitch accuracy, phrasing, time feel, expression, other?

Yes! I have gone through phases where each of those skills are important to me. At different times in my life I need to focus on one skill but later on I’m interested in exploring another. They are all important parts of being able to express oneself. I guess most important is to follow what you are authentically interested in, and to stay engaged in an artistic process of some kind despite all the crazy roadblocks that life throws up each day.

Thank you Kate!



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