Tag Archives: Keith Ganz

Kate McGarry and Keith Ganz at Scullers

Despite what instrumentalists and singers say about wanting to “tell a story” with their music, the fact is that very few of them do. Instead, they simply cycle through a form, wringing whatever musical flourishes they can with each pass. Even though singers have an advantage — the built-in “stories” of lyrics — the effect is often the same: wash, rinse, repeat.

Kate McGarry is something else again. The 51-year-old singer and songwriter, appearing with her husband, guitarist Keith Ganz, 41, at Scullers on Thursday night, had a story to tell with each song. And, in fact, the evening as a whole had the pacing of a shaped narrative.

McGarry and Ganz are working their new duo album, Genevieve & Ferdinand (Sunnyside), and they drew freely from it as well as other material. Though McGarry is nominally a jazz singer, she likes to mix up her genres. At Scullers, there were a few contemporary folk songs mixed in with the jazz standards, as well as a couple of folk originals

They began with Ellington’s “Prelude to a Kiss,” McGarry’s phrasing playing into the lyrics without overselling them (the rest in the title phrase: “That was my prelude . . . to a kiss”), and ending on a breathtaking high note. On his acoustic guitar, Ganz provided the detail and delicacy of touch of a latter day Bucky Pizzarelli.

But it was on the second tune, the McGarry original “Climbing Down,” where the narrative really took shape. She said the song was about climbing the family tree of “my potato famine ancestors.” It was essentially a blues — about family, the Church, drink, and all manner of tangled branches. And in the final verse it turned into a softly sung traditional Celtic ballad, “Whiskey You’re the Devil,” haunting, ghostly. Ganz, meanwhile, had moved from blues vamp to “extended” techniques — scraping harmonics from his strings, tapping the guitar percussively. The effect was cinematic and left the room in a hush.

McGarry created a similar structural collage in her “Ten Little Indians.” It’s an elegy for her parents, who died a year apart in 2009 and 2010. The title refers to her and her nine siblings (McGarry is from Hyannis, MA.). The folk song takes in the lives of her parents (“He built a house upon his back; she grew a garden in each room”) and their deaths (“These scenes that life does not rehearse”). And then, in the final verse, it drifts into the melody, and slightly revised lyrics, of “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot.” At Scullers, this again left the room in a hush, followed by a huge ovation.

The narrative turns of McGarry’s performances are not always a matter of radical structural shifts. Most of the time her effects are created entirely musically, working within the given song. It’s not unusual for a singer to follow an instrumental solo by coming in on the bridge, but Ganz’s guitar work was so evocative and varied — tone, timbre, swinging eighth-note runs alternating with folky vamps — that when McGarry returned to sing the final verse of, say, Rodgers & Hammerstein’s “We Kiss in a Shadow” or James Taylor’s “Line ‘em Up,” it was startling. Yes, the same familiar melody and words, but something had happened, and the song was in a different place now. The experience of the song had changed it. Even McGarry’s wordless vocals, or the occasional jazz scatting, were never mere embellishment — they were an extension of the emotions of the songs, a different way to feel them.

It’s probably this artistic focus — and McGarry and Ganz’s ability to cross jazz and folk techniques — that made the show all of a piece, even as the two went from Taylor to Arthur Johnston and Johnny Burke’s “Pennies from Heaven,” or from the devastating “Ten Little Indians” to Burt Bacharach and Hal David’s “Close to You.”

Despite the weather, McGarry had a good house, and she joked about the snow and the benefits of a “home court advantage” (she guessed that “eight or nine” of her siblings were in the audience). And her wit offered comic relief without pandering or trivializing the material. (“Can’t Help Loving That Man” didn’t prove that love is blind, but “rather nearsighted.”)

McGarry doesn’t have one of those huge, operatic jazz voices (she’s not Sarah Vaughan or Cécile McLorin Salvant). But the voice is instantly recognizable — strong, muscular, with an appealing butterscotch middle register. Her technique (breath, pitch, phrasing) is just about flawless, and it’s all of a piece with her artistry — personal and peerless. McGarry has her own stories to tell.

(Photo of Kate McGarry and Keith Ganz by Frank Zipperer. Read my Boston Globe feature interview with Kate McGarry and Keith Ganz here.)

Upcoming jazz events

Danilo Pérez plays Scullers February 15 and 16 . Photo by Luke Severn.

Danilo Pérez plays Scullers February 15 and 16 . Photo by Luke Severn.

Plenty of good stuff happening in Boston-area jazz this week. You can find these and other choice arts picks at The Arts Fuse.

Pat Donaher
February 8, 4 p.m.
Lily Pad, Cambridge MA

Alto saxophonist Pat Donaher’s beguiling Who We Are Together lives in that world where jazz crosses over into a kind of classical chamber music.  Or maybe the other way around. With his alternating duo partners, pianists Hwaen Ch’uqi and Camille Barile, Donaher favors spontaneous improvisations, with attractive folk-like melodies and ambiguous harmonies. A Quincy, MA, native, Donaher attended the Eastman School of Music before returning home to complete a master’s degree at New England Conservatory. At the Lily Pad he’ll be joined by fellow Eastman graduate Hwaen Ch’uqi.

Ampersand Concert Series
February 13,  8 p.m.
MIT Bartos Theatre, Cambridge MA

The MIT List Visual Arts Center and WMBR Radio present the seventh in their performance series, this time with the Boston/Amherst jazz group Outnumbered and New Haven bassist and electronic improviser Carl Testa. The Outnumbered features some of the best players in the area: alto saxophonist Jason Robinson, multi-sax guy Charlie Kohlhase, pianist Josh Rosen, bassist Bruno Råberg, and drummer Curt Newton.

Dave Holland’s Prism
February 13-14, 7:30 p.m. and 10 p.m.
Regattabar, Cambridge MA

Bassist and composer Dave Holland’s always compelling blend of grooving mixed meters and controlled contrapuntal mayhem this time falls into the hands of a new quartet with a homonymous new album on ECM. The players are guitarist Kevin Eubanks (a longtime Holland foil before jumping to direct the Tonight Show band), pianist Craig Taborn, and drummer Eric Harland. As usual with Holland’s outfits, everyone contributes original tunes, which makes for an especially alert crew.

Kate McGarry and Keith Ganz
February 13, 8 p.m.
Scullers Jazz Club, Boston

Kate McGarry has long been mixing jazz with a variety of American pop and folk. Tonight she and her husband, the guitarist Keith Ganz, step out of their usual band format to play as the title alter-ego duo from their new album, Genevieve & Ferdinand (Sunnyside), somehow making Paul Simon’s “American Tune,” Todd Rundgen’s “Pretending To Care,” and Iriving Berlin’s “Let’s Face the Music and Dance” all part of the same sound world. You can also expect a couple of McGarry and Ganz’s well-turned originals.

Newport Jazz Festival: NOW 60
February 13, 8 p.m.
Berklee Performance Center, Boston MA

This promotional anniversary tour for the granddaddy of jazz festivals looks on the face of it like a grab-bag of supremely talented, medium-profile all-stars, but the tour producers and bandleader Anat Cohen have declared a specific agenda: to focus not only on music from Newport’s storied history, but also original compositions and arrangements from everyone in the band. And it is a formidable crew. Saxophonist and clarinetist Cohen will be joined by multi-lingual singer Karrin Allyson, trumpeter Randy Brecker, guitarist Mark Whitfield, pianist Peter Martin, bassist Larry Grenadier, and drummer Clarence Penn. This second night of a 21-date tour (a Celebrity Series of Boston event) should be crackling.
Read my Boston Globe piece about the tour here.

“Third Stream Headwaters”
February 13, 7 p.m.
Jordan Hall, Boston MA

Rare offerings at New England Conservatory tonight. The Contemporary Improvisation department goes deep into Third Stream — the term coined by composer and former NEC president Gunther Schuller to describe a blending of classical and jazz musical procedures (and also the original name of the CI department).  Topping the bill are Charles Mingus’s “Half-Mast Inhibition,” the great bassist-composer’s earliest orchestral work (originally recorded in 1960) and the premiere of Schuller’s “From Here to There,” commissioned by NEC. Also on the bill are Darius Milhaud’s “La Création du Monde,” Milton Babbit’s “All Set,” and Frank Zappa’s “Dog Breath Variations.” Charles Peltz conducts

Catherine Russell
February 14, 8 p.m. and 10 p.m.
Scullers Jazz Club, Boston MA

No less an authority than Nat Hentoff has called singer Catherine Russell “the real thing.” With a strong pedigree (daughter of Louis Armstrong orchestra music director Luis Russell and guitarist Carline Ray, of the International Sweethearts of Rhythm), Russell made her early career singing high-profile back-up gigs (Paul Simon, David Bowie, Jackson Browne, Cyndi Lauper, Rosanne Cash) before going solo about 10 years ago and delivering one beautifully assured album after another, focusing on vintage swing and blues, with the occasional oddball and apt contemporary choice (the Grateful Dead’s “New Speedyway Boogie”). She has the kind of voice and diction that lend every song a conversational directness and literate clarity even when she’s hitting the high notes and swinging her hardest. Her latest, Bring It Back (Jazz Village), comes out this Tuesday and it’s another well-designed collection, guided by her own taste and by the skill of music director/guitarist Matt Munisteri.

Danilo Pérez’s “Panama 500”
February 15 [8 p.m. and 10 p.m.] and 16 [4 p.m. and 7 p.m.]
Scullers Jazz Club, Boston MA

The 47-year-old pianist and composer’slatest CD, Panama 500 (Mack Avenue), is his most ambitious achievement yet. Looking again at his native Panama, he offers a portrait that mixes folkloric percussion, chants of the indigenous Guna people, modern-chamber music string writing, and, of course, fleet jazz-piano trio sections. At times, all these languages are layered so that history emerges as a living memory. Pérez brings an ensemble from the album to Scullers: violinist Alex Hargreaves, percussionist Roman Díaz, and his longtime trio mates, bassist Ben Street and drummer Adam Cruz.
Read my Boston Globe review of the CD here.