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Kate McGarry: The Turtle, The Paradox, and The Big Yes

Dr. Judith Schlesinger By

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KM: Keith wrote that when we were driving to a gig. I asked him, "Can you write me an arrangement for Lola? He just heard these interlocking parts, and he wrote it while he was sitting there, without even checking it on anything. He wrote it down, and it's perfect—you feel like you're out there sliding on the flamenco floor.



AAJ: So when you double, it's mostly him first?



KM: I just learn it from listening to it, on those arrangements which are his, like "The Lamp is Low. On "Aquelas Coisas Todas [on Mercy Streets], [guitarist] Steve Cardenas and Keith and I just sat in a room and soloed over the song. We took eight bars of each person's solo and put them together.



AAJ: It's such a great band. You just got back from a European tour, yes?



KM: Yes, and we're going to Europe again. We've been asked back, and this time someone else will book it.



AAJ: Got a manager now?



KM: No—a booking agent in Europe, which is nice. The hope is to try to have this become sustainable: something that doesn't take out of you more than it gives to you. Right now, we're trying to get over the hump of achieving recognition and selling CDs. We were the most-added jazz album throughout the country—we came in at 37 on the chart. That was nice, although it was Jazz Week, not the Billboard chart.



AAJ: But it does go higher than 38...?



KM: Yes, it starts at 50. We entered at 37 with one week out. We'll see what happens. Hopefully we'll get up there. And we were also the most-added to the CMJ or college chart.



AAJ: There are lots of crossover possibilities here. If you pull the songs off it, you can almost have several totally different records.



KM: I know. Isn't it wild? I have people saying "pick, pick, pick what you want to do. Get in a can! I've given up—I'm not gonna do it!



AAJ: Don't! One of the nice things about Tower Records going bankrupt is that you no longer have to worry about fitting in a bin. Some artists are simply unbinnable. And now to the bonus question: anything you'd like to say about anything?



KM: I would like to say... I had a moment yesterday where I was really feeling a lot of pressure because the bassist e-mailed from Japan and said "My plane's not getting back until late in the afternoon the day of the show so we can't do the rehearsal and blahblah... These things are always happening—it always feels like crisis potential—and Keith and I look at each other and say, "Do we need this? We don't know if it's worth it—all the angst I had about trying to make things work out right, having to do more and more —oh, it's not worth it if I'm going to be like that.



AAJ: Not if you're going to lose stomach lining over it.



KM: No. But right then, everything gets down to its most practical. It becomes: OK, that means we just do the rehearsal the day of the show. Take charge, and it's done. Set it down. I think that what you need comes through the process of doing something that's really difficult: how else am I gonna get that, unless I go through something this hard?



AAJ: So we're back to paradox: you have to do the difficult to get to the easy.

KM: Yeah. And whether or not I'm able to sell a lot of records, I want to have access to what I want to do musically. I'd like to record and have people make the money back, but I also want to play wherever I want, and be asked to collaborate. That's what I would like to have happen.



AAJ: Your work with Fred Hersch has been wonderful—the Leaves of Grass concert and tour and CD, and the recent Lincoln Center gig called The Songs of Fred Hersch. You've also collaborated with [composer/arranger/bandleader] Maria Schneider and the Jazz Tap Ensemble. Then I heard you sang with [pianist] Chick Corea...?



KM: They just put it up on my website. It was 2001 and Chick's 60th birthday celebration at The Blue Note [in New York], and I was sitting right in front. Chick and Bobby McFerrin came out and did the most amazing set that was so beautiful, and the last song was "Smile. Bobby's got the lyrics in his hand, but he's not singing them—just "doo-doo-doo, and Chick was playing it, and they were filming the whole thing. And Bobby does one chorus wordlessly, then looks around and says "Anybody know this song? He didn't know me from Adam. And my hand shot up—it was a huge yes. I'd never actually sung the song before, but everybody knows "Smile.



So I just started to sing it, and he sat and let me sing the whole song. And then they continued. They liked it so much, they left it in the DVD. And that part keeps playing on BET all the time. They sent me the clip; it's now on YouTube too. It's such a sweet, sweet moment.



AAJ: And there's more of that in your future, I bet.



KM: That night I felt "This is how things can be if you allow it '—saying yes, yes, yes. Always saying yes.


Selected Discography

Kate McGarry, The Target (Palmetto, 2007)
Kate McGarry, Mercy Streets (Palmetto, 2005)
Fred Hersch, Leaves of Grass (Palmetto, 2005)
Solar, Suns of Cosmic Consciousness (Aztac, 2005)

Kate McGarry, Show Me (Palmetto, 2003)

Photo Credit
Mena Kehoe

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