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Meet Kate McGarry and Keith Ganz

Craig Jolley By

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Since moving to New York five years ago Kate McGarry's musical approach has expanded from jazz standards and ballads through a percussive, electronic sound to her current pop- and folk-informed approach. Guitarist Keith Ganz has been an integral part of her latest evolution since they started playing together. They were married in 2004, and are inseparable musically and personally. Both have sparkling new CD's.

Mercy Streets (Palmetto Records)

It just came out a couple of weeks ago. We had the CD release party at Joe's Pub in NYC with the same band as on the CD. It was a great night, it was sold out and the band sounded great even though we hadn't played with Kenny Wollesen since the recording. We just had a little rehearsal in the green room with him playing brushes on the table and Keith and Steve with their guitars unplugged.

After meeting Keith I switched bands from an organ trio to this acoustic guitar based sound and we had very similar ideas of where it should go. Kate had arranged "Chelsea Morning" and "Joga" for her electric band, but just from the sound of her voice I heard her in this more intimate context. Her arrangements didn't change, but they sound so different in an acoustic setting. I did the arrangements for "Lola" and "How Deep is the Ocean" with this particular band in mind. I wrote "Snow Picnic" for a band I used to play in. I loved the tune, but it felt specific to that band so I had kind of left it behind. When Kate heard it—it's a fast melody that jumps all over the place and changes key three times in one bar—she liked it, and I wondered if she could sing it. We went through it five or six times, and she had it. It sounds like I wrote it for her voice. We collaborated with Steve Cardenas on "Aquelas Coisa Todas." We each improvised over the solo section, took the phrases we liked the best from all three of us (mostly from Kate), and made a little soli out of it. "Do You Know What It Means" has been getting quite a bit of air play which is fun because we recorded it in Keith's apartment the week we started going out. We tried it a couple of times in the studio, but the feeling wasn't as strong. The more contemporary songs are spontaneous and improvisatory, but the sound and the mood are specific—it doesn't just turn into a jam session. It took us maybe seven or eight gigs to get to the point where we could play a tune like "Chelsea Morning" and really create it in the moment but still keep that specific sound it's supposed to have.

Music for People (available on CD Baby)

Keith: These songs are about melodies and letting them unfold however they wanted to. That's why some of the songs took so long to complete. I'd get to a point where I couldn't hear what came next but I couldn't force it. I would just keep playing the song up to that point till I finally heard the next note. I wrote and recorded them separately over a couple of years. That's one thing I like about the CD: it has more range than if I had recorded the entire CD within a couple of days. I was really involved with each tune when I recorded it. The record was an opportunity for me to play as sparsely and delicately as I wanted without having to compete for sonic space with a band or background noise in a club. It's more about music than guitar playing, although there are some things that appeal to me as a guitarist when I hear them because I haven't heard many people do them. "Old Dogs" definitely has an old-timey feel (almost like stride piano), but no, I wasn't thinking about Django specifically. When I think of him I think of his single-note playing with a pick. "Transpose" is written to a poem by Jane Shippen, an old friend. She wrote it in college. Years later she emailed it to me. It's so wild and brilliant. I followed the lyrics, and the music just wrote itself. I wasn't sure I wanted to include a song about picking your nose, but I think it belongs on the CD because it's as true a moment for me as any of the other songs. The CD release party will be May 14 at the 55 Bar. It won't be just solo guitar—it'll be a quartet with Sean Smith, Vito Lesczak, and Kate. We'll expand on the music on the record. At the moment I don't feel like I could play three hours of solo acoustic guitar in a little club and have it be as complete as I'd want it to be. If I could do that in a nice big hall where you can hear every nuance I might give it a shot.

Current tour

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