For the fourteenth installment of our series of interviews with world-class jazz singers and artists, we bring you an interview with Kate McGarry, a vocalist based on the East Coast of the United States who is active around the world!

Kate McGarry: Interview

Hello Kate!! We’re so excited to have your online masterclass for the first time! Thank you for giving us such a wonderful opportunity to work with you.

We know that you’ve released lots of beautiful albums and got 3 Grammy nominations, and have been recognized as a stunning jazz artist who brings authenticity and vitality to every song regardless of genre. Could it be possible for you to let us know about your recent activity?


We are just finishing a brand new project called What to Wear in the Dark. I’ve actually been working on this since 2010! It will be released in July on Resilience Music Alliance Label.


What about your approach to picking up a theme for a new project, choosing the songs, and thinking about connecting them to your personality? I truly love the way you show your emotion by telling the story of the song, and it sounds very natural which touched us deeply.


It is my experience that I don’t choose the songs, the songs choose me!

Somehow the song starts to come into my mind and repeats and repeats when it has a certain message that I need in my life.

Then I listen very hard to hear WHAT that message is and HOW the song wants to be sung, and how that story should be told.

The song starts to change from its original form. Often the tempo first and then the rhythm changes, then some new chords and sounds start to come…in this way the song transforms.

The melody and lyrics stay the same are the original.


And how do you teach your students when they are trying to find their own way to express themselves? What do you care about most as a teacher?

Many things- if they are jazz singers we work on connecting with Rhythm, til it feels very natural to float between different parts of the beat and to be able to change the rhythms you are singing very fluidly.

We work on listening to the great singers who created this music – Louis Armstrong, Billy Holiday, Ella, Sarah Vaughn, Carmen McRae, Betty Carter, Anita Oday, Jon Hendricks, etc., to hear how they express the Jazz genre, to hear the language of improvisation and learn how to sing in this language.

Then we work on finding the singer’s specific connection with the lyric., so the singer can feel why they must sing that particular song.

We also work on technique so the singer has a strong and flexible instrument. There are many more steps, but this is a good start.


Could you please tell us how you think about your lyrics/poetry and also the harmony, groove and other musical aspects because we Japanese singers are always having some issues and your opinion will be a great help for us.

My opinion that all the musical decisions the singer makes about how to perform the song should come from their narrative, their deep connection to the lyric, the story they are trying to tell through the song.


Could you let us know who are your musical idols? Please tell me about a couple of your most favorite musicians you’ve been affected by.

Betty Carter and Carmen McRae and Jon Hendricks are the jazz singers I most relate to.

Joni Mitchell and Rickie Lee Jones and James Taylor are my heroes from singer songwriter’s genre.


What part of singing Jazz you love the best? And what do you care about most as a singer in your music?

The feeling of freedom and interaction with other musicians can be really fun.

I really enjoy the process of creating new arrangements for old old songs – although it often takes a long time, that is thrilling.


How would you keep yourself so creative and keep giving a lot to people around you?

It’s easy to get lost on this long journey. It takes so much patience and self care, also discipline and making a habit / routine for working on your craft is very helpful. Keep feeding yourself the musical things that are most interesting and perk up your curiousity…follow what is compelling to you..what sweeps you up and touches your heart. That’s the road to go.


For the closing of this interview, if you have any messages for Japanese followers and singers, please let us know!!

See #7!
This will be my first workshop for your country! I’m very excited.
We are thankful that so many people in Japan appreciate good Jazz.

A lot of singers are so excited about your online masterclass in April!! Thank you very much!!

Thank you May!


Kate McGarry – Biography

With 6 critically acclaimed CDs and 2 Grammy nominations (2019 and 2009) for Best Jazz Vocal CD Kate McGarry has become recognized as a jazz artist who brings authenticity and vitality to every song regardless of genre. The Wall St. Journal calls her music, “Austere and elegant,” New York Times pronounced it, “astute and sensitive”.  She currently performs in jazz clubs, performing arts centers and festivals throughout the US and abroad. As an educator she has taught at New England Conservatory and Manhattan School of Music. Downbeat’s 2016 Critics Poll named McGarry the #1 Rising Star Female Vocalist.  She has been interviewed on All Things Considered, and has performed on Jazz Set w/DeeDee Bridgwater, Piano Jazz w/Marion McPartland, and a host of nationally syndicated radio shows.

Singer Kate McGarry grew up in Hyannis, Mass., one of 10 children in a musical family that spent many nights singing together. At the University of Massachusetts Amherst she earned a degree in Afro-American Music and Jazz. Kate began developing her organic vocal style through early training in jazz performance with Dr Horace Boyer and iconic saxophonist Archie Shepp. Her experiences studying at a meditation ashram and exploring Celtic, Brazilian and Indian music also contributed to her widescreen vision as a vocalist and composer. After years honing her craft in Los Angeles, McGarry moved to New York where her independently produced (by Steven Santoro) debut album, Show Me, was picked up by Palmetto Records. Jazziz Magazine declared, “With this near-flawless album, she has arrived.”

In 2005 McGarry’s Mercy Streets album – which ranged from the Peter Gabriel title track to songs by Björk, Joni Mitchell and Irving Berlin – was called “one of the most important vocal albums of the year” by All About Jazz. Featuring originals alongside tunes by Sting and Bill Evans/Miles Davis, her album The Target was named one of the best jazz vocal albums of 2007 by Downbeat. The Downbeat reviewer called the recording “a milestone of maturity,” adding: “McGarry has the pure untrammeled voice of an ingénue who finds wonder in the simplest of things.” Her 2008 album, If Less Is More, Nothing Is Everything, was nominated for a Grammy Award, with The Wall Street Journal calling it “an exceptionally appealing blend of folk and jazz” for its mix of originals, standards, Brazilian tunes and songs by the likes of Bob Dylan. National Public Radio said: “Kate McGarry is called a jazz vocalist, but she’s hard to pin down. She draws on the music of her youth to inspire her – from the Irish tunes of her family’s roots to musical theater to pop songs.”

In 2008 Kate and her husband Keith Ganz made a foray into children’s music writing and recording 63 original children’s songs for the Heinle Picture Dictionary for Children, a bestselling international ESL educational product. Kate was then asked to sing the theme song for the hit children’s show, The WonderPets in a special jazz episode that featured the great Eartha Kitt and Jon Hendricks as The Cool Kat and the Hip Hippo.

McGarry has performed on some of the world’s most beloved stages, from Carnegie Hall, Lincoln Center and Birdland to the Newport Jazz Festival, Berlin Jazz Fest and Jazz Baltica and has performed, recorded or toured with such jazz luminaries as Hank Jones, Clark Terry, Archie Shepp, Fred Hersch, Kurt Elling, Maria Schneider, John Hollenbeck and Tony Award winner Jason Robert Brown. Kate represented the U.S. State Department  and Jazz at Lincoln Center for 3 years in the American Music Abroad program, touring thru Romania, Albania, Brazil, Chile, China and Mongolia.

McGarry’s 2012 CD for Palmetto Records Girl Talk was a tribute to her favorite visionary jazz women vocalists. It garnered 4 stars in Downbeat Magazine and showed up on over 20 Best of 2012 jazz critic’s lists. Her 2013 collaboration with John Hollenbeck Large Ensemble, Songs I Like A Lot, was lauded as a milestone in contemporary vocal jazz, receiving a Grammy™nomination for Best Arrangement For A Vocalist. Collaborations with Ryan Truesdell, Jeremy Fox have resulted in additional Grammy nominations, awards and accolades.

Kate currently lives in Durham North Carolina with guitarist/producer/husband Keith Ganz. The couple celebrated 10 years of musical and life partnership with their first live duo recording, Genevieve and Ferdinand on Sunnyside Records. The tunes, as is typical of their live sets, moved freely between jazz, folk, Brazilian and singer songwriter genres.

Their most recent CD The Subject Tonight Is Love recorded in Durham with long time friend and collaborator Gary Versace marks the beginning of a new era of bold and cinematic storytelling. The trio’s many fan’s funded the recording on PledgeMusic. The Subject Tonight Is Love has been lauded by critics and public alike and received a 2019 Grammy nomination for Best Jazz Vocal CD!

Kate’s vision for the future includes recording, touring, composing and collaborating as well as teaching and continuing to pass on the many gifts that the jazz music tradition has given to her.  As The Nashville Scene noted, “McGarry embraces jazz’s freedom and points the genre toward a future that’s as fresh and thrilling as it’s past.


* * * * * * * * *

The interviewer is May Okita, and the interview was conducted in March 2021.