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Kate McGarry: Singing Silence

Kate McGarry

Perhaps it was inevitable that vocalist Kate McGarry develop a keen appreciation for quietude and a sense that she’d “always been drawn to the space of silence between the notes.” Growing up on Cape Cod as the sixth of 10 siblings (seven girls and three boys), in a raucous household filled with music of all stripes, McGarry’s formative years provided limited tranquility. The massive McGarry brood was regularly confused for another large and multitalented Irish-Catholic clan. “We often got mistaken for the Kennedys,” she says with a laugh, “because we lived about a half-mile around the bay from their compound and attended the same church. The Kennedys had their own pew right up front at St. Francis Xavier, but my parents would march us right up front and seat us in their row!”

After graduating with a degree in music from the University of Massachusetts at Amherst in 1985, McGarry escaped the confinement of East Coast life and headed for the wide-open space of California to “spread out and really be able to work on my craft.” There, she focused on learning from instrumentalists to hone her singing skills. “I was exposed to Keith Jarrett and Bill Evans and Miles Davis,” she explains, “and fell in love with the fact that there weren’t words and that the melodies were so free. And I appreciated the way they interacted with the harmonic structure. It was uncharted territory, and I was able to hear their ‘voices’ without being distracted by a storyline. Also, I studied with Archie Shepp while in college. He is an orator on saxophone, telling such impassioned stories, and so rooted in the blues. His was one of the first really strong voices I heard that wasn’t from a vocalist.”

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