On Tuesday, October 20 a diverse group of Bay area vocalists will come together at Yoshi’s in Oakland for a special concert and event dedicated to celebrating the artistry and influence of singer Mark Murphy. The 77-year-old Murphy, who will be in town for a performance on October 25 at the Florence Gould Theatre as part of the San Francisco Jazz Festival, will be in attendance at the tribute. Among the performers slated to appear at Yoshi’s are Kitty Margolis, Madeline Eastman, Ann Dyer, Laurie Antonioli, Bobbe Norris, and Joyce Cooling-all of whom are based in the Bay Area and whose careers owe some debt to Murphy’s support, friendship, and mentorship when he was living in San Francisco in the late 1970s and ’80s.
The organizer of the concert, vocalist Kitty Margolis, told JT that the idea for the event was to “pay it forward” for all Murphy had done for her and her Bay area colleagues. “There is a group of us who grew up under his mentorship, teaching and support. I just thought this is a good time to fete him. I have been to far too many memorial concerts and too few tribute concerts. I think it’s important to honor people who are with us.”
It was Murphy’s role as an educator and mentor to Margolis and her associates that led her to think of the concert as more than just a tribute. “Mark was a teacher to everyone on the bill. And he’s been an influence on all of us. We’ve all become educators in one form or another. So we’re creating a scholarship in his name at the JazzSchool to go on in perpetuity.” The Mark Murphy Vocal Jazz Scholarship will be established at the JazzSchool a jazz-oriented community school that has grown and is now offering a 4-year program with a credited degree.
When asked about Murphy’s influence on her, Margolis spoke passionately about Murphy’s unique gifts and his generosity. “I learned not to get hemmed in by genre. Mark is a deep storyteller, yet he’s also an instrumental jazz singer. That combination really hit me. He’s a huge risk-taker, musically. And a big-time trouper who is steady to his art.” Margolis has had firsthand experience with Murphy’s road and performance acumen. “I’ve toured with him twice- once at the beginning of my career on a cruise on the SS Norway. And then recently with George Gruntz, we spent over a month together. What an experience. He’s just a big example of the ‘real deal.'”
For her and the other singers, it was his generosity when they were in the early stages of their careers. “He lived here in the 80s when we were cutting our teeth on the local jazz scene. I can remember not only going to see him at his gigs, but him coming to my gigs. Not many older and successful musicians did that. He’s always been very generous as a friend and as a teacher.” Her experience with Murphy’s supportive mien is not an isolated one. In a press release for the event, a few of those singers recalled his very personal influence on them.
Laurie Antonioli, the Director of the Vocal Program at the JazzSchool: “When I was 19, Mark invited me to sing with him regularly at his gig at The Dock in Tiburon. I didn’t know then how important he was in the world of jazz, only that he was the greatest singer I’d ever heard. Since then, Mark’s influence has followed me wherever I go-and he has been generous in so many ways. The fact that we’re creating a scholarship in his name could not be more apropros. Mark told me, ‘Don’t forget that I’m the one who discovered you!’ That is sweet, but I know for a fact that he keeps track of many singers and genuinely loves to know what we’re all doing.”
Ann Dyer: “He kept nudging me to climb further and further out on the branch of self-expression, and jazz, for that matter. He created this monster!”
Madeline Eastman: “I was in jazz heaven when Mark came to town. I’d go and sit-in with him every chance I got. He wrote the liner notes to my very first CD and sang on the next one. Mark taught me how to ‘own’ my music and how to be fearless on stage.”
Margolis herself sees Murphy as “brave and uncensored.” His commitment to his art and his connection to multiple generations still amazes her. “He’s never tainted by a desire to become commercial. He blends in with every generation of musician that has come after.”
But what do you sing for someone who seems to have sung it all? Margolis said that it won’t be a problem. “I think everybody is going to keep his repertoire in mind. I know that am planning on a few tunes from his repertoire as well as one which relates to our present situation.”
For more information about this show, contact the Yoshi’s web site.