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In the Jazz Tradition: Kate McGarry

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For the GRAMMY-nominated Kate McGarry, jazz has never been an endpoint, safely sealed off from the rest of the musical world. Instead, it is an entryway, a place into which she can pull the songs and sounds she loves from a wide musical world. McGarry applies consummate jazz technique to a songbook that seems inspired by folk music’s sense of openness; on her acclaimed new album, The Subject Tonight Is Love, she handles standards, Irish traditional songs, Beatles hits, and settings of poetry by the fourteenth-century Persian Hafiz with a singular sense of clarity and grace. Whether singing with Fred Hersch (as she’ll do at Duke this season in his Leaves of Grass) or collaborating with John Hollenbeck or Maria Schneider, McGarry makes every song her own, offering up each as if she were an old friend in deep conversation. A decade ago, McGarry and her husband and collaborator, guitarist Keith Ganz, left New York for Durham; joined by Ganz, pianist Gary Versace, and drummer Obed Calvaire in her adopted hometown, McGarry offers the perfect finish to In the Jazz Tradition. In October 2017, Duke Performances staged an elaborate one-hundredth birthday party for one of North Carolina’s most inventive artists and a true pioneer of jazz, Thelonious Monk. For ten days, many of jazz’s greatest musicians filled the arts venue and former warehouse Durham Fruit & Produce with the sounds of Monk’s songbook, sometimes playing it faithfully and sometimes splintering it entirely. There were engaging talks, spontaneous improvisations, and a listening room where fans could spend time with Monk’s records. Raleigh artist André Leon Gray turned the building into a shrine to Monk’s genius and a playhouse for his legacy. Durham brimmed with “moments when the spirit of Monk’s piano playing got called up and shocked back to life in the air of the present day,” according to a rave review of the festival in The New York Times. This season, Duke Performances returns to the historic warehouse for another extended musical meditation, In the Jazz Tradition, a seven-day series featuring some of the most important women vocalists in jazz today. In recent years, a legion of jazz singers has drawn inspiration from flashpoints in race relations and the struggle for gender equality, commanding a renewed sense of urgency with their music and reaffirming the relevance and popular appeal of jazz itself. Durham visual artist Stacy Lynn Waddell — who, much like the series’ singers, explores how traditional forms can express contemporary themes — will transform the space, setting the scene for a timely update on familiar jazz traditions.

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