Jazz For The People

By Andrew Gilhooley / 411

There’s no reason to believe the week’s entertainment has to end Sunday night. Especlally not when this Monday sees one of the Bay Area’s most acclaimed jazz vocalists performing at the Kuumbwa Jazz Center In Santa Cruz.

Kitty Margolis has been described by Lionel Hampton as ‘the next great jazz voice” and has won the Bay Area Music Award for both ‘Outstanding Jazz Vocalist” (1997) and ‘Best Jazz Album’ (1994). She has a reputation as a performer who is accessible to her audiences without watering down the jazz content.

Her scat singing and vocal pyrotechnics satisfy the purists, as do her stunning renditions of standards. Those with a more progressive ear delight in her original songs, which often deal with her experiences as a native San Franciscan.

Although Margolis started as a musician when she was very young, jazz Wasn’t always her field. When she began playing guitar at age 12, she was fascinated by blues, country and folk, learning the songs of Joni Mitchell and Robert Johnson. At the same time, she was developing a wide range of musical tastes.

‘I would go to the Fillmore and Winterland,’ she says, ‘and see all sorts of bands on the same bill – Miles and the Dead, the Jefferson Airplane and B.B. King – and it never occurred to me that they belonged to different musical categories.’

World music also interested her to the extent that she even traveled to the Isle of Skye to record her own tapes of Scottish folk artists playing in village pubs. Her passion for jazz was ignited when she was a freshman at Harvard and visited relatives in New York. Her uncle took her to a jazz club to see Rahsaan Roland Kirk play. She says, ‘I was struck with a vision of an older, black gentleman in dark glasses, a wonderful hat and these three saxophones in his mouth making these most amazing, otherworldly sounds.’

Since those early days, Margolis has toured all over the world and performed and recorded with some of the most famous names in jazz. She has released four CDs, including her latest, ‘Left Coast Life,’ which combines her own work with covers of various other artists’ songs (including ra fascinating take on Pink Floyd’s ‘Money’) to paint a picture of life in California at the turn of a new century. Monday’s appearance at the Kuumbwa is an official CD release concert.

Margolis also has a strong commitment to music education and conducts jazz Workshops, master classes and private lessons at high schools and colleges whenever she can. She currently is the chair of the International Association of Jazz Educators’ Jazz Vocal Resource Team. She stresses strongly the importance of music in people’s lives.

‘Music has the power to bring people from extremely diverse backgrounds together in a magical Way that erases all our superficial differences,’ she says. ‘To me, that is the most important energy I can try to connect with as a performing artist.’

First published in “411”, The Salinas Californian, July 25, 2002

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