By Jessica Yadegaran
Bay Area News Group Feature Writer
Karen Marguth is an internationally acclaimed jazz singer who has performed with Gilbert Castellanos and Pearl Django. But the Fresno artist attributes most of her core vocal skills to her early music education in Livermore.
Named one of the finest American jazz vocalists by Jazz Times, Marguth's recordings have been listed twice in DownBeat's annual Best-of-the-Year issue. Recently, France's Jazz Magazine featured Marguth in its issue dedicated to the 101 greatest vocalists of all time.
At 53, she has toured the national jazz festival circuit and recorded several critically acclaimed albums, including this year's "A Way With Words," a two-disc tribute to the songs of British legend Carrol Coates. In advance of her August performance at the Bankhead Theater in Livermore, we caught up with Marguth to talk about the state of women in jazz and those formative years at Granada High.
Q You are very proud of your Livermore roots. Any shout-outs to your favorite teachers?
A Mr. Stasko was the music teacher at Joe Michell Elementary School and the band teacher at Mendenhall Middle School. At Granada, Jim Brochman was my choir teacher. I credit him with teaching me all the basics of singing: musicality, listening and the etiquette of performance. He had very high expectations and was an outstanding music educator.
Q Any early gigs you care to recall (or not recall)?
A During college at CSU East Bay, I spent a few summers singing at Sea World. I'd do a medley of international songs about the sea. Five shows a day. I have to give credit to my private voice instructor, Muriel Brown-Older. She trained me to sing correctly so I wouldn't damage my voice.
Q Fresno is an epicenter for world-class jazz. How did your community develop?
A There are three colleges in the area with strong jazz programs. Jam sessions are always happening all over town, and there's an organization promoting local jazz called Jazz Fresno. People have an image of Fresno that's not artsy and cultural, but I have to say I've had more opportunities here than I did in the Bay Area.
Q You recently performed with the famous gypsy swing band Pearl Django. What was that like?
A Amazing. We met in 2009 at the Sun Valley Jazz Festival in Idaho. Pearl Django had a set after me, and they asked me to jump on stage and do a song with them. We just hit it off. So when they were coming through the Central Valley, I put them up at my house, and we later performed together.
Q Why was it time for an album of Coates' songs? How do you know the songwriter?
A A few years ago, I made a Christmas album for friends and family and included Coates' "A Song for Christmas." He contacted me to thank me. He's 83 and lives in Carmel. I went to visit him, and we just hit it off. I was at his house one evening, and he started playing the piano, and it was beautiful. Long story short, I decided I wanted to do an album of his work. The album includes both the classic standards he wrote for Frank Sinatra and some tunes he wrote just last year.
Q Your radio show, "The Vocal Hour," focuses on female jazz singers. Why did you start it?
A Back in 2008, I was noticing that jazz radio stations didn't give equal time to women, both in terms of the music they play and the DJs themselves. I was talking to the station manager at KFSR about that, and I told her I wanted to do a show with that theme. Now I also feature female lyricists and composers. I try to pick tunes that give credit to the ladies.
Q What else needs to happen for female jazz musicians to gain more recognition?
A First, female jazz vocalists need to learn to be musicians and members of the band first. They're often referred to as chirps, because instrumental members of the band look at the female vocalist as someone who just shows up right before a gig and wants all the credit.
To show that they want to be part of the group, they need to show up early. They need to be able to talk music, read music and appreciate the members of the band. It's no different from any other lead singers. The other thing that needs to happen is that more women musicians need to start writing critically about other artists. I don't know why there aren't more female jazz critics out there.
Live at the bankhead
Livermore native and jazz chanteuse Karen Marguth returns home for a special two-hour performance with Espacio, an ensemble featuring mandolin, guitar, bass and drums.
When: 8 p.m. Aug. 30
Where: Bankhead Theater, 2400 First St., Livermore
Tickets: $28-$48. http://mylvpac.com
For more info: Learn more about Marguth at http://karenmarguth.com. Listen to her radio show, "The Vocal Hour," at http://kfsr.org.