Mary-Catherine Pazzano

Mary-Catherine Pazzano

 Kitchener, Ontario, CAN
SoloJazzBroadway

Mary-Catherine Pazzano: Kitchener-Waterloo Jazz Vocalist

Band Press

Pazzano hits the high notes on jazz history – The Record

Stylish 1967 movie romance "Two for the Road" chronicles the tumultuous 12-year marriage of Mark Wallace (Albert Finney) and Joanna Wallace (Audrey Hepburn) through a series of exquisite cars and witty non-linear couples vignettes as they journey through married life, from the passionate fast lanes of early love on the French Riviera to his-and-hers emotional potholes in London, England, years later.

"Oh my God. That is one of my favourite movies," exclaims jazz-singer/classic movie buff Mary-Catherine Pazzano.

That's why Pazzano included the film's title love-song in her ballads set list. She loves taking "underperformed little gems" and jazzing them up so they are "a little more hip" for the 21st century.

"Film has always been my jumping point," she notes. "Oh, who wrote that? Cole Porter? Let's look up his library of songs. Then you go down the rabbit hole and never stop," she says with a laugh.

"Sometimes my bass player or piano player will bring a song to me," she said, referring to veteran musician/longtime collaborator John McLelland on keys, in addition to acclaimed bassist Mike Grace, who has played with many jazz legends, from Henry Mancini to Dizzy Gillespie.

"For instance, they introduced me to (1944 Jule Styne/Sammy Cahn composition) 'Guess I'll Hang My Tears Out to Dry,' which I immediately fell in love with because I never knew that song," she admits.

This bittersweet jazz standard, first sung by film actress Jane Withers, comes from a stage show called "Glad to See You" that never made it Broadway. Pazzano makes it her own with a vocally opulent modern interpretation of this classic torch song.

The singer says jazz first caught her attention in high school.

"I studied classically so I did the whole legit training," says Pazzano, also a music teacher who runs jazz workshops and programs in local high schools. "But then immediately after I graduated I started latching on to jazz players (like McLelland) who really helped and mentored me. Then, as the jazzers say, I 'went left' and never went back."

Pazzano, who also studied drama, says singing these standards is like being an actress, be it "scatting" her way through the bossa nova tune "No More Blues," or losing herself in childhood singing idol Judy Garland's beloved classic "Somewhere Over the Rainbow."

"The lyrics are so rich. You get to delve in and find something new in that lyric that works for you. You deliver that to the audience and that is why I think there are so many great recordings of standards that always sound so fresh."

Pazzano, who plays many notable jazz clubs from Toronto's Rex to Guelph's Manhattan's, is also the featured soloist on (McLelland's) Phoenix Jazz Group CD "Intrinsic Values" which comes out in February.

The Jazz Room show featuring McLelland, Grace, and Steve James on drums will showcase songs from "major players and composers" of The Great American Songbook evolving through the decades to the premiere of Pazzano's newer material from sassy uptempo beats to sultry slow-down ballads.

"There is definitely another place that takes over," says Pazzano referring to her performance process. "I am not even sure where that it is. I know that I always feel most at home in that place. You almost go up into this other world. Then you come back down to reality after you are finished singing a song when you are really into it and you are really connected to the lyrics. So I am always trying to imagine where that character will be in that lyric."

Jazz at the Library – Thornbury Paper

It was a packed house in the gallery of the L.E. Shore Memorial Library on May 22, as folks gathered to witness the second installment of the Jazz at the Library series. The theme was The Great American Song Book, and the event saw three talented musicians perform their interpretations of a number of influential songs that were written in the first half of the 20th Century.

“It takes a little bit of explanation, because this is not just a book with 20 or 30 songs,” commented event organizer Tony Bauer. “The Great American Song Book is an institution – it’s a legacy of an incredible amount of talented people who, in a short period of time, in one place, changed musical history.”

He went on to describe some of the players, touching upon the lives and works of Cole Porter, George Gershwin, Richard Rogers, and a number of other legendary artists.

“It’s not that certain songs are in and certain songs are out,” he said. “Every artist, every singer, every musician, will have his or her own version of the Great American Song Book.”

As the sold-out crowd watched on, the musicians then dove into a stunning performance.

Don Buchanan, who performed at the inaugural Jazz at the Library event, took the helm at the piano. Buchanan has been part of the Grey-Bruce music scene for over 35 years, and on Friday night his command and love for the music was again apparent.

Mike Grace positioned himself at the upright bass for the evening, providing the deep tones and a number of stellar solos. Grace has an impressive resume, including a nod as Educator of the Year by the University of Michigan Musical Society after retiring from the Ann Arbor Michigan Public School system. Mike has performed with artists such as Dizzy Gillespie and Mel Torme, and it was easy to see on Friday night why these famous artists would want him in their bands.

It was also easy to identify him as an educator, as Grace took a few moments during the show to interject with some interesting insights into the structure of the songs they were performing.

“There are some really good reasons why we, as jazz musicians, like to play all of these standards,” he said. “They hold up.”

As impressive as these artists were on Friday night, it was singer Mary-Catherine Pazzano who truly stole the show. Whether she was scatting her way through a fast number or slowing things down for a powerfully belted tune, Pazzano had the audience enthralled throughout the entire show. Her performance was probably best summed up in the quiet moments that occasionally appeared between the notes, when the room sat in anticipation of her next line – completely silent and breathless.

As always, the library’s gallery served as the perfect venue for the event, with the painted sunsets and landscapes providing the backdrop, the great acoustics, and the room’s high ceiling doing its absolute best to contain Pazzano’s expansive voice.

There’s no telling what the future holds for the Jazz at the Library series, but with two impressive, sold-out shows under its belt, it has already proven to be a great addition to the area’s arts and culture scene.

A career of local music-making – University of Waterloo

Five years have passed since I collected my Honours Arts degree in Music and Drama from UWaterloo. A year after graduating, I left Kitchener-Waterloo to pursue a Bachelor of Education from the University of Toronto. After receiving my second degree in 2012, I realized that I missed the strong sense of community that Kitchener-Waterloo has. I also ached to reignite my passion for singing and performance. I came home, eager to get a job that could support my passion.

One day, walking home from an interview at a high-profile local company, I realized that the 9-5 life was just not for me. I envisioned myself sitting in a cubicle, making phone calls and answering emails regarding products that didn’t remotely interest me. I felt like the musician part of myself, the part that I was proudest of, was taking a back seat. And I didn’t even have the job yet! On that walk home, I recognized that I had the skill set for making my passion into a career. I had graduated from UWaterloo with a Music degree and I had received much encouragement from my professors during my time there. The open, supportive attitude in the UWaterloo Music Department made it seem like anything was possible! I viewed myself as a musician. Now, I just needed to trust myself.

From that day on, I dove head first into making myself a marketable, self-employed musician. If I didn’t want a “normal” career, I knew that I would need to work hard to create the jobs for myself. I channeled my certified teacher status into a private voice studio, which now has 25 students. I reawakened my passion for vocal jazz performance, which had laid all-too-dormant as I pursued my BEd. I started booking more high-profile jazz performances at local venues and events, like The Jazz Room, The Registry Theatre and the Uptown Waterloo Jazz Festival.

As I began to gain a more prominent local profile, I realized that I wanted to give back to the community that has given me so much over the years. Last year, I started a program called “Jazz in the Schools.” It is an in-school project dedicated to bringing the ideas of community, collaboration, and musicianship together through student jazz performance. Our pilot project school, Cameron Heights Collegiate, was a success, and we look forward to expanding in the months and years to come.

One of the most beautiful aspects of being a professional musician is that we’re able to spread joy through song. One of the most joyful moments was being asked to return to UWaterloo this past February to perform in the Music Department’s Noon Hour Concert series. Singing jazz music to current UWaterloo students, staff and community members was a true full-circle moment! It was a wonderful opportunity to reflect on where I come from, and the journey to get to where I am now. I have no regrets, and am so excited for what is yet to come!