One thing I've noticed about vocalist, Cathy Segal-Garcia. She has a unique and lovely way of re-arranging songs to suit her jazzy perspective. You hear this clearly on her new "Social Anthems" album when she opens with the socially relevant composition, "For What It's Worth." The rhythm section arrangement is absolutely wonderful. Some thirty-five years after releasing her debut album, Cathy continues to record and release a variety of quite diverse music, ranging from large orchestrations to duets. Recently, she experienced an epiphany about the universal situation we face as human beings on a climate-challenged planet full of wars and rumors of war; poor and privileged; protests and prayers. For this project, Cathy has chosen songs that tickle our social consciousness, including one original composition titled, "What Are We Gonna Do?" However, her original composition is quite folksy and not at all like the jazzy arrangement I would have expected. Billy Joel's song, "And So It Goes" comes next. It features Anthony Wilson on guitar (who has arranged many of these songs) and Cathy Segal-Garcia's identifiable vocal sound floats nicely above the track. Cathy is a vocalist with a tone and style all her own. On this cut, there is the unexpected addition of spoken word by Paul Jost, inserted as a thought-provoking surprise as he reads aloud these poignant lyrics.
"I've been experiencing feelings of malaise and angst for quite some time now. And most of my friends have said the same thing. People are afraid for the future. I chose the songs on this album because I felt they are timely and speak to those feelings," Cathy explained her motivation for this recording.
The musical arrangements for "Down to Earth" mirror outer-space sound effects, woven into the track like sparkling silver threads, but the song itself is not anywhere near jazz. Her rendition of "Get Together & Can't Find My Way Home" has qualities, that in an unforeseen way remind me of the great jazz artist, Abbey Lincoln. Once again, this arrangement is far from the original, but fits perfectly into the soul and spirit of Cathy Segal-Garcia's mindset for this album. The tracks themselves are all jazz. The musicians play beautifully and successfully they transform this particular pop tune with improvised freedom and creativity. Josh Nelson has also contributed his brilliance to arranging some of this music. Cathy closes with Al Cleveland, Obie Benson and Marvin Gaye's hit, Motown soul song, "Save the Children." Cathy receives creative assistance from talented, L.A. based jazz vocalist, Mon David on this final song.
Cathy Segal-Garcia is popular in the Southern California area for her 'Open Mic' series she hosted years ago at the once popular Sportsman's Lounge in Studio City. That series lasted, with great community support, for seven years. She moved her Open Mic series from space to space; club to club, giving musicians a platform to perform and practice and introducing audiences to the rich talent that Southern California has to offer. She has been creating work for jazz musicians and singers around Los Angeles for decades. Cathy began her musical career, inspired by her father, who played reeds and was a big band leader and her mom, who was a singer before she married and settled down. Her dad was also a music programmer at a local radio station in Boston, where Cathy grew up. Consequently, she was exposed to all the popular music of the day including Rosemary Clooney, Ella Fitzgerald, The Hi Los singing group, The Four Freshmen and Stan Kenton's band.
"I was a ham from age three. My sisters and I sang together, so we were like this little act, the Segal Twins and Cathy. We grew up in a little corner of Newton, MA, about seven minutes West of downtown Boston," Cathy told me.
After graduation from Berklee School of Music, she settled in San Francisco for a time and finally landed in Los Angeles, where she made the rounds as a struggling jazz vocalist and settled down. With a winning personality and a zest for life in the music business, she exhibited an ability to bring people together. Cathy has put together several groups of singers, poets and musicians. One singing group is "Alone Together" and another is "Fish to Birds." "Fish to Birds" is an improvisational group of voices made up of various professional singers around town. She enjoys singing with acapella groups and has a good ear for harmony. Cathy has traveled internationally and taught vocal coaching in Japan and at home. Her dedication to jazz and jazz artists is undeniable, as is her work to keep jazz alive in our community. That's why this latest release is a bit puzzling to me, because I wouldn't necessarily consider it a jazz CD. I do know, Cathy Segal-Garcia is always pushing the boundaries of music and, like a restless bird circling the scene, she looks for new songs to sing and fresh ways to sing them. Consequently, this album is most certainly a "Social Anthem" whose lyrics tickle our brains. Using creative arrangements that challenge the norm and jazz musicians who bring their best to the project, Cathy Segal-Garcia once again asks us to push past the predictable and to embrace unexpected possibilities. I'm up for the challenge.