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A Conversation With ... Caity Gyorgy

Handing the prized Juno Award for Vocal Jazz Album of the Year to Diana Krall has been customary - – I’m guessing nine times since its inception in 2000. The most high profile and top-selling jazz artist the past two decades in Canada. There have been two for Emilie-Claire Barlow and several interruptions with – Laila Biali, Holly Cole, Ranee Lee, Diana Panton and others. When a new arrival grabs the coveted award, this should be news.

Calgary-born Gyorgy sports a growing resume that includes winning multiple awards, such as the Grand Prize in the jazz category of the 2021 John Lennon Songwriting Contest for her song Secret Safe, which other vocalists around the world have sung. She is also a sought after clinician and is currently on faculty as a vocal jazz instructor at the Yukon Summer Music Camp in Whitehorse, Yukon and the Interprovincial Music Camp in McKellar, Ontario.

Recently, we hooked up through Zoom for a delightful exchange and familiarity session. Gyorgy is living the dream. Touring and recording in early life. Building a solid base for the future.

More on Caity Gyorgy

Canadian vocalist Caity Gyorgy recently released her latest LP, You’re Alike, You Two. After becoming the youngest ever two-time Juno winner in the category of Best Vocal Jazz Album earlier this year, Gyorgy is back with a brilliant duo record alongside pianist Mark Limacher, spotlighting the music of Jerome Kern.

You’re Alike, You Two is a triumph of storytelling, a wildly charming, witty, and heartfelt foray into the songbook of one of America’s greatest composers. Jerome Kern was a titan of early twentieth-century theatre and film, with over seven hundred songs to his credit, including some of jazz’s most recognizable standards. With You’re Alike, You Two, Gyorgy and Limacher introduce Kern’s music to a new generation of listeners, bringing out the best in his songs and in each other. 

“It’s funny, Jerome Kern was not really a fan of jazz musicians playing his music,” says Gyorgy. “And he would sue them, unsuccessfully, which is kind of hilarious. So I love the fact we’re doing an entire album of his music, and we’re improvising on it. I hope it will bring more people to his music. I think it’s beautiful music.

“I love that this album has allowed me to step into different kinds of emotions and interpret them in my own way. It’s a real treat to get to focus on one composer. To do it with Mark is even better because he has such a vast knowledge of the music. Mark embodies the entire band. He’s so incredibly musical, and he’s a very thoughtful and generous player.”

Limacher transforms the piano into a storytelling instrument on You’re Alike, You Two. Skillfully, magically, he brings the emotional nuances of each lyric into his own playing. The one-two punch of he and Gyorgy can be beyond delightful (A Fine Romance). It can also be devastatingly bittersweet (April Fooled Me). 

And Gyorgy? She continues to cement her status as a singular young voice in jazz today. Discussing You’re Alike, You Two, she bowls you over with her sheer love of making music, as well her sense of drive, which feels almost like a force of nature. 

She also frankly acknowledges the resistance she’s encountered from some who question her success, who label her Juno victories a fluke, or see her age as a mark against her. Gyorgy concludes You’re Alike, You Two with an original tune, The Bartender, that addresses her detractors.

“It’s a song that I wrote last year,” she says. “It was a response to some sentiments about me gaining recognition and a lot of people doubting me based on my age and my perceived lack of experience. So, I wanted to include a song reacting to that. 

“The lyrics of the song are a recipe for an Old Fashioned,” she continues, “which is at the moment my favourite cocktail. Each ingredient for the Old Fashioned becomes a metaphor for someone who is scared of the new generation or scared of maybe becoming irrelevant. Although, if you were really wise, you’d realize the Old Fashioned is never going to be irrelevant because it’s a great drink.”

Gyorgy keeps proving herself a one-woman powerhouse, a singer, songwriter, bandleader, and producer par excellence. Her original tunes, which earned her a spot in Juno history, evoke the wit and sophistication of a bygone era, and she delivers both melody and lyric with infallible technical command. As You’re Alike, You Two emphatically demonstrates, she’s also one of our great interpreters of jazz’s storied past. You may have heard Yesterdays a thousand times, called at jam sessions the world over. When Gyorgy sings it, you get to experience what only the best musicians can offer: hearing a classic anew.

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