Caity Gyorgy has been making waves in the jazz world over the last few years.
Currently splitting her time between Toronto and Montreal, the vocalist and composer has performed with musicians like Allison Au, Pat LaBarbera and Pat Collins, and she has an increasingly popular presence on social media — namely her highly active Instagram page.
Gyorgy’s debut album No Bounds came out in January, and she’s already prepping to release a new EP called Now Pronouncing — this time featuring arrangements for her tentet.
Gyorgy joined us to talk about her musical beginnings, her burgeoning career and her songwriting process.
You’re in Montreal right now?
Yes I am. I’m completing the first year of my master’s degree in jazz performance at McGill.
How’s it going?
It’s going really well. I have a thesis I have to do this weekend, and then I’m good for the summer.
Do you mind if I ask what your thesis is on?
I’m doing my thesis on a method for independent jazz artists who want to release singles on Spotify — how to successfully release it on Spotify to have the best results on editorial playlists, algorithmic playlists and all of that fun stuff.
We know you’re a great singer, but it also seems like you’re very 360 in the way you’ve approached your career. You’re writing a thesis on how to navigate Spotify and your Instagram account is very robust. Is that who you are, or is it the nature of the business these days that forced you to understand all these mechanisms?
I think I’ve always been tech-savvy and interested in developing a fan base outside of my local community. Using Spotify and Instagram, those two tools have been instrumental in creating a fan base all over the world. The Spotify stuff started when I released one of my singles Moonlight in Vermont in November of 2019; that was added to an editorial playlist, and every single release after that one was also added to an editorial playlist. I’ve developed the method and helped my friends with it. I find that everything goes hand in hand. The Spotify releases go hand in hand with Instagram because I can promote all of my music and all of my gigs on Instagram. I’m so excited to be able to connect with people all over the world. I really don’t think I would have the career I have today without Spotify or Instagram. I try to use those tools to my advantage as much as possible.
I think some artists feel that it can be limiting, or that there’s so much of a learning curve. But you seem to be really in control of your career.
Social media has been really important to me. I’m lucky because I’ve had Instagram since it came out. I was 14 when I first got the app. I’m 22 now. So, I’ve had it for almost a decade. I know how the updates work and I’ve adapted to the small changes that they make every update. It hasn’t been too difficult for me to use those platforms to my advantage, just because I basically grew up with them. But I still think that even if people aren’t on social media, I’m always saying they should get on it because it’s a really good way to meet new people and showcase your talent. It has its pros and cons, but I tend to focus on the pros and take a break when there are too many cons.
Do you come from a musical family?
Nope. I’m originally from Calgary, and my dad took singing lessons when he was a kid and my mom took lessons in classical piano. I did have an upright piano in the house growing up, which was awesome, and I developed my ear using that piano. I started taking music lessons when I was nine or 10 years old, but I didn’t get into jazz until I was 17. It had never been in the house before. I had never heard of Miles Davis. I had heard of Ella Fitzgerald, but I had no idea. And now, of course, I have a Barbie doll of Ella Fitzgerald.
What were the first jazz sounds that got to you?
There are a couple of things. I joined the vocal jazz choir in my high school, so I had a little playlist of music I would listen to. That included Blue Skies, Ella’s version with the scat solo that goes on forever and it’s so good. And her version of Air Mail Special at the Newport Jazz Festival. It was things like that that really got me hooked. Then I started seeing a jazz drummer, and he introduced me to some of the instrumental music. That was when I was 17 and we’re still together now; it’s been almost six years. He introduced me to Birth of the Cool. I bought it at a record shop, I went home and I listened to it, and I hated it. Oh my gosh, I couldn’t stand it. But you know, the more I listened to it, the more my ears became accustomed to the sounds, and I was picking up more and more each time. I kept listening and listening. Now, it’s one of my absolute favourite records. It’s beautiful. But it definitely took me a couple of years to develop an interest in instrumental jazz rather than just vocal jazz.
What compelled you to go back and listen to Birth of the Cool after you didn’t like it at all?
To be completely honest… I wanted to impress that boy. I was thinking maybe I could find something in here to talk about on the next date. It ended up working out.
Tell us a little bit about this new album. I get a sense that you’re kind of an old soul. You’re talking about folks like Marilyn Monroe and Cary Grant. Conceptually, what were you thinking about when you were making this new record?
Now Pronouncing is a record that I arranged and composed for my tentet. I’ve got clarinet, alto, tenor, bari, flute, piano, bass, drums, trumpet and trombone. There are so many instruments on this, and they’re all very good friends of mine from Humber College, which is very fun. I like to think of myself as a storyteller, so a lot of the songs — particularly Why’d You Gotta — are inspired by films. This one is very lyrical, it’s a story. The first phrase is, “Why’d I gotta see you dancing in the courtyard with another girl on your arm?” The inspiration for that was taken from the movie Rear Window and from West Side Story. I use a lot of imagery when I write, and I try to turn the images into lyrics. The lyrics are very important to me.
When you began listening to music and becoming a singer, did you always want writing to be part of it or was that something that came later?
Writing came after the fact. I had always been writing songs, but not necessarily in the jazz repertoire. I was writing pop songs. But then I fell head-over-heels in love with this music, and it’s all that I listen to now. My composition reflects what I listen to. I listen to standards, bebop and all of that kind of stuff.
This interview has been edited and condensed.