Jazz vocalist Caity Gyorgy finds opportunity in hard times

It looks like it’s going to take more than a pandemic to derail the promising career of vocalist Caity Gyorgy.

While being stuck at home has meant no more live concerts, band rehearsals or studio sessions, the 22-year-old rising star of Canadian jazz has made the best of her downtime.

Gyorgy has released two new singles in the past few months — Postage Due in April and A Certain Someone in July — gaining global attention via Spotify and social media, and she’s been landing gigs for live-streamed concerts hosted by the Jazz Bistro, the JazzYYC Virtual Summer Festival and others. She has three other studio projects recorded, mixed and mastered, waiting for the right time to be released.

Meanwhile, the Calgary-born singer just graduated from the music program at Humber College and will be working toward a master’s degree from McGill University starting in the fall.

Gyorgy first made a name for herself as a teenager on Canada’s festival and talent-show circuits. She has played with some of the country’s top jazz talent including Allison Au, George Koller and Trevor Giancola, and she’s studied with Mike Downes, Pat LaBarbara, Lisa Martinelli, John MacLeod and more. Counting Ella Fitzgerald, Sarah Vaughan, Esperanza Spalding and Cécile McLorin Salvant among her stylistic influences, Gyorgy leads a quartet and a tentet, playing original material and jazz standards with a flair for vocal improvisation. Jaymz Bee has called her “the greatest scat singer I’ve ever seen.”

We asked Gyorgy, a participant in our Jazzology program, to tell us more about how she’s been keeping busy and what she’s planning for the future.

How have you been keeping busy lately?

Listening to a lot of music! During the school year I often didn’t have enough time to listen to full albums uninterrupted, except for the few late-night shifts I had working reception at the Gordon Wragg Recording Studios, so I’ve been using this vast amount of downtime to really dig deep into some of my favourite albums: Sinatra at the Sands, Mack the Knife: Ella in Berlin, Stitt Plays Bird and West Side Story by the Oscar Peterson Trio. I’ve also been reading a lot. I just finished Margaret Atwood’s new release The Testaments and am currently reading Kazuo Ishiguro’s Never Let Me Go. I have also been learning new jazz standards and writing new music, and of course I’ve been practising lots.

What were you working on before the pandemic shut things down?

I was a couple months away from completing my Bachelor of Music at Humber College. I had finished my fourth recording session and was preparing my final submission for my Capstone Recording Project. I was also preparing for a very special recording session with two Canadian jazz legends — I’m not sure I’m allowed to say much more than that. That has gotten put on hold, but I hope the project will continue soon.

With live-stream concerts, you’ve still been getting quite a few virtual gigs. How does it feel to be getting these new opportunities as you advance your career, despite the circumstances?

With gigs being so scarce right now I am extremely grateful for the ability to still perform music to an audience. I was thrilled to be a part of the JazzYYC Virtual Summer Festival in May alongside Heather Bambrick and hosted by Tim Tamashiro, and I’m looking forward to playing a live-stream gig at the Jazz Bistro with pianist Felix Fox-Pappas. I think the live-streamed gigs have been an amazing way to reach audiences from all across the world. I know that my family in Calgary has enjoyed watching my “Toronto gigs” from the comfort and safety of their own homes. In a way, I’ve refrained from live-stream performances because although I can play a bit of piano, I wouldn’t say that I’m at the point where I can confidently accompany myself yet, but being in lockdown has helped me to practise my piano skills and I’m proud to say that my left-hand walking bass lines have gotten much better.

Tell us about the music you’ve shared recently.

I recently released two original singles, Postage Due and A Certain Someone. Both were recorded back in September with an amazing band. I was so fortunate to be able to play and record with Jocelyn Gould on guitar, Thomas Hainbuch on bass and Jacob Wutzke on drums. Both songs were recorded and mixed by Brandon Wells, mastered by Reuben Ghose and produced by Melanie Frade. They were both featured on Spotify’s Jazz X-press editorial playlist, which has been amazing for getting my music played around the world. Many people have reached out to tell me they heard my music on Spotify and they loved it. Having my music played globally has given me a sense of togetherness that is much needed during a time like this.

What details can you share about your music that’s still unreleased?

Ooh, this is a fun question! I have three projects that are recorded right now. I am currently releasing music from my guitar quartet project that features Jocelyn Gould. The other two projects will likely be released when I’m able to have a live release show for them. I have a five-song EP of all original music that I recorded with my tentet. The tentet project was so fun to record, and it’s all mixed and mastered and ready to be put out — when I’m ready. The format of this band includes trumpet, trombone, alto sax, tenor sax, baritone sax, clarinet, flute (on one track), piano, bass, drums and me. It’s very exciting to arrange for and get to work with so many instruments. The final project is a seven-song album that I recorded in February, and each track features a different horn player. This project features originals and standards that I arranged specifically for each horn player. I think I’m probably most excited for this one, but that could be because I recorded it most recently and the tunes are still fresh compared to my other recorded music.

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Who are some artists that have been influential to you?

There are so many musicians that have helped me to become the artist I am today. Ella Fitzgerald is the person I think of automatically because she was the catalyst for my pursuit of jazz. I heard her recording of Blue Skies from her 1959 record Get Happy! and I was hooked. Her improvisation was like nothing I had ever heard before. As I started dipping my toes in the instrumental side of jazz I was listening to a lot of Hank Mobley, Sonny Stitt and Charlie Parker. I started transcribing these players and inheriting their “language” to use in my own improvising. I remember when I first got into jazz I didn’t want to listen to anything that didn’t have a singer, but now I think I listen to more instrumental music. The technical proficiency that instrumentalists have amazes me. I have muscle memory as a vocalist, but learning songs with buttons is so foreign to me.

What are some of the best gigs you played before things took a turn?

The last gig I played before everything closed was at one of my favourite venues in Toronto: the Emmet Ray/ I really enjoy playing there because I’m usually playing with my friends and for my friends. I think one of my favourite gigs that I’ve played would have to be at the 2019 TD Toronto Jazz Festival with my quintet. We prepared over an hour of music and the response from the audience was incredible. I have also really enjoyed singing at the JAZZ.FM91 One-Stop Jazz Safaris at Lula Lounge. Those are always a blast. I had an amazing gig in Calgary over the winter holidays with the Calgary Jazz Orchestra and I got to sing a song that I co-wrote with their leader, Johnny Summers. That gig was especially fun because all of my family in Calgary were able to go to it. The last gig that I would consider one of the best would be a series of gigs where I hosted a jam in Etobicoke for Humber students. Although we never made any money off of it, I loved those jams. I loved getting to play with students from different years, and it felt so good to create a space where students could play music with their friends and not be on school property!

How was your experience with the Jazzology program? What did you like about it?

Getting to be a part of the Jazzology program was one of the highlights of my year. I loved going down to the station to talk to Heather and share my music. I think it’s amazing that JAZZ.FM91 works with the schools in the GTA to enrich the students’ educational experience. I love and appreciate that JAZZ.FM91 really cares about the students in the city and actively supports music education. After my episode aired, I received many messages from people who heard my interview and loved it. I gained new fans that I wouldn’t have had without the Jazzology program. I also found it extremely useful and educational to do a radio interview. I had done interviews before when I won the Stampede Talent Search and when I released a Christmas song with Johnny Summers in Calgary, but I had never had a full hour-long interview. It was a great experience.

How did the program help with your personal and professional development?

Gaining experience with radio interviews is so valuable to me, especially because I hope to do more interviews in the future. It was also amazing to show my music and who I am to a city full of millions of people. Opportunities like that don’t happen very often for students, so the help with broadcasting myself and my music is extremely helpful and I definitely do not take it for granted.

Why is music education important to you?

Music education is the way I have been able to make connections and friendships with players in the music scene while at the same time improving and honing my craft. As someone who moved to Toronto from Calgary, I don’t think I would have had the opportunities I do today without going to school at Humber. Humber gave me the tools I needed to get better and introduced me to the people I’ll be working with for the rest of my life. As I enter into the first year of my Masters of Jazz Performance at McGill University, I am so grateful to be able to attend an institution where I will grow more, but also make more connections with musicians in a new city. Music is all about connections, and music education is, in my opinion, one of the best ways to create meaningful connections.

In terms of your music career, where would you like to be years down the road?

Years down the road you’ll see me touring internationally with my own group, and frequently recording and releasing music. I would also like to teach music at the college level eventually, but that would be many years down the road. I think that with a career in music, the sky’s the limit and I love that music is not limited to just one thing. My profs at Humber teach, gig, record, tour and more, so why can’t I?

You can follow Caity Gyorgy on Instagram and Facebook.