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Heart & Soul   I   Left Coast Life  I   Straight Up With a Twist  I   Evolution  I   Live at the Jazz Workshop  I   Live Reviews 

Live Concert Reviews

January 17, 2003:
The Sydney Morning Herald,
"This is One Sophistocated Kitty"
by John Shand

Anyone who thinks jazz can get a little too cerebral would lap up the Kitty Margolis approach. The American singer had battled womanfully to bridge the great divide between artist and audience at the Domain. In the cozy confines of a jazz cellar she succeeded.

The first international act in this year's Wine Banc Music Project, the live-wire Margolis arrived at full steam, bending the be-bop of Anthropology to her will, then charming the audience with Bennie's From Heaven. By the time she had dispensed with My Secret Love it was obvious that she was an accomplished improviser - "I speak two languages: English and scat," she quipped at one point - who could negotiate chord changes with the flair of a rally driver driving through a series of hairpin bends. Especially distinguishing was her ability to be playful and poignant at the same time.

A seductive bossa nova called Tristeza de Amar featured attractive drumming from Gordon Rytmeister and a piano solo from Bill Risby which began with a particularly striking phrase and sustained that level of melodic improvisation throughout. Margolis's improvisation ran to yodeling and then a sound not unlike a muted trombone, her lines pretty... and even ethereal.

Just the Way You Look Tonight prompted energetic scatting, exciting exchanges between herself, Rytmeister and John Mackey (tenor saxophone). Mackey also offered a warm and soulful contribution to the gentle Don't Go to Strangers, one of the ballads to show off the radiant lower register of Margolis's voice.

After a rapid Summertime the band moved up a gear, peaking on her arrangement of We Kiss in a Shadow from the King and I. Marvelously reinventing a haunting song, this had her delivering swirls of breathy melody over a simple ostinato, making for that rarest of creations, a love song with a difference.

Two blues wrapped up the proceedings, driven by the bass of Jonathan Zwartz and the tenor of Mackey, the latter gathering momentum as the night progressed. Engaging and entertaining, Margolis emerged as a sophisticated, funny and highly musical jazz singer.

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July 25, 2002:
The Los Angeles Times,
"Long Overdue L.A. Club Review for Stellar Singer"
by Don Heckman

San Francisco singer Kitty Margolis made her Los Angeles club debut at Catalina Bar & Grill on Tuesday night. And the first thought that came to mind during her exhilarating set was to wonder why in the world it hadn't happened sooner. Yes, Margolis has previously appeared in various concert venues around the Southland, but never before, she reported, in a traditional jazz nightclub setting.

Better late than never, as it turned out, even if it was only a one-nighter. The current rush toward the signing of new, young, female jazz vocalists is tending to obscure the importance of musicality, inventiveness and experience. Margolis offered a performance that was a brilliant reminder of the great pleasures of jazz singing when it is delivered by a mature, gifted, creative artist.

Her set dispensed multileveled layers of pleasure. There was, first of all, the sheer sense of joy in performing that was a palpable presence in everything she did. Completely centered, completely in the moment, Margolis' total involvement in the enjoyment of making music reached out to embrace her players--pianist Michael Bluestein, bassist Tom Warrington and drummer Paul Kreibich--as well as her enthusiastic listeners. A firm believer in the notion that entertainment and artistry can be completely compatible with one another, she proved that premise in one number after another. Opening with a burningly fast, up-tempo romp through "I Want to Be Happy," she immediately displayed her vocal virtuosity, punching out inventive variations on the song's basic theme.

Pausing between numbers, she took a moment to eloquently introduce Percy Mayfield's "Please Send Me Someone to Love," stressing the value of its message in the context of the past year's disturbing events, singing the classic tune with passionately engaging intensity.

Shifting into ballad mode, Margolis' version of "You Don't Know What Love Is" was climaxed by an extraordinary closing cadenza in which her melismatic vocal lines slid dramatically in and out of the dissonant parts of the underlying harmony.

Other songs--"We Kiss in a Shadow," "Summertime," "Spring Will Be a Little Late This Year" and "My Favorite Things"--were filled with equally inventive moments, tempered by her witty sense of humor and high-spirited stage presence.

Underlying and enhancing all her other extraordinary qualities, there was Margolis' sophisticated musicality--an ear for harmony, an improvisational imagination and a buoyant sense of rhythmic swing that place her at the very top level of the jazz vocal art.

And one could only hope that the current emphasis upon youth and its demographic appeal will not completely overshadow the work of such a vital and valuable artist.

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Los Angeles New Times,
"Kitty at El Camino College"
by Kirk Silsbee

San Francisco based improvising vocalist Kitty Margolis is certainly a talent deserving wider recognition, but call her "minor league" at you own peril. She has built up a sizeable following-both through her self-produced recordings and her live shows. Margolis is that rare performer who's able to bring her art in to the realm of the transpersonal, thereby eliminating ego barriers between her, her band, and the audience. It's this communication, coupled with a palpable exuberance for singing, that makes Margolis special. Like few other singers, she's expanding and contemporizing the jazz vocal vernacular.

While Margolis may perform a standard tune now and again, her work is always in a state of flux and being formulated in the moment. She revels in sounds for their own sake, and she sometimes calls to mind the yodeling of Leon Thomas. This constant invention inevitably leads to some variation in quality, but when Margolis and her band connect, the results can be quite spectacular. If you're down for a wild ride, El Camino College is the place to be this Saturday.

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San Francisco Examiner,
"Handy Fest Off to a Bright Start Program Features Monk, Escovedo, Margolis"
By Phil Elwood

The first, and hopefully annual, John Handy Jazz Festival, a three-night affair, came out swinging Friday in S.F. State's McKenna Theater with a program that included drummer T.S. Monk and his band, Pete Escovedo's 10-piece Latin Ensemble and singer Kitty Margolis with her quartet.

Margolis, an S.F. State alumna, frequent workshop instructor and world traveler, was in her usual ebullient mood and particularly good voice on Saturday -- a perfect festival-opener. Paul Nagel, piano, and Eric Crystal, saxes, were outstanding in accompaniment. Margolis' bopping scat-style renditions are often more in Ella Fitzgerald's manner than Betty Carter's (her "In Walked Bud" reflects this) and on a dirge-paced "Spring Can Really Hang You Up the Most," Nagel provided Margolis' free-fall vocal (which was quite intriguing) with a Bach-like accompaniment.

Escovedo kicked into a mambo beat on his timbales and the brassy tentette (including two trumpets, two trombones, one sax) roared along, playing stuff by Ray Barretto and Ray Obiedo, among others. Escovedo's bands, professional yet loose, always reflect their leader's ability to play hot jazz orchestrations, and solos, within various Latin rhythmic patterns -- a joy to hear, watch and dance to.

Monk's sextet arrived at the theater late and held an informal sound-check on stage before finally playing, making the concert even later. Monk is a fine drummer and leader, and a talker, too. After one long format bebop number (opening theme/two-chorus solos by each member/closing chorus) he admitted arriving in a bad mood, then recounted two days' worth of enervating activities. The band then played on -- hot stuff, some excellent solos, but routine and lacking in the good cheer that such a festival event deserves.

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Minneapolis Star Tribune,
"Kitty Margolis Embraces Jazz Listeners With Her Voice"
By Michael Anthony

San Francisco, the city that columnist Herb Caen used to call the Bagdhad By the Bay, has always been a center for jazz, and one if its recent exports is the singer Kitty Margolis.

Margolis, who opened a two-night engagement at the Dakota Bar and Grill in St. Paul, resembles the city she comes from in that she is smart and sensual. She's also one of that rare breed: a true jazz singer. SHe can improvise exuberantly, but her improvisations are bracketed within arrangements that have a compositional depth. In addition, she has real "chops," as jazz musicians would say: an impeccable ear, an almost vibrato-free voice and a range that moves easily from rich sounding low notes to a high, almost coloratura soprano.

And she's an infectious performer, too, as she demonstrated during her first set Tuesday. She seems to want to embrace everyone in the audience, if only with her voice. And on this occasion she had the advantage of working with three fine local musicians, drummer Phil Hey, bassist Terry Burns and pianist Peter Schimke.

Often Margolis works against expectations. She took the normally breezy-paced "I Remember You" as a slow, mournful ballad. In contrast, she lit a firecracker under Rodgers and Hart's "My Romance," scat-singing several choruses midway through, while Schimke and his colleagues propelled the tune forward. Influences of John Coltrane and Betty Carter surfaced in her re-thinking of "Getting to Know You" with its African rhythmic effects. For "We Kiss in a Shadow," Schimke switched to a synthesizer, which provided a rich orchestral backdrop. "In Walked Bean," off Margolis' most recent CD, "Straight Up With a Twist," sets her new lyrics to Thelonius Monk's "In Walked Bud."

Near the end of the set she provided the evenings most touching and heartfelt moments, her version of "You Don't Know What Love Is," backed just by Burns' sensitively played bass. She closed with an uptempo blues number. Margolis is a sing to watch.

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East Bay Express,
"Kitty Margolis at Yoshi's"
By Andrew Gilbert

Part of what makes Kitty Margolis such an exciting singer is that she's a work in progress. Of course, there's also her sexy, throaty voice and her dead-on sense of swing, and the way she reworks the melodies to suit her improvisational needs. But on Monday night at Yoshi's, celebrating the release of her excellent, almost slickly produced new album, "Straight Up With a Twist," Margolis displayed a number of subtle changes in her approach. Most obvious is that she's de-emphasized her scatting, a vocal technique she excels at (and that she practices with a rare sense of humor.)

After her opening number, "Getting to Know You," she scatted only sparingly during the first set. And even on that song, a syncopated introduction suggesting central African tribal music, made it clear that Margolis was indeed giving her material a new twist. Varying instrumentation helped add texture to the evening, as she sang the introduction to "For All We Know" as a duet with pianist Paul Nagel, before bassist Scott Steed and drummer Scott Morris joined in. Margolis favors arrangements that incorporate her sound within the group's, and some of the most exciting moments came as she interacted with saxophonist Eric Crystal and guitarist Brad Buethe. The set's high point was her exquisite version of "The Night Has a Thousand Eyes," a tune made famous by John Coltrane, whose influence on Margolis seems second only to Betty Carter's. Margolis closed the set with her ironic version of "The 'In' Crowd," a tune that was a hit for pianist Ramsey Lewis but that's been little heard since. In her hands, the funky tune becomes a swinging inside joke, letting everyone at the show know that in place to be is wherever Margolis happens to be performing.

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Minneapolis Star Tribune,
"Kitty Margolis' Vivacious Vocals- Show Jazz Tradition Still Kicking"
By Michael Anthony

So where are the jazz singers now that Sarah Vaughan and Carmen McRae are gone and Ella Fitzgerald is retired? The next time you hear that question, the answer ought to be Kitty Margolis.

Actually, young jazz singers are popping up all over the place these days, and some of them, such as Margolis, who opened a two-night engagement at the Dakota Bar and Grill in St. Paul on Friday night, are the real thing. A native of San Francisco, Margolis has the impeccable ear and shrewd sense of timing that all good jazz singers have.

What is uniquely hers is a wide vocal range dominated by a husky contralto sound that gives her excursions into the blues a warm, earthy, party-time flavor. Such deep voices rarely have Margolis' agility, however, and one of the highlights of the singer's first set Friday nignt was a truly virtuosic rendering of the bop tune "Anthropology" set to Leonard Feather's breezy Iyrics. Add to that her infectious personality, which warms up a room.

Dressed in a black velvet gown wilh a pink feather boa around her neck Margolis, who looks like she could be Bette Midler's kid sister, opened with two classic songs by Jerome Kern: a hard-swinging "All the Things You Are" and an ironic, almost cubist arrangement of "I'm Old-Fashioned" set to an uptempo bossa-nova beat that suggested this particular singer isn't all that old fashioned.

Backed with energy and skill by pianist John Burr, bassist Terry Burns and drummer Gary Gauger, Margolis also sang an unusual arrangement of Johnny Green's "I Cover the Waterfront," phrasing the song in the manner of a master tenor saxophonist, allowing an expressive vibrato to appear at the ends of her phrases and, in a surprise, concluding the song by returning to the seldom-heard verse.

A jazz-waltz version of "My Romance" ensued, and in a new Brazilian tune that followed, Margolis imitated the sound of a trombone, gently riding the rhythm in a kind of extended coda.

Burr, who is also a San Francisco native, played creatively throughout the set.

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San Francisco Examiner,
"Kitty Margolis' Jazz Singing is Hitting on All Cylinders"
By Philip Elwood

In the last few years Kitty Margolis' basic singing style has shifted its emphasis from mostly bebop scatting to more main stream, swinging jazz. And the shift has moved the energetic, personable singer out of high gear into overdrive.

Lionel Hampton noted Margolis' singing in the early 1990's at his annual jazz festival in Idaho. He said, "The next great jazz voice is Kitty Margolis." He's invited her back each year since. Singing with her pianoless quartet at Yoshi's on Tuesday-she's at Heart and Soul in The City Thursday through Saturday- Margolis, in a spiffy back gown, guided her appreciative, hip crowd through a wonderful selection of songs. Margolis doesn't use her instrumentalists as backup accompaniment. Rather, she expands their sound into a that of a quintet by her singing,

It takes lots of jazz savvy to accomplish what Margolis makes appear easy. Her voice is pure and musical, flexible and in good taste. No oodles of vocal noodles, no scat gymnastics She sang "I Cover the Water front," commenting that she'd first heard the plaintive Johnny Green song on a Billie Holiday record. Margolis doesn't imitate Lady Day at all, but she does present a marvelous rendition. When she sang it at the Hampton Festival this year she was accompanied by pianist Hank Jones, guitarist Herb Ellis, and others. Here, she has no pianist in her band and her arrangement and rendition change accordingly.

Saxist Brooks enhanced MargoIis' "I'm Old Fashioned" with a brilliant and effective solo. Later in the set he and Steed, with drummer Vince Lateano's brushes stirring up the rhythm, provide a delightful introdudtion to "Gone With the Wind," which is presented without guitar. "My Romance" a Rodgers and Hart ballad, is done in three-quarter time by Margolis, Also included in a long set that flew by was Percy Mayffeld's "Please Send Me Someone to Love," a boppish, scattish number("Anthropology," which she has recorded.) and a wild calypso song.

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Strictly Jazz Magazine,
"This Kitty Knows How to Swing!"
(review of Spivey Hall "Women in Jazz Series" Concert in Atlanta)
by Eddie Carter

The 400 seat auditorium was filled to capacity to hear Kitty and her quartet (Kenny Brooks-tenor sax; Spencer Allen-piano; Ruth Davies-bass; and Scott Morris-drums.)

On the opening selection "DayIn -Day Out" Ms. Margolis enticed the crowd with an alluring reading of the melody and a searing scat solo. Kitty's mid-tempo embrace of the jazz standard "I'm Old Fashioned" had many in the audience on the edge of their seats, so effective was her grip on the opening lyrics. Ms. Margolis spoke briefly to the crowd as Allen accompanied her to set up a sensitive, torch-like interpretation of "I Cover the Waterfront" that was a thing of beauty. She sang each chorus with great eloquence and natural feeling while her tone remained warm and refined throughout her solo.

Kitty delivered a dedication to a couple in the audience who attends all the concerts at Spivey Hall, and was celebrating their 57th wedding anniversary. Then she playfully launched into "Bennie's From Heaven" bringing an outburst of joy and laughter from the audience. A lively, contemporary version of "It Might As Well Be Spring" was up next. Kitty displayed brilliant phrasing and improvisations through the opening scat solo, while the rhythm section crackled with instrumental fire and smoke. Listening to Kitty's compelling yet tender voice weave gracefully in unison with Allen on a duet of "Where Do You Start?" was like hearing the song again for the first time. Ms. Margolis took full advantage of the superb accompaniment by the pianist, conveying a substantial warmth and refined elegance that lingered in everyone's memory long after the song's finale. She turned up the heat again for a vibrant musical introduction of the quartet, segueing into an exuberant joyride on "Someone Else Is Steppin' In" to close out the first half of the program.

Ms. Margolis began the second set with an unnacompanied solo chorus of Charlie Parker's "Anthropology," then charged into the opening solo of this uptempo cooker with an aggressive scat, slicing through the rhythm section with an urgency that bowled the audience over. "Tristeza de Amar" opened with a warm soft mood of sheer gracefulness on the melody. Kitty gave a stunning account of the final three selections "'Round Midnight", "All Blues" and "I'm Walkin'." "All Blues" sparkled from the first note to the last with a fresh, unpretentious performance by Ms. Margolis that paced well against the rhythm section's solid support. The vocalist launched into Fats Domino's classic "I'm Walkin'" and then exited the stage to a standing ovation while the quartet brought this wonderful evening to a close!


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