ON the Beat | Interpretive Ladies’ Night Out, at the Lobero and In-House

Cat Power and Kate McGarry Reinvent the Cover Song; KCBX DJ Neal Losey Celebrates 25th Anniversary

Interpretive Ladies’ Night

It has been decreed by no less a cultural deity than Jann Wenner, the Mighty Oz of rock, that rock ‘n’ roll is, well, dead. “I’m sorry to see it go. It’s not coming back. It’ll end up like jazz.” So sayeth the Rolling Stone founder in the New York Times last Sunday, while hyping his new memoir from his kingly outpost in Montauk.

Kate McGarry and Keith Ganz | Credit: Josef Woodard

Rock ‘n’ roll’s death may or may not be greatly exaggerated, but the jazz obit slight is a tired trope. Jazz, America’s greatest indigenous art form, will never die, however meager its sales figures compared to pop box-office excesses. It’s about much more than money. DownBeat magazine’s cheeky cover story last month screamed “Jazz Is Dead,” but with tongue firmly planted in cheek.

Jazz is dead? You could have fooled a hearty, happy gathering of fans at a recent house concert by the stellar, underappreciated vocalist Kate McGarry, with her excellent and naturally genre-fluid guitarist husband, Keith Ganz, last Friday. Their early evening set, in a lovely house near the Old Mission, was one for the books — the books tracking significant musical moments in our town.

Ironically, Friday night found forces converging from the realm of gifted female singers with powers of interpretation. At the Lobero, we caught another mystical encounter with Cat Power, whose abilities to deconstruct and re-empower cover tunes is heard on her new album Covers and, in concert, ranged from the Pogues to Johnny Mathis, with stops at “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction,” “New York, New York,” and a stunning makeover of “I’ll Be Seeing You.”

McGarry, a subtle and commanding chanteuse with new ideas about what jazz is all about, is also a master in the art of the song, interpreted. She and Ganz — who recently issued the majestic album What to Wear in the Dark — breathed new life into “Dancing in the Dark,” “59th Street Bridge Song” (feeling groovy, in new clothes), a medley of Pat Metheny’s “Letter from Home” (with lyrics) and Joni Mitchell’s “Hejira,” then ending with “Here Comes the Sun,” lovingly altered. On her original music turf, McGarry’s harmonically searching “It Happens all the Time in Heaven,” based on 14th-century poet Hafez’s poem, triggered a depth of feeling and embodied a musical-poetic freshness not easily explained away. And it all happened in a Santa Barbara living room. Jazz was anything but dead there.

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805 Radio Iconography 

To paraphrase Sir Paul, in this ever-changin’ world in which we’re livin’, it’s comforting to have a regular, informed voice available on the public airwaves, over the course of years/decades. Enter Neal Losey, the beloved deejay whose voice (both literal and cultural) and fine, Catholic tastes are heard on most weekday mornings on that beacon of 805 left-of-the-dial radio goodness, the San Luis Obispo–based — but very much Santa Barbara–influential — KCBX (89.5 FM in these parts, or at kcbx.org).

This month marks Losey’s grand 25th anniversary on the air, and a toast or three is well in order. In 1997 then–Cal Poly student Losey took over the Morning Cup of Jazz slot from stalwart Chris O’Connell (still in S.L.O., now a singer-songwriter and hospice worker). Losey later expanded the program into a more eclectic canvas to reflect his (and our) wide interests. Jazz still has a stake, but indie rock, vintage menus, Americana, R&B, and other elements fit into the wider-berthed mix.

Grant-Lee Phillips | Credit: Courtesy SOhO

As Losey has explained, in stark contrast to the format-driven and format-choked nature of commercial terrestrial radio, he takes the intuitive live-deejay-in-the-moment ethos seriously: He shows up prepared to cook up his genre-weaving shows sans pre-planning. Morning Cup is, in short, a “no-recipe recipe,” which makes it inviting and exciting, day by day. Come Saturday nights, Losey unleashes his old-school soul-loving-and-knowing aptitude, on The Night Train. His presence is felt elsewhere in the station’s DNA as its music programmer.

On the Monday morning I am writing this column, Losey’s set list included Big Thief; Grant Green; Andrew Bird; Earth, Wind & Fire; and Little Johnny Taylor, all flowing with self-defined logic. It took the edge off of Monday morning nicely. A good deejay blends the roles of therapist, mixtape maestro, celebrant of things new and old, and cultural alchemist with a consoling voice. Losey has, and has had, those angles covered. (Full disclosure: Losey has kindly played some of my original music recordings, but I don’t hold that against him, or let that unduly influence my objective appreciation.)

TO-DOINGS:  Grant-Lee Phillips, one of those ’90s alt-rockers who found new life in the Americana/singer-songwriter trenches, brings his fertile sound and songbook back to SOhO on Monday, September 19. From the same category, Peter Case — who serenaded a SBIFF crowd after a screening of a Case doc — revisits the Tale from the Tavern series on Wednesday.

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