Women Making Music – Cynthia McDermott

Women Making Music – Cynthia McDermott

I’ve wanted to interview masterful mandolin player, accomplished singer-songwriter Cynthia McDermott since 2018 when I first met and heard her play. The time has finally come!

Juggling three pre-pandemic music projects, she focuses these days on booking her trio, Pimps of Pompe. It’s a band that specializes in jazzed-up covers of hip-hop and R&B. Cynthia describes it as “swing with swag.”

She reflects on her bandmates saying of Garron Chesson, “he’s a groovy, well-educated upright bass player with a solid sense of time and the ability to float back and forth between hip-hop and jazz voicings.”  And of guitarist Duane Simpson, “he’s a unicorn, and his style, his fills help drive that R&B vibe I’m going for.”  

Where were you born and raised?

I was born in Phoenixville, PA in July of 1985 and when I was four, my mom, stepdad and I took a trip down the east coast in our Toyota Tercel with a pop-up camper towed behind. We traveled to the Florida Keys and back up the Gulf coast. When we got to Panama City Beach, they decided to stay and build their new life together there. Thirty-three years later, they’re still in the house where my younger brother, Nate and I grew up!

Did someone suggest you learn to play & sing?

I was surrounded by music even before the day I was born. Mom was playing guitar for my dad in an old-time fiddle contest when she was 8 months pregnant with me, so the guitar was very close to my tiny baby self!

My mom has a beautiful voice and when I was young, I would harmonize with her when I wasn’t feeling too shy.

When I discovered Nickel Creek, their mandolin player Chris Thile totally blew me away. I started college that year and bought my first mandolin and started taking lessons.

People often regret that they didn’t stick with an instrument they were forced to learn as children. What is it that keeps you motivated to keep at it?

This is a great question because I struggle with motivation but striving to play like the greats whose music I admire so, and makes me feel so deeply is what keeps me going. I’ve learned not to approach practicing/playing with a critical ear, because that’s not conducive to accessing that space where great music comes from.

Who are your heroes and influences?

Jethro Burns is one of those musical heroes whose playing sets the standard for me. He had a joyful, playful, mischievous approach and beautiful sensibilities. He was one of the first mandolin players to branch out into the worlds of early jazz and swing, my favorite styles to listen to and play. He incorporated innovative chord variations and possessed great phrasing; he was also a funny prankster. I have a tattoo of him
on my left bicep!

I met a man who would become my partner for the next seven years. When we met, I played bluegrass and folk. Then I started listening to and began to learn Western swing. We traveled the country together, eventually venturing to Spain and France. We immersed ourselves in Bebop, Bossa Nova, Klezmer and Frank Zappa while keeping our sound rooted in vintage jazz.

The most magic I’ve experienced playing music though, has happened at a long-standing national festival/fiddle contest in Weiser, Idaho. Aside from performances by the contestants, musicians come to camp and jam. It’s an environment where you convene with some of the greatest living swing guitar players. They break down their chords for you, jam with you, sing harmonies with you, tell dirty jokes and pass the bottle with you. I make sure I go every year, no matter how busy my schedule.

How many and what kind of mandolins do you have?

My F-style acoustic mandolin was built by a maker in Birmingham where my dad lives. He had it made for me as a college graduation gift; my workhorse mandolin for a decade. My A-model acoustic was made by my favorite builder, Lawrence Smart. That’s the mandolin I play now. My electric is a crazy Frankenstein, customized by the previous owner (a member of Blue Oyster Cult). He added a couple strings to it, so instead of 5 single strings, the 3 lower strings are singles and the top two, doubled.  I’m excited about having another electric built for me by my friend Ben Bonham from Weiser, ID. 

Who are your vocal influences?

Ella Fitzgerald is my favorite singer for her tone, range, sensitivity and her ability to scat. Billie Holiday cuts straight to your heart and a modern R&B singer I admire is the artist H.E.R, Astrud Gilberto too; for her soft, soothing style.

Original songs you are most proud of and why?

I wrote a song called “This Is How It Is.” Stylistically it’s a mix of Bossa nova and Stevie Wonder, and lyrically it’s based on what I learned from studying yoga philosophy; that life goes smoothly when I accept what is, instead of trying to fight it. That doesn’t mean don’t fight for what I want, but do it from a place of accepting conditions as they are in this moment. The song helps remind me because it conveys that message.

The songs I write now are textured, layered, locking into a groove and finding variations. I incorporate personal experiences. If I’m struggling in the dating world, I will write about that! I write songs that reveal my vulnerabilities; that are relatable to people going through the same things.

Notable past or upcoming performances?

The Pimps of Pompe performed at the Django Reinhardt birthday celebration at the Grey Eagle 2 years ago. It was the first time we were on a notable stage with an audience full of avid listeners. They loved us!

We play Sundays at the Battery Park Book Exchange, at The Foundry Hotel Lounge on the 2nd and 4th Thursdays of every month and weekends at the Lobster Trap. We’ll be taking our maiden voyage on the LaZoom Bus October 1st. We will also be on the Grey Eagle patio October 27th.

I’m also part of a group called GypsyGrass, led by the talented Ben Phan as well as Queen Bee (Whitney Moore) and the Honey Lovers. You can keep up with my shows by visiting:

pimpsofpompe.com

mandocynmusic.com

Peggy Ratusz is a vocal coach, song interpreter, and songwriter.
For vocal coaching email her at
peggymarie43@gmail.com

Women Making Music – Mare Carmody

Women Making Music – Mare Carmody

 It was 4:45 on a February morning when our dog started barking and our doorbell rang in successions. I was thrown into that dart-out-of-bed you dread feeling. As I scurried to the front door trying not to trip on my robe, I see outside the window, a silent ambulance with its lights ominously twirling in the night sky, a gurney on my small front stoop and an EMT on either side of it. I opened the door and as I did, it “dawned” on the two of them that they were at the wrong house. The wrong side, I should say because I live in a duplex.

On the other side of the duplex, live my friends Mare Carmody (voice over actor, professional musician) and her husband. I profiled Mare in 2018, soon after they’d moved in over there. I asked the EMT’s as they quickly backed up the gurney, “what’s going on over there?” and my dog yipped from getting caught in one of the wheels, adding to the intensity of the situation. “We’re not at liberty to say, ma’am” was their terse reply.

So I didn’t know which one of them they’d come for. I went inside my house, grabbed my coat and paced the driveway for the next 15 minutes.

It was Mare they brought out on the gurney, looking far off and unaware even though they positioned her sitting upright. Her husband came out; we started to cry. They have pets, so I helped get them fed and calmed down while he grabbed a few things he thought Mare might need in the hospital. He emerged from their bedroom with one of her bras dangling from his wrist by its strap. “Okay, I think I’ve got everything I can think of” was something like what he said. I told him, “Dude, you might wanna put that bra dangling from your wrist inside the bag you have in your hand.” It was a much-needed moment.

Fast forward to the other day, Mare and I are sitting at a coffee house singing “Happiness is a Warm Gun” before commencing to recount what she went through leading up to that morning and since. When we get to the lyric, bang- bang, shoot-shoot, we smirk over the irony of what she’s been through; what we’ve all been through.

My first question is ‘to what do you attribute your strength for being able to get back up after being knocked down time after time over the past 2 years?’

“That I’m a tough old bird. I am my mother’s daughter. I’m hard headed.”

What Mare experienced, her doctors are coming around to admit, was likely a “long haul” symptom of COVID. Two grand mal seizures later and less than 1 hour apart (one at home; one at the emergency room), the consequence was one shoulder torn and reconstructed and the other so completely broken and shattered that the surgeon had to reach in to find it, in order to replace it.

The haplessness she felt during the first weeks of 2 consecutive recovery periods and rehab; she couldn’t do regular things like close a car door or even put on that bra that her husband thought she’d need, much less play her guitar, was the challenge. “It was frustrating to have to depend on others to do everything for me. I don’t like that feeling.”

She made up her mind not to let negative overshadow her fierce commitment to get her voice and her chops back. She reveals to me another scary outcome that happened during one of the many procedures and tests she had to endure. One of her lungs collapsed leaving her breathing at times, compromised.

She set a goal to start singing and playing her guitar again by September. “It was May/June and the more I’d hear about musicians getting back on stages and my bandmates doing gigs without me, the more resolute I became to start slow and get my voice going, to practice playing my smaller acoustic guitar. I had new song ideas and melodies waiting for their chord progressions! That, it’s-now-or-never feeling hit me. The bottom line is that while people will cheer you on in your efforts to get better, they can’t do it for you. And my husband knows better than anyone, that music is what keeps me sane.”

Prior to moving here, she was completely healthy. So when she was diagnosed with thyroid cancer in 2019, the effects and treatments rendered a weight loss that rendered frailty in her bones that rendered a fall that rendered a broken hip. Then she caught the COVID.

“There are moments when I feel sorry for myself, cursing life for kicking me in the ass time after time, but getting up and out walking in the neighborhood is medicinal. Ideas and inspiration come from putting one foot in front of the other.  The universe says to me, ‘take these gifts and let them guide you’. Musician friends who invite me to sit in on gigs prove I am viable even during recovery. It’s easy to get bogged down in the notion that because I’ve had some challenges that I might be past my prime.” To that I say, ‘Oh contraire my friend, oh contraire!’

Once the cognition of how big a deal this was, once the gravity set in, she got down and kissed the ground. She doesn’t remember certain things she said or did. Doctors explain that when fighting a coronavirus for instance, our bodies have what they call a cytokine storm which happens when our immune system kicks into overdrive to fight an infection. Instead of helping her it hurt her. She says her doctors explained it this way: It manifests as an electrical storm in your brain.
The electric impulses are causing your muscles to contract and release violently within a grand mal seizure.

“All this has me rethinking how I go through life. I truly live for today because nothing gives me a greater appreciation for my life and what I’ve been blessed with than almost dying.”

Peggy Ratusz is a vocal coach, song interpreter, and songwriter.
For vocal coaching email her at
peggymarie43@gmail.com

Women Making Music – Coming Back Better

Women Making Music – Coming Back Better

 The opening paragraph I wrote in November 2017 of  Women Making Music spotlighting saxophonist and singer, Debrissa McKinney is worth repeating: “The first time I met Debrissa McKinney I was in a bad mood. I don’t remember why but what I do remember is that she brought sunny into my gloom, and turned my frown upside down. She asked me questions about myself. She was truly interested in my answers. I know oodles of people who are good at give and take. But something about Debrissa makes me and everyone she meets feel that extra special mojo; one feels lifted in her company.”

Catching up with Ms. McKinney recently over Zoom, we start off laughing of course because anyone who knows her knows that frivolity abounds when she’s around. Our exchange quickly goes to where most of my conversations these days with musician friends go, by talking about the big transition. “I’m not as busy as I was pre-pandemic yet, but there’s a definite feeling like, ‘Oh I need to rehearse this stuff again,” she admits.

During lockdown she confesses that like so many of us, she caught herself moping around. Living downtown like she does, the desolation was palpable. “I’d go for walks in the neighborhood and could feel people peering out their windows wondering who is this extra sad looking lady comin’ up my street. All I needed was a Mr. Microphone for my inner sad-singer to vent and wail my fear and loneliness while I shuffled up and down the streets.”

Thank goodness things are pivoting from live streams to live shows. We delve into philosophy pertaining to the phenomenon of Covid 19 and what we’ve learned. We agree that saying “no” or “not right now” is more common and accepted amongst our peers and bandmates and we are grateful.

McKinney is still part of the 2017 Grammy winning (for best Kid’s Album) troupe, Secret Agent 23 Skidoo and plays sax and sings with Empire Strikes Brass as well as lead and backing vocalist for the most popular Steely Dan tribute band, Dirty Logic. But when we last left her, she was dabbling in a project with Hip/Hop MC and producers Austn Haynes and Johnny Reynolds.

Haynes and Reynolds have maintained a partnership that dates back to their teens. Referring to themselves as “forever friends,” you can hear that it fuels their combined artistry. With love and ambition, their successful, bicoastal Hip Hop outfit called Free Radio was born.

The pandemic and the fact that they are both back living in Asheville, Free Radio duo has morphed into something even more expansive. The addition of vocal melodies and harmonies executed with warm and luscious precision by Debrissa and deep-soul vocalist Datrian Johnson brings “balance and magic” to this purposeful project.

“One of the coolest parts of this collaboration” McKinney says, “stems from Austn’s masterful beat making prowess. He’s always creating new and unique beats; there’s no beat re-do’s; he is always mixing it up.”

For anyone not steeped in Hip Hop, and for longtime Free Radio duo fans, this new angle to the venture will draw you in. They’ve created a new accessible genre they dub “Cosmic Appalachian Hip Hop.” The moods and melodies are grounded in R&B and roots music, connecting them to the potency of nature, sound and rhythm. The result is a mashup with a distinct message.

Riding tandem to this fresh Free Radio cooperative, Debrissa is in company with yet another musical undertaking involving scientist, folk healer, wisdom keeper, Jeff Firewalker Schmidt, Phd and his passionate and profoundly introspective project with Jazz musician and keyboardist John Medeski (of Medeski Martin & Wood) called Saint Disruption.

Firewalker and Medeski came together serendipitously, meeting in the Amazon while both were on a mission of personal healing and growth. Their endeavor is based around their “deep devotion to native wisdom traditions.”

The pandemic allowed for the creation of Saint Disruption’s 7-track record called “Rose in the Oblivion” and features Debrissa, Datrian, Leeda Lyric Jones and Austn Haynes among others.

Following are excerpts from an interview with Jeff and John on Live for Live Music conducted by Andrew O’Brien on April 7th of this year:

“This is a native wisdom,” Firewalker contends. “And native teachings say that it’s in the darkness where we come to know who we truly are. One of my teachers puts it beautifully: can you name one thing on this planet that doesn’t start its life in the darkness?”

The darkness of 2020, he explains, was the impetus for Saint Disruption’s creation.  “I went to my altar and I said, ‘Okay, Spirit. I’ve got this luxury of time. What do you want me to do? And the answer I got back, it was not subtle. It was a smack upside the head. It was like, ‘Take everything that you’ve seen and learned and felt and perceived and put it into poetry and music.

“We acknowledged and recognized that at this time in human history, there’s an opportunity to do something musically that reflects artistically those things that we feel humanity could be well-served to grapple with,” Jeff notes. “John and
I are very dedicated to this idea of ‘Can the music be evocative and deliver messages for people to consider at this time in history?’ “

The answer is yes! The album release concert takes place at The Grey Eagle August 29th at 8pm. Free Radio quartet opens.

There’s no finer example of a local female artist continuing to make good, striving to always come back better than Debrissa McKinney, who will be adding her supreme and mystical vocals to both sets that night. 

facebook.com/Debrissa-113430532032607/

freeradio4all.com/

saintdisruption.com/about

liveforlivemusic.com/features/saint-disruption-jeff-firewalker-schmitt-john-medeski-interview-2021/

thegreyeagle.com/event/saint-disruption-featuring-john-medeski/

Peggy Ratusz is a vocalist, songwriter and vocal coach

reverbnation.com/peggyratusz

Peggy’s August Dates:

Friday, August 6th 
Love Bubble feat Paula Hanke, Hank Bones & Peggy Ratusz Southern Appalachian Brewing, Hendersonville, 7pm

Saturday, August 7th 
Jonathan Pearlman and Peggy Ratusz The 2nd Act Coffee, Beer & Wine Café, Hendersonville, 6pm

Sunday, August 22nd 
Jonathan Pearlman and Peggy Ratusz One World West, Asheville, 4pm

Peggy Ratusz is a vocal coach, song interpreter, and songwriter.
For vocal coaching email her at
peggymarie43@gmail.com

Women Making Music – July Music Venues

Women Making Music – July Music Venues

As the music venues in the city and surrounding communities open up a little more each week, so have the opportunities for our beloved female music artists.

Herein is a comprehensive list of gigs and shows from some of my past and future interviewees. I am thrilled to discover that more and more of the women who were regularly performing pre-pandemic, are filling in their once bare calendars with bookings.

Encouraging you to get out and support live local music, especially the individuals and groups who are fronted by and/or include female musicians, is part of my mission. While funding-organizations exist for performers and entertainers, these monies are shared. When a music fan attends a concert, gig or show, the tips and a chunk of ticket sales goes directly into the pockets of the performers.

So here you go, all you music-goers! There are so many options and I am stoked to list so many choices!

Thursday, July 1st: Love Bubble featuring Paula Hanke, Peggy Ratusz & Hank Bones – Debut record release “Love Revolution” The Grey Eagle Music Hall, 8pm. You’re in for a dreamy, nostalgic, heartwarming and whimsical time! reverbnation.com/lovebubblewnc

Friday, July 2nd: Pimps of Pompe featuring Cynthia Mc Dermot on mandolin and vocals One World Brewing West, 6pm. Specializing in jazzed-up renditions of 90s/2000s hip-hop and R&B, with vintage jazz to create a vibe that is equal parts swag and sophistication. mandocynmusic.com/pop

Saturday July 3rd: Alex Krug combo Patio Show at the Grey Eagle, 6pm

Singer and songwriter Alex Krug is a colossal force of power, strength and charm, and their voice emerges as a diamond in the rough. With a sense of discovery, the Asheville-based players strike a stunningly evocative chord about life, being an outsider and the kind of heartache that transforms your soul. alexkrugmusic.com

Saturday July 3rd: Linda Mitchell Ooh LaLa Curiosity Market Pritchard Park, 2:30pm. Smoky, rich Blues and Jazz from our quintessential Music Mauven! lindamitchellblues.com

Sunday July 4th:  The LadsAVL features female rhythm section Kim Butler on electric bass and Stephanie Irvine on drums, Maggie Valley Country Club, 11am

Playing songs we know by heart and compelling originals they hope you will come to know by heart! Rock, folk, roots & blues. TheLadsAVL.com

Wednesday July 7th: Jesse Barry & Friends Patio show the Grey Eagle, 6pm

Wielding a unique blues sound Jesse is often described as an “old soul” and audiences are stunned by the voice that comes out of her petite frame. This Blues, Funk, and Soul group has a huge following, so get your tickets now!
facebook.com/JesseBarryAndTheJam

Friday, July 9th: Kayla Lynn & The Change Grey Eagle debut Patio Show, 6pm A bass player, singer/songwriter, empowerment speaker, has immersed herself in the funk music community in and is a resident artist with LEAF Global Arts, an ambassador for Free2Luv and a founding member
of The One Voice Project. areyoureadyforthechange.com/

Friday, July 9th: Singer/songwriter Izzi Hughes plays The 2nd Act Coffee, Wine & Beer starting at 6pm in Hendersonville. Award winning wunderkind continues her trajectory into the world of music with catchy and thought provoking covers and originals. izzihughes.com

Saturday, July 10th: Lyric Band opening at Silverado’s, Black Mountain 5pm. A WNC favorite who holds Mountain Xpress “best of” awards: funk band, vocalist, lyricist, r&b/soul, and artist who gives back to the community. reverbnation.com/lyricfans

Saturday July 10th: Peggy Ratusz & Daddy LongLegs Band, Mills River Brewing, 7pm outdoor stage. “Everything” has been the answer to the question, “What kind of music do you play?” Asheville is giving the one they called the “ruby throated blues mama” a platform to dip into her many musical styles and influences. reverbnation.com/peggyratusz

Sunday, July 11th:  Alexa Rose Band Isis Music Hall Main Stage, 7pm. Virginia-born singer-songwriter creates her own style of modern folk with bits of Joni Mitchell, Lucinda Williams, and Gilliam Welch. Well-crafted songs explore timeless topics. American roots with modern country and a little rock and roll. alexarosemusic.com

Sunday, July 11th:  Many A Ship featuring Vickie Burick vocals, Grey Eagle Patio Show, 6pm. An indie-folk-rock band deeply rooted in the mountains of Western North Carolina drenched in inspiration from nature, humanity, frailty and nostalgia. facebook.com/manyaship

Monday, July 12th: Aoife Clancy, White Horse Black Mountain, 7pm. The Ladies lead singer from Ireland’s legendary Clancy family. Whether the songs she sings originate in the United Kingdom, Australia or Appalachia, Aoife’s seemingly effortless blend of warm, natural vocals, genre-defying instrumentation, and repertoire of classic and modem material deserves to make this Clancy Daughter a worthy inheritor of an iconic family name and an even broader following.

Thursday, July 15th: Love is A Rose Isis Music Hall’s Patio concert, 7pm. An exciting and critically acclaimed tribute to Linda Ronstadt, Paula Hanke and Peggy Ratusz belt out her hits in perfect harmony, while adding personal stories to celebrate Linda’s 75th birthday! loveisaroselive.com

Sunday, July 18th: The Appalucians featuring Aditi Sethi on bass/vocals and Angie Heimann on guitar, banjo, vocals, Isis Music Hall Main Stage, 7pm. They play music from the mountains featuring spirited songwriting, sublime harmonies, and a layered interplay between dobro, guitars, harmonica and banjo. theappalucians.com

Thursday July 29th: Songwriters in the Round ft Hannah Kaminer, Kathryn O’Shea and Laura Boswell Patio Show at The Grey Eagle, 6pm

Hannah Kaminer is a folk/Americana artist based in Asheville, NC. Kathryn O’Shea  is widely recognized as that Asheville-dwelling vocalist chick with the banjo and all the feelings. Laura Boswell Described as “a vibrant, wholly original, deeply personal young artist” by Grammy Award-winning songwriter Mike Reid.

Friday, July 30th: Ashley Heath and Her Heathens Grey Eagle Patio Show, 6pm

Winning the hearts of Americana lovers’ with a “velvet soul,” driving her career forward and playing music full-time since spring of 2015 facebook.com/ashleyheathandherheathens

Friday, July 30th: Blind Phoenix, White Horse Black Mountain, 8pm.

Indie Rock, American Roots band lead by Rebekkah Hilgraves & Chris Daniels.

blindphoenix.band

There is so much more going on with “Women Making Music” in WNC, so check local listings at Asheville Live Music!  facebook.com/AVLLiveMusic

Peggy Ratusz isa vocal coach, song interpreter, and songwriter.
For vocal coaching email her at
peggymarie43@gmail.com

Spotlight on Caromia Humphrey and her beautiful and intimate EP releases: “Green” and “Sunday Land”

Spotlight on Caromia Humphrey and her beautiful and intimate EP releases: “Green” and “Sunday Land”

Nine years ago I was doing my usual surfing on YouTube for local female singers and stumbled upon a video that moved me to my core: Caromia’s rendition of Patsy Cline’s, ‘Crazy.’

At the time I was hosting a singer songwriter in the round, so I reached out to her and booked her within a month. Soon after, I asked her to play for the Female Artist Spotlight nights I was hosting twice per month. I was also fortunate to have shared the stage with her in 2016 for the Downtown After Five All-Star jam!

I’ve been in love with her all this time and it was my honor to speak with her about her two most recent EP releases, “Green” from 2019 and “Sunday Land” from 2020. Here are highlights from our exchange!

Peggy:
You said at the time you released the EP “Green” that it was anticlimactic. How has Green moved in the ethos since its release?

Caromia:
It was a combination of the lockdown, and what felt like a tectonic shift in the mainstream narrative of our country. It felt silly to try to call attention to myself, and ask people to listen to these intimate songs amidst a revolutionary moment. For both of the albums, the purpose and totality of my ambition was in the creative process of writing and recording them.

Peggy:
How are you doing now that both releases are out there?

Caromia:
I’m in a good place! It’s interesting to look back to where I was when I wrote them. I wrote and recorded Green fall/winter of 2019, Sunday Land in spring/summer of 2020.  I’m just realizing this now, but they absolutely reflect the physical seasons they came from. In Green, I was turned inward, navigating a dark time, processing grief, heartbreak, moving through pain, holding the weight, trying to accept I had to let go. When I started writing Sunday Land, I was ready to feel hopeful again…I was falling in love, I was feeling lighter again, reconnecting with joy. It was Spring after a long Winter.     

Peggy:
Musically speaking, what is your intention?

Caromia:
My intention is to create. I start writing, and the meaning comes after the song is written. I write and record in my bedroom “studio”, which is really just a microphone, Apollo Twin interface, some guitars, keyboards and a computer. I never write with the intention of releasing or even sharing the songs. Most of what I write and record never gets heard by anyone, which allows me to move more freely than if I was writing with the audience in mind?

Peggy:
This paradigm shift we’ve experienced is aptly reflected in your song from Sunday Land, “Shifting Shapes”. Was there a shift in your own thinking that prompted you to write it?

Caromia:
Yeah, there were some major shifts happening for me. The song is a meditation on the energetic reincarnation that happens in life; how we think we know what we want, how things “should” be, and get attached to the idea of certain fixed realities, “make believe that we see finish lines”… We often struggle with graceful acceptance of natural changes, and end up mourning them as a death of sorts, when it’s really just an energetic reincarnation.

Peggy:
On “Pedals,” I am thrilled to hear your voice take off, soar and land and play with the horns and vamps. How fun was that section of the song to experiment with?

Caromia:
That’s one of my favorite sections of the album!  It was just playful experimentation that I allowed to develop naturally. Adam Dotson wrote the horn arrangement around the vocals, and I had a huge smile on my face when I listened back to what he came up with.

Peggy:
On “I Was a Sailboat,” there’s a juxtaposition of it in relation to “Pedals.” “Pedals” is sparse lyrically and rich with meditative space with tickles and playful prods of horn riffs and vocalese. On ‘Sailboat,’ there’s a development of feelings and narrative.  I am drawn to the song for what I personally get from it.

Caromia:
I did write it about a specific storyline that was unfolding in my life, but I think it’s better to leave listeners relating it to their own stories. I love that you have your own story with it:)

Peggy:
I picture you in your studio producing the synths and sounds that meander in this one; I’m curious about the depth of exploration to produce it.

Caromia:
I probably spent the most time doing just that on this one. In general, I spend a lot of time experimenting with approaches, sounds, effects, exploring my instruments (vocals included) and softwares.

Peggy:
“To Do But Float” is the epitome of a letting-go song. I love it so much!

Caromia:
Thanks! Years ago, I was especially stressed out and needed an escape from where I was in that moment. I imagined diving into deep, cool, dark water floating weightlessly. The ‘weightless’ imagery has been sprinkled through my songs for years.

Peggy:
“Something Old Something New” reminds me of a 50’s tune brought into the now; which is cool, given the title.  What was going on when you wrote it?

Caromia:
I have no idea! Definitely one of those songs where I just write and eventually the meaning jumps out. It’s about the futility of trying to control everything, recognizing the parallel truths being simultaneously meaningful and inconsequential, of letting go, and allowing for joy.

Peggy:
I love the cover of Sunday Land. Did you design it?

Caromia:
My mom drew it! I think of it as a beachy dream wave, and she came up with this based on that concept. I love it too. 

Peggy:
What’s on your horizon musically and personally?

Caromia:
Lots of shifting shapes; literally and metaphorically. I’m growing a human for the first time, so my focus and energy is going into that right now. Who knows? Maybe my next album will be lullabies!

Whatever this magnificent artist decides to focus on musically, take it from me, it’s worth your investment.
Please visit her lovely website: caromiamusic.com to listen, purchase and attend an upcoming show.

Peggy Ratusz is a vocal coach, song interpreter, and songwriter.
For vocal coaching email her at
peggymarie43@gmail.com

Women Making Music–Spotlight on Harpist, Jazz Pianist, Singer Melody Cooper

Women Making Music–Spotlight on Harpist, Jazz Pianist, Singer Melody Cooper

Melody’s talking voice is rich and warm. As we commiserate on the day I interviewed her, we begin by talking about what’s on the docket for her upcoming weekend of playing harp at weddings in Tennessee. I am soothed by her calm and inviting persona. Funny, because she was born in Brooklyn and moved to Long Island when she was twelve. While we’re conversing I think about all the people I know from that area and most of them are not as calm and cool as Cooper.

“The short version of my story is that I moved out when I was seventeen,” and then she pauses and asks “How do I tell a short version of my life?” We laugh and I assure her that she can give me the long one.

“My family was lovely, but Long Island and I were not a good fit. I moved out when I was seventeen and in with my boyfriend at the time.” That boyfriend had marriage and kids in his future plans while Melody’s path was one of adventure, travel and music. So it was goodbye and so long as she headed
to Toronto to visit a friend named Marguerite.

Now, Marguerite is important to this story because she’s my connection to Melody Cooper. Marguerite and her husband Joe and I became good friends after they moved here from New York many years ago. I’ve been hearing about Melody Cooper for at least the past 10 years!

Car trouble was the reason a fateful trip with friends that was originally scheduled to end up in NOLA for Mardi Gras, ended up instead, in Key West Florida in 1972. As Melody stepped out of the broken-down van, she meets a woman named “Sunshine” whose spirit so captivates and aligns with Melody’s spirit that Sunshine offers up her newly vacated apartment and invites her to move into it! When the other friends move on, Melody stays on.

That pivotal time marked the beginning of what would end up being a 15 year run where Cooper migrated back and forth between her apartment in Florida and her apartment in New York before settling in Key West. And all the while, she immersed herself in a variety of music configurations. Where she found time to run a restaurant, I have no idea, but she did that too!

Formed in 1998 and still going,
Paradise Big Band out of Key West was the name of the orchestra Miss Melody sang and played piano for during that time. She was part of a chamber music ensemble called Bach to Bossa Nova, and an all-girl fronted Motown revue called The Fabulous Spectrelles that toured London and had a #1 record!

Trained in Classical piano from age
seven, the inspiration for learning about, singing and playing jazz music started with a radio station in NYC that played entire discographies of selected Jazz artists. “I fell in love with Jazz when I was 13. I had a transistor radio and in the middle of the night I listened to a radio program that played entire libraries of artists like John
Coltrane and Sarah Vaughn.”

“I was just so shy and quiet that it wasn’t until my mid-twenties, that I started singing. I was really interested in singing jazz, but for a long time I was playing Jazz piano and singing solo soprano opera!”

“Extreme shyness” is an affliction she overcomes out of pure desire and passion for playing and singing to live audiences.  “I forced myself to take chances. Moving out on my own, traveling alone, solo gigs and pushing myself, eventually helped me get over my extreme shyness. I started thinking about what it would take to trust myself. I convinced myself that once I put my hands on an instrument or opened my mouth to sing, I wasn’t going to suck. That’s when the true magic and connection to the music happened.”

Most of her musical training comes from the tutelage of notable private instructors. “Instead of going through a university, studying from someone who has the book, I took private classes from the person who wrote the book.” She studied with Barry Harris, Alberto Socarras and Franko Richmond. For voice she learned directly from Emily Boyd-Lowe and Patricia Caceido.

She and her common law husband, Dan Simpson, met thirty-five years ago. “He’s a brilliant engineer, bassist, guitarist, composer and instrument builder.”

In the 70’s and 80’s Jazz, Latin, Motown and Funk dance bands were coming out of Key West. “Dan and I were in a band called Bill Blue and the Nervous Guys. But I started to feel overwhelmed about spending so much of my time in bars. So I began looking for other ways to make a living as a musician. I started teaching voice and I became the music director at a Unity Church in Key West.”

Simpson and Cooper have been coming through Asheville for many years on their way to and from 150 acres that Simpson owns in Palestine, West Virginia. After some bad hurricanes they started rethinking living in Key West. “So we decided to build a cabin on the property. We actually hand built it with 2 other friends.” For a while, they split their time between the cabin in WV and their place in Key West while deciding when to move out of Florida entirely. “We had the high end trailer with a studio and an upper deck in Stock Island, FL and then this cabin in the middle of the woods in WV. We called it the Holiday Hillbilly package!”

The couple remains partners in a recording studio in Key West called Private Ear Recording and Sound. In its heyday, they ran the entire operation. It was the go-to studio in the area for singer songwriters and bands putting out CD’s, theaters that needed sound effects for books on tape and more.

As the internet age gave way to musicians building home studios and with the increasing cost of living and the increasing intensity of hurricanes and storms in the Keys, they felt like they were spinning wheels. Before she and Dan left Key West to settle here, she was working 4 or 5 jobs and swore she’d never put herself through that stress and fast pace again.

“We chose Asheville because I knew it was a destination place.” When it became obvious to her, in her mid-fifties, that hiring a piano player for weddings wasn’t as popular as hiring a harpist, she bought one and taught herself how to play it! Within 6 months she was playing weddings regularly and has been ever since.

Melody has become one of the premier harpist’s in WNC and has performed at all the significant wedding venues in the area. She’s written a catalog of original songs for popular and inspirational music. And if that wasn’t enough she is also an accomplished public speaker and yoga instructor!

From her website: “All of this background has given me a varied repertoire, and a love for all types of music, roots to modern.”

melodycooper.com

Peggy Ratusz is a vocalist, songwriter and vocal coach

peggymarie43@gmail.com

reverbnation.com/peggyratusz

loveisaroselive.com

Peggy’s May performance dates:

Friday, May 14th, Catawba South Slope, 7pm-10pm

Sunday, May 16th, Southern
Appalachian Brewery, 3pm-5pm

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