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Circle Completing by Nora McCarthy

NORA Mc CARTHY Singer, Vocal Improviser, Composer, Lyricist, Poet, Actor An important force in the advanced New York jazz vocal scene, Nora McCarthy is a highly original singer, lyricist, composer, poet and educator. She and her various groups work at the top jazz venues in New York and elsewhere in the world. "McCarthy's musical roots are vast and varied, crossing cultures and genres - from the Great American song book to contemporary modern jazz and bebop, early rhythm and blues, funk music, Hawaiian and Brazilian music and in recent years she's embraced - and been embraced by ‘the avant garde’." Florence Wetzel, All About Jazz - NY

Currently, Nora leads and co-leads several groups: The Nora McCarthy Qu 'ART' et; The ConceptualMotion 20-piece Orchestra; A Small Dream In Red - Voice and Saxophone Duo; and, The ACE (Afro-Caribbean-Experimental) Collective with alto saxophonist, Jorge Sylvester.


Nora’s latest offering, Circle Completing is a collection of some treasured jazz standards; a gutsy blues, “Little Red Rooster”, performed by the legendary Sam Cooke and later by the Rolling Stones; a beautiful rendition of, “To Be With You”, made famous by singer Jimmy Sabater, formerly with the Joe Cuba Sextet (Gilberto Miguel Calderon), in 1957; three originals penned by McCarthy: “In The Early Morning Light”, a free improvised poetry piece; “Faith In Time”, a tribute to the great jazz vocal legend Jimmy Scott; and, “Life Is A Song To Sing”, McCarthy's inspiring and uplifting anthem. A special treat is the unexpected, “Ke Kali Nei Au...The Hawaiian Wedding Song”, sung with a prayer-like reverence it is an homage to Nora’s three Hawaiian sons and her love of the music of Hawaii. Nora is accompanied on this CD most intuitively by one of New York’s finest musicians, pianist, John diMartino, who also played on McCarthy’s first CD, red&blue. Circle Completing is sung in the rich tradition reminiscent of the great balladeers from the early Jazz and Rhythm& Blues era that McCarthy grew up listening to fused with a modern approach and an eye to the future reflecting Nora’s current involvement and intrigue with the creative and free music art forms giving Circle Completing a contemporary feel. It is the progeny of that union, Nora’s original compositions, that gives Circle Completing its distinct voice and what makes her a unique and dynamic vocal artist in the world of jazz and creative music today.


In the Spring of 2007 A Small Dream In Red, performed a series of workshops and concerts in Podgorica, Montenegro to an enthusiastic audience filled-to-capacity concert hall as well as an appearance on the television show Good Morning Montenegro. This unique duo is said to be the only one of its kind in the world and McCarthy has been acclaimed by her fellow musicians and some critics as the greatest atonal singer in the world with her ability to maneuver with ease throughout all the keys, never losing sight of the tonal center in perfect pitch and with an impeccable sense of timing!

In the recent past, Nora performed extensively in duo with renowned bassist Juini Booth who worked with many luminaries from Art Blakey to Sun Ra to McCoy Tyner to name a few and she now carries on the bass and voice tradition with the remarkable Dominic Duval who is well know for his work with Cecil Taylor among others and his own group Trio X with Joe McPhee and Jay Rosen. In March, 2000, Nora returned to her early musical roots and toured briefly with the rhythm and blues legend Wilson Pickett as a member of his band the Midnight Movers. Also in 2000, Nora performed weekly with trombonist Kuumba Frank Lacy's Vibe Tribe at the Jazz Gallery in New York. Around this time, Nora began a musical collaboration with alto-saxophonist, composer, conductor Jorge Sylvester and became the featured vocalist in his and tenor saxophonist Benny Russell's Next Legacy Jazz Orchestra - a big band of incredible magnitude that was originally founded by tenor saxophonist, David Murray. With this orchestra, Nora had the honor of performing at the Brooklyn Academy of Music (BAM), the Brooklyn Conservatory of Music and the Albany Jazz Festival before going on to establish her own 20-piece orchestra with Jorge Sylvester, The ConceptualMotion Orchestra.

In June, 2005, The ConceptualMotion Orchestra (CMO)opened the highly acclaimed avant-garde Vision Festival X at the Angel Orensanz Center in the East Village, NYC. The orchestra provides an excellent platform for McCarthy to present her ever increasing body of compositions and poetry which conveys a spiritually positive and uplifting message to the world. Conducted and arranged by Sylvester, CMO is quickly gaining recognition as “one of the freshest and inspiring large ensembles to emerge on the creative music scene in quite some time.”..Gary Giddins, The Village Voice, 2002

Through her vast experience in the jazz and creative music field, Nora has developed a unique approach to teaching voice and improvisation and is founder of "The Zen Of Singing...The Spiritual Path To Finding Your Voice" ™ and currently teaches privately, conducts workshops and on-line consultation. (


Nora is curating and producing creative music events at The Bean Runner Café, a new upscale café in Peekskill, NY. Nora is a new resident of Peekskill and a member of its growing artist community having relocated here from Manhattan in 2007. Through her vast associations in the creative music arena, Nora will be bringing international, national and local jazz, creative and avant-garde musicians, singers and poets to the Café for the community of Peekskill. The first artist who will perform on March 29, 2009 will be GUNTER HAMPEL -- legendary jazz composer, bandleader, vibraphonist, bass clarinetist, flutist, baritone saxophonist.


Over the years, her ever increasing need to expand her own musical consciousness and convey a spiritual awareness through the music has been the main focus of her creative projects and poetry. Nora has penned lyrics to several jazz standards as well as for other musicians on the local scene and she is becoming known not only as a wonderful lyricist but also as an outstanding poet. Nora is a featured poet and the assistant to Master Conductor, Lawrence D. "Butch" Morris' A Chorus of Poets.

In April, 2008, Nora was delighted to be asked to perform at Flushing Town Hall’s first Jazz & Poetry Marathon, “Other Worlds, Other Words” alongside several outstanding artists from the world of jazz and literature, i.e. Julio Marzan, Michael Mossman Quartet, The Nat Jones Quartet, Ray Ramirez, The Asian Poets Collaborative, and the Poets Circle from New York’s five boroughs, which included Mireya Perez, Madeline Artenberg, Berty Barranco, Mark Blickley and Iris Schwarz.


“…A singer, bandleader, gifted composer, lyricist, improviser and poet, McCarthy is a consummate musician and artist. Hers is an instrument that doesn't subscribe to cliché. Her seasoned virtuosity and articulation reflect the years she has spent in developing her beautifully distinctive style. As an innovator and interpreter of the lyric, her voice is wrought with emotion. Her vast repertoire and innate sense of harmony combined with her understanding of sound, abstract form and design makes her a leader in vocal improvisation today. John Earl Powell, son of jazz legend, pianist Bud Powell.

"...Nora's vocal identity, aside from a basic jazz orientation, defies classification, and makes spare use of reflexive stylistic mannerisms. In the placement of her voice, Nora can evoke the power of a Malian Diva's fearless candor, or perhaps a Corsican Voceratrice's call to invisible worlds in the language of dreams, or the earthiness of an early blues singer's unvarnished autobiographical witness. She has been attentive to the fluid articulation, phrasing and timbre of the jazz trumpet, the instrument that most clearly has influenced her vocal development. Her shaping of pitch often foregoes the fluid note-bending of the jazz singer in favor of the full press of a sculptor's touch against viscous clay." Ramsey Ameen, former violinist with Cecil Taylor’s Unit and 3 Phasis, mathematician and scholar. A Gathering of the Tribes Magazine, 2005.

…"McCarthy is a fearless singer who deftly refuses to be categorized as she explores personalized means for expressing ideas. She travels infrequently heard avenues for exploring thought and adapts vocal technique to fit the circumstances of her message." Bill Donaldson for Jazz Improv NY, 2008

…"Circle Completing is a moody suite that deals with the evolution of life, coming to a place of forgiveness, letting go, and ultimately moving on to the next level. "Nora's adventurous singing, the spontaneous interplay with John diMartino, and the unpredictability of the music result in the innovative duets being full of subtle surprises." Scott Yanow, Jazz Critic & Author, 2008

“…McCarthy, who works in every setting from a bass and vocal duo to a twenty-piece orchestra, demonstrates that she is not one to simply serenade with the usual mix of standards.” Dan Bilawsky/Jazz Improv Magazine’s New York Jazz Guide, 2008

"…A good poet can tell a story with a minimum of text. So when Nora McCarthy tells the story of lies that have been "swept under the carpet, all scramble like roaches in the early morning light," she extends the idea in a couple of directions at once with a kind of vocalese, aided by skittery piano bits. The presentation says far more than a couple of paragraphs could, that's for sure." Mark Saleski/

"…You can hear this woman's life in her voice…" Walter Kolosky,

" The ballad "Too Late Now" (Lerner/Lane) from her CD, Circle Completing, is a charmer. Reminding me very much of the late lamented Irene Kral, Nora provocatively sings this melancholy ballad in full throttle." Dan Singer, In-Tune International Magazine-UK, 3/2009

“…Nora McCarthy has a deep voice, with the timbre and range of Sarah Vaughan….she uses ever-so-subtle pitch-bending and straight tones and just a lovely touch of vibrato.” Julianne Carney/International Society For Improvised Music, 2007

"…McCarthy’s vocals are rich and subtle and laced with varying degrees of earthy blues and soulful phrasings." Sounds of Timeless, 2/2009

"…Nora is a musical flurry of passion, soul, emotion, soothsaying, truth telling and jazz poetry that takes you on flights of improvisational abandon with grace and wit. She is a force to be experienced!" Sarah James, Musician, Poet, Vocalist, 2009

"…Nora McCarthy, the diva, one of the top singers who shaped the jazz vocal, a superb artist!" João Da Penha ("Jazz & Bossa Nova", Brazil, 2009 )

“...It’s delightful to hear music that plays so freely with the known and the unknown elements of jazz." Florence Wetzel/All About Jazz Magazine, NY, 2006

“...A non-generic and exciting vocalist to be aware of." Alex Henderson/All About Jazz And L.A. Jazz Scene

“…A voice that is alternately liquid, breezy, and lustrous. Sophistication in the same vein as Chet Baker." Mark Keating, Editor, Sound Views Magazine

“…She plays her tender voice like a musician trying to get the best out of some favored, old horn.” Edward Hill/The Cleveland Plain Dealer

“...Yet another voice in the retro-cool school…almost at times, as cool as Julie London, but with a serpentine edge". Gary Giddins/The Village Voice

“...Continental and sophisticated, McCarthy is as much chanteuse as jazz singer.” Carlo Wolfe/The Cleveland Plain Dealer

“…Nora McCarthy delivers with the improvisational intuition of Betty Carter and the compassion of Billie Holiday. McCarthy tackles harmonically complex material of Thelonius Monk with relative ease then easily slips into a relaxed Latin style that owes much to Brazilian samba queen Astrud Gilberto.” Edward Hill/The Cleveland Plain Dealer


In 1998, Nora released her first CD, red&blue, with John diMartino - piano, Essiet Okon Essiet - bass, Alvester Garnett- drums, Mike Lee - tenor saxophone, and Sato Takeishi - percussion. red&blue is a mixture of McCarthy's original compositions (7 out of 9) and two standards, all of which are written and arranged in the post-bop tradition of the early Blue Note recordings. This timeless CD has received wonderful reviews and is still gaining recognition around the world, most recently in Como, Italy where she is a featured artist in the July/August 2008 issue of The Jazz Magazine and her composition “My Dream” was included on the accompanying compilation disc alongside jazz luminaries Ahmad Jamaal and Phil Woods among other notables. In 2005 Nora released, A Small Dream In Red (Sundown), named after master painter Wassily Kandinsky's masterpiece, Kleiner en Rot (Small Dream In Red). This adventurous CD is a live recording of the voice and saxophone duo's 2003 concert at Cleveland State University's Drinko Hall and beautifully demonstrates the unique symbiosis between the two artists as well as Nora's virtuosity as a musician of the highest order and showcases her ability to "play with the known and the unknown elements of jazz." Florence Wetzel, All About Jazz New York. McCarthy and Sylvester have written many compositions for this project individually and together interpreting some of Kandinsky’s paintings that deal with music and composition. They also perform their other original compositions as well as deconstructions of familiar standards like My Romance and Afro Blue and other choice songs that transcend categories and genres. “…McCarthy's interpretation of ‘My Romance’ is filled with new ideas that only use the original Rodgers & Hart melody as an occasional guidepost.” Cadence Magazine For Creative and Improvised Music, 2/05


Additional Info

  • Artist / Group Name: Nora McCarthy
  • CD Title: Circle Completing
  • Year Released: 2009
  • Genre: Jazz Vocals
  • Record Label: Indie
  • Artist's Instrument: Voice
  • Tracks: Come Fly With Me, To Be With You, Too Late Now, Hawaiian Wedding Song, Little Red Rooster, In The Early Morning Light, The Shadow Of Your Smile, Life Is A Song To Sing, Faith In Time (Jimmys Song)'
  • Musicians: Nora McCarthy(voice), John di Martino(piano)
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