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All that jazz

  • All that jazz
    All that jazz  Ginny Carr '75, Robert McBride '79, Holly Shockey and Andre Enceneat. Uptown Vocal Jazz Quartet has been profiled on NPR, been played extensively on worldwide radio, and has played at landmark jazz festivals across the country.  Photo by Michael G. Stewart
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The following story was originally published in the fall 2015 W&M Alumni Magazine. - Ed.

There was never any question that music was in Ginny Carr’s ’75 blood.

With parents who were professional bass players and instrumental music teachers, Carr had a good musical ear. But what started out as a hobby of playing instruments and singing eventually turned into a fruitful career. Carr is now the founder, musical director, alto vocalist, principal songwriter and arranger for the internationally acclaimed Uptown Vocal Jazz Quartet (UVJQ). Carr has emerged as a musician of distinction, especially for her original compositions on UVJQ’s newest CDs, “Hustlin’ for a Gig” and “Vocal Madness.” UVJQ’s recordings have made the Billboard Chart, Amazon’s top seller list and JazzWeek Top 50 radio chart.

But when Carr was a teenager looking at colleges, she had decided to pursue something other than music. William & Mary offered Carr everything she had hoped for, from extraordinary academics to a small intimate college community with diverse extracurricular activities.

“Most of all, I loved being next door to Colonial Williamsburg,” Carr says. “I became a history geek just by being immersed in that culture, and I still am today.” (Case in point, Carr now works at the Library of Congress, founded by W&M alumnus Thomas Jefferson).

Although she majored in psychology at William & Mary, music remained a big part of Carr’s life. She joined the choir and had acting and singing parts in William & Mary theatre productions.

Immediately after graduation, Carr stayed in Williamsburg and took on the role of musical director for W&M theatre. When a new student, Robert McBride ’79, joined Carr’s pit band, the two became friends and began to collaborate on other musical projects throughout the years. They discovered a mutual love for the sound of vocal music that was harmonically and rhythmically constructed to sound like big band instrumental music.

The two moved to Richmond, Virginia, in the early ’80s and put together UVJQ, which took off in the local music scene. A few years later, the two migrated to Washington, D.C., teaming up with singers and instrumentalists from the area. Over the years, there were many changes in personnel as UVJQ evolved from an amateur group to a full-fledged professional ensemble.

For awhile, UVJQ performed material that had been done by someone else before it became clear to Carr that she had the ability to write original songs for the group to sing in their signature harmonic style. While the group still does arrangements that are part of the standard jazz repertoire, much of what they perform are original songs written and arranged by Carr.

“I challenge myself to be clever with every turn of every phrase and never waste a lyric,” Carr says. “No matter what the subject, don’t write filler fluff when you could write something provocative or witty or gut-grabbing that will make the listener stop and think. There’s nothing more rewarding than knowing you wrote something that speaks to someone.”

The real challenge, and sometimes the greatest fun according to Carr, is putting lyrics to the complex palette that is the sound of UVJQ. Carr believes their sound is relatively rare compared to the more common sound of jazz instrumental groups and solo vocalists. As opposed to solo vocalists, Carr’s lyrics are delivered using a vocal quartet that can blend together in harmonic precision like a jazz big band. “And we add the human element of story telling through lyrics, which you can’t get with an instrumental ensemble. The effect is uniquely engaging. I think it’s the marriage of great fun and great art.”

Carr always knew that music would be a big part of her life, but she never dreamed that her musical passions would take her to the world stage. “The older I get, the more I like to settle into the ensemble and delight in the energy and sounds of my music coming to life at the hands of other great musicians, who add their own creative ideas to it. The musical thoughts, colors and textures come alive in a theater of sound and energy when we perform. It’s a thrill.”