The stately walls of the Garden City Hotel on Long Island are swinging to the sounds of Tara O’Grady, who brings her sultry jazz stylings to the venerable hotel every Friday and Saturday night from 7-10 p.m.
“This is a great new weekly gig that started on New Year’s Eve,” O’Grady explains.
“I was at the hotel at the high tea service that they have and I saw on the menu that they were throwing a jazz New Year’s Eve dinner and I thought, ‘How cool would this be?’ I went home and an hour later, I got this email asking me to do it. It was psychic!”
The gig was so much fun that the hotel decided to continue the party into the winter, with O’Grady reveling in the creative freedom of mixing it up each week. One night she will be joined by a guitarist friend from her time in Jazz at Lincoln Center, while another night might find her paired with a pianist.
Featured on BBC Radio 2 in the UK, O’Grady’s vocals have been compared to Ella Fitzgerald, Aretha Franklin and Patsy Cline, as well as modern artists Adele and Amy Winehouse. The jazz chanteuse has created her own unique sound by mixing her Irish roots with American jazz.
“Mom was born in Mountcharles in Co. Donegal while my dad was a Bronx boy with roots in Roscommon and Waterford,” she says.
“I was surrounded by music growing up. My granny Nora in Donegal would always sing in the kitchen and my dad is a fiddle player, so there was always music around the house. My brother played clarinet, flute, and saxophone in high school as part of the jazz band and that introduced me to big band swing and the Great American Songbook when I was a teenager. So here I am. I have Irish music in my head and then I have this American jazz in my head as well.”
This musical background formed her first album, Black Irish, which might be one of this writer’s favorite albums. Just when you thought you didn’t need another version of “Danny Boy” on your iPod, along comes O’Grady and her sexy tango with the mournful trumpet.
“I’ll Tell Me Ma” calls to mind Billie Holiday in the bog, a delicious jazz alternative to the diddly-diddly versions you’ve heard countless times.
O’Grady reveals that she is in the middle of her third album, entitled A Celt in the Cotton Club. “We’ll be recording again in February and looking for a late spring release,” she promises.
“There are nine songs that I wrote plus three traditional Irish standards re-worked in a swing, blues or Bossa Nova style. We have plans to debut the disc at the Butte, Montana Irish Festival because there is a huge Irish population.
“Justin Poindexter is on guitar and banjo along with Kelly Friesen on bass, Andrew Burns on drums, and Michael Hashim on sax/clarinet. Pianist Sasha Papernik, who plays regularly with me in Garden City, will be with us in Butte.”
For now, O’Grady’s sights are focused on the gigs at the Garden City Hotel. She explains that the audience and staff at the hotel make the shows extra special.
“We get the crowd involved, take requests, the whole nine yards,” she says. “People celebrate anniversaries and birthdays with us and it just has become this very special engagement.
“I’m thrilled with it and I think the staff at the Garden City Hotel is the best in the business. They want me to feel like family when I perform there, and that’s exactly how I feel when I sit by their fireplace, just like in my Granny’s kitchen in Donegal!”
While the Rein Restaurant is known to cater to the tony crowd at the nearby Belmont Race Track, the hotel also offers the pub grub fare for any budget. For the jaded New Yorker afraid to venture out into the boroughs on the weekend, fear not! The LIRR stops directly across the street from the place, and you’ll probably be riding the rails with the many New York jazz players and their fans flocking to the gigs.
O’Grady also has a special gig at the Cell in Chelsea on February 14 as part of the Jazz at the Cell series. Count on her to sing “My Funny Valentine” for the occasion, and a number of jazz greats will be dropping by to make an evening of lush songs for that romantic evening.