Nora McCarthy

Primary Instrument: Vocalist

Born: February 1, 1958    

Nora McCarthy

Nora McCarthy has thus far had a very productive and significant musical career. A poet and a songwriter in addition to being a highly original singer, she is an important force in the advanced New York jazz vocal scene since 1996 when she recorded her first CD, red&blue.

Her collaboration with alto-saxophonist Jorge Sylvester began in 2001 and the synergy of their near telepathic level of communication has produced several unique and groundbreaking projects: A Small Dream In Red, an innovative expressionist voice and saxophone duo; ConceptualMotion Orchestra, a 20-piece all original music ensemble; and the Jorge Sylvester ACE (Afro-Caribbean-Experimental) Collective, a sextet of improvising musicians consisting of: alto saxophone, voice, trumpet, piano electric bass, and drums. The ACE Collective performs original, new and experimental compositions that draw from the Afro-Caribbean Diaspora, jazz and the free music art forms. ...
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“…Most of all, McCarthy and Sylvester are dedicated to using art as a means to elevate and celebrate the human spirit; their music is about joy and creativity, and cultivating the finer aspects of the human soul.” Florence Wetzel, All About Jazz, 5/2012

“….McCarthy and Sylvester are really in their element on Coleman’s “The Blessing” and “The Sphynx”, stretching out into abstract territory and channeling their spiritual perception of the alto saxophonist’s forward-thinking messages while also maintaining their own confidently probing voices.” Sam Spokony, All About jazz, 10, 2013

“….The Light of Truth’s High Noon Is Not For Tender Leaves.” a McCarthy original from the Spirit Driven double CD has a spirituality that recalls the late Abbey Lincoln, and McCarthy really soars with that Lincoln-ish mood. Alex Henderson, Jazz Inside Magazine, 10/13

“....A striking woman of unusually elastic voice, McCarthy infuses her music with poetry and theatricality that’s both stark and sensual.” Carlo Wolff, Cleveland Scene, April, 2010 “…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

“...McCarthy's vocals often recalled the soft, strained desperation of another Cleveland vocalist, the great Jimmy Scott. The album is, in fact, something of an homage to Scott, ending with the McCarthy original, “Faith in Time (Jimmy's Song). …The singer closed with a barn-burning version of Willie Dixon's “Little Red Rooster” that left the crowd crowing for more and nicely “upset, in every way.”4-18-2010, All About Jazz/ 31st Tri-C Jazz Festival, Matt Marshall

“...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/The Gathering Of The Tribes Magazine, 2005 ”…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 ”…McCarthy’s vocals are rich and subtle and laced with varying degrees of earthy blues and soulful phrasings.” Sounds of Timeless, 2/2009

“…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

“...Nora McCarthy shines on “Do Something” – a groove piece whose melody and arrangement is reminiscent of a Horace Silver kind of energy; and on the hip lyrics to “In My Own Way” – an ‘electric’ medium groover. McCarthy’s contributions add a shimmering magnetism to the vocal pieces by Brandon. Other highlights include the soft Bossa “Friend In Need.” The album wraps up with the title song “Toward the Hill of Joy” – voice and piano, out of tempo, deep, contemplative and brilliant.” Clark Griffin, Jazz Inside, 2012

“…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/ “…Nora is a wonderfully focused musician, singer composer. Her original compositions are splendid examples of modern and traditional jazz song. I highly recommend her as a fellow artist.” Dom DuVal, musician / composer / bassist.“ April 9, 2009 ”…You can hear this woman's life in her voice…” Walter Kolosky, “…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 ”…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 Wolff/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 ”...The first set featured Jorge Sylvester's Conceptual Motion Orchestra and they were grand. Great writing and superb singing from Nora McCarthy.” The Vision X Festival, June 14th - June 19th, 2005 - Review By Bruce Lee Gallanter


Ramsey Ameen, former violinist with Cecil Taylor’s Unit and 3 Phasis, mathematician and scholar. A Gathering of the Tribes Magazine, 2005.

“...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.”

Dom DuVal, musician / composer / bassist.“ April 9, 2009

“Nora is a wonderfully focused musician, singer composer . Her original compositions are splendid examples of modern and traditional jazz song . I highly recommend her as a fellow artist .”

Paul Weston, Singer/Songwriter - United Kingdom

“Love your voice which has such texture and class and your timing/feel for songs is magnificent. Peace love and happiness.”

João da Penha - January 25, 2009, Jazz & Bossa Nova Radio Show Host in Brazil ”Nora McCarthy, the diva, one of the top singers who shaped the jazz vocal, a superb artist, all the best for you in 2011! love, peace and music, music, music.”

  • A Small Dream in Red

    Sundown Jazz

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Primary Instrument:

Brooklyn, NY

Willing to teach:

Through her vast experience in the jazz and creative music field, McCarthy also conducts various workshops and master classes that deal with, among other things, vocal empowerment.

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.”™

In April, 2007, Ms. McCarthy conducted a series of workshops and master classes in Podgorica, Montenegro for Jazz Appreciation Month entitled “From Dixieland to the Avant Garde and Free Music Art Forms..The Voices and Horns”.

Ms. McCarthy studied voice and piano at Cleveland State University, Cleveland Music Settlement and briefly at Cleveland Institute of Music. In 2002, Nora received a scholarship from New School University for Jazz Vocal Performance. Ms. McCarthy is available for private instruction and also conducts workshops in the art of improvisation.

"An insight into the art of singing, the Zen of Singing is a conceptual approach that combines personal facility, in depth harmonic study, innovatively designed improvisational exercises with self awareness, spirituality, creative philosophy, visualization, affirmations and musicology (the psychology of music). Tailored to the individual's specific needs and areas of interest, it's primary focus is to free the spirit to experience total creativity through mindful singing. Instructed by an experienced performing and recording vocal artist, composer and poet in the field of creative music."

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Download jazz mp3 “Billie” by Nora McCarthy
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