The powerful voice of Mary-Catherine Pazzano delivered a captivating rendition of Leonard Bernstein’s musical works, both well-loved and little-known. On February 26, she was accompanied by accomplished pianist Paul Stouffer as part of Conrad Grebel University College’s Noon Hour Concert Series. A University of Waterloo and Grebel alumna herself, Mary-Catherine remarked that “it’s always good to be back!” She graduated from UWaterloo with a Bachelor of Arts in Music and Drama in 2010. Since then she has become a well-loved musician and performer throughout Kitchener-Waterloo and is the founder and director of local music programs Jazz in the Schools and Jazz for Adults.
The audience was transfixed from the moment Mary-Catherine opened with jazzy renditions of “I Feel Like I’m Not Out of Bed Yet” and the energetic “New York New York” from Bernstein’s On the Town. She said she loved the opportunity to jazz-up some of Bernstein’s work while leaving some pieces as they were. She exemplified her ability to transcend genres with a beautiful soprano “Dream with Me” from Bernstein’s Peter Pan play. Growing up watching Metro-Goldwyn-Meyer musicals made her well acquainted with, and sparked her interest in, the musical style of American Standards.
“Jazz is where my heart is. I identify with it the most.” While Mary-Catherine was classically trained, she found herself drawn to jazz throughout her musical career. She shared how Bernstein’s eclectic style can provide an adventurous performance. “You can decide what voice to use and how the piece is best served,” she explained. “I feel like I work every vocal muscle that I have when I sing Bernstein.”
When she was a Grebel student, Mary-Catherine enjoyed various opportunities to be involved in music outside the classroom. She participated in all of the choir ensembles: the Chapel Choir for two semesters, the Chamber Choir, and the University Choir. Mary-Catherine was also one of the first Music Living-Learning Community peer leaders.
The Noon Hour Concert audience on the 26th was invited into one of Mary-Catherine’s most personally treasured performances. As she prepared to sing “I Feel Pretty” from West Side Story, Mary-Catherine explained that she had performed this at the Birdland Jazz Club in New York. “I got to perform with the house band – New York musicians at the top of their game. The piano player had been Liza Minnelli’s music director for 20 years, and I love Liza Minnelli.” This is still one of her most proud performance moments. Getting to make music with those who had played with her jazz heroes was an unforgettable experience. “Sharing the stage with them was a huge honour.”
In October, Mary-Catherine will be part of a Judy Garland tribute project. “We’re flying in an Emmy-winning historian from New York. It’s going to be a multi-media event.” She said that they are starting off in Kitchener and hoping that the project will expand to Toronto as well. Meanwhile, she looks forward to working on a new album as soon as possible.
Mary-Catherine shared that the eclectic nature of Grebel and UWaterloo’s Music program is what makes it unique. She has found that the music industry is in an era where being versatile is an important marketable skill. “Through this degree, yes, I was a vocal major and that was my instrument, but I got to take conducting, and music theory, and history, and I was also a drama minor.” She said this minor has helped her become a better performer. “Every time I look at a new song, I think of the lyrics as a script and how I’m going to act that out.” She thinks the opportunity to learn across genres and faculties entices people to study in the Music program. “The well-roundedness presented here is well-suited for what the music biz model is in the world.”
By Elizabeth Robertson