Telling a story through music... at the jazz fest

Pianist and composer Cormac McCarthy who performs at the Guinness Jazz Festival this weekend talks about his musical inspirations, hobbies and how he recharges his batteries
Telling a story through music... at the jazz fest
Cormac McCarthy will perform Triskel Christchurch for the 2017 Guinness Cork Jazz Festival.

TELL us a little bit about yourself and your work:

I’m Cork through and through. Both my parents are from the northside and I grew up in Ovens.

Music was around from the beginning, and the best part was that it was every kind of music. My dad is a professional musician and he would have all sorts of records playing in the house.

Musicians from every walk of life came and played and I’d be dragged along to concerts, sessions, ballets and Sunday morning lock-ins before I ever started playing. I’ve gravitated towards jazz in my own musical journey (I’m a pianist and composer), but I’d like to think it’s what I heard as a kid which has allowed me to tell a story through music.

What is your ideal way to spend a Friday night?

If I have the night off and Cork City are playing at home, then it has to be out the Cross. Music can be all consuming and sport has always played a big part in my life. I also play seven-a-side soccer once a week and generally try to keep active. For me, it’s the perfect way to switch off and I genuinely believe it has a positive impact on my music.

Lie ins or up with the lark.. which is it for you?

It varies quite a lot. I like to get up early if I’m writing or practising, that’s when I’m most productive. I also teach at the Cork School of Music, and similarly, I like to start early there. But gigs can often mean late nights so I have to be flexible. I do like my Zzzzs though!

Does work creep into your weekend at all?

Ah yeah. Between performing, writing and teaching, my life doesn’t have much routine and I have to be fluid.

For instance, this past weekend was largely spent rehearsing some new music with Notify ahead of our Jazz Festival show at the Triskel, and our nationwide tour with Mark Lettieri in November.

Every weekend is different but it keeps it interesting and I certainly wouldn’t change it.

If money was no object where would you head to on a weekend city break? And who would you bring with you?

I guess it would have to be Chicago. My wife and I lived there for two years and are still very connected with the city.

I helped set up a jazz session there in 2012 and it has blossomed into something really quite cool. Chicago is home to one of the world’s iconic jazz scenes and many of the city’s leading musicians have played at the session.

I’ve been back to play once or twice since I left and it’s always pretty special. Oh, and obviously I’d be bringing Ciara with me!

Cormac McCarthy.
Cormac McCarthy.

Closer to home, is there someplace you like to head to recharge the batteries?

I recently moved to Nohoval and my dog Joni, has seen to it that I explore every cliff walk in the neighborhood. She takes me for a walk a couple of times a week.

Do you like to catch up with family/friends at the weekend?

Absolutely! That’s what makes it all worthwhile.

Do you get to indulge any hobbies? Even as a spectator?

I try to get out and hear as much music as possible. Listening to recordings at home is one thing, but a live performance has that extra dimension.

It’s what inspired me to pursue music in the first place and it still gets me going. Cork punches well above its weight in both the quality and diversity of music on offer so we have no excuses.

Just take a look at the Triskel’s calendar, it’s as eclectic as you can get. Then you’ve got clubs like the Crane Lane doing an awful lot for jazz and original music in the city. We’re spoiled!

Entertain or be entertained? If it’s the latter do you have a signature dish?

No signature dish as such but I like to cook a lot of fish. I also enjoy broadening my curry repertoire. I try to take inspiration from my mum — she can do it all!

To have Bill Evans’ facility at the piano and my mum’s facility at the hob, that’s the dream!

We have so many places to eat out in Cork - where are your go to spots for coffee/lunch/special meal?

Coffee — Walton Court in Oysterhaven,

Lunch — Don’t mind lunch!

Special meal — Cafe Paradiso.

Pint — Callanan’s Bar on George’s Quay.

Sunday night comes around too fast.. how do you normally spend it?

It could be any of the above, but if I’m free I try to catch an NFL game. I became interested when I lived in the States and at the moment it has added meaning as many of the players are choosing to defy the world’s favourite president and kneel during the national anthem.

It’s part of the Black Lives Matter movement. We have the homeless crisis in this country, and it would be great to see some of our leading sports people show similar bravery and social awareness. But I won’t hold my breath.

What time does your alarm clock go off on Monday morning?

Too early... Hit ‘snooze’!!

Cormac McCarthy will perform at Triskel Christchurch during the Guinness Cork Jazz Festival at 3pm, on Sunday, October 29, as part of NOTIFY, along with Pádraig Rynne, Cillian King, Davie Ryan and Eoin Walsh. This is their first date of a national tour. Tickets €12 and €10 from 021 4272022 and

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