CORK pianist, composer, arranger, and conductor Cormac McCarthy has just released his second album, On The Other Hand, and he is looking forward to a busy year ahead.
The Ovens native has spoken to The Echo about his work and why, in the words of RTÉ Lyric FM, his music defies categorisation.
“My father taught tin whistle and music in Ovens National School for a long, long time, so that would have been a big part of my musical upbringing,” Cormac says.
His father, renowned flautist Johnny McCarthy, remains a key influence.
“I was exposed to a lot of different types of music, and my father would have been a classical musician and a traditional musician, so I would have been exposed to both, and there was also an interest in jazz amongst him and other people, so there were records around the house and I would have been dragged along to concerts as a kid.
“It was quite wide-ranging in that respect and I would have started by playing classical piano, that was my training really.”
He credits his time in Ballincollig’s Coláiste Choilm as another formative influence, citing the importance of music department members Catherine Frost and others in nurturing his interest in music of all types.
In 2010, having completed his Master’s degree in composition at the MTU Cork School of Music, he received the prestigious Bill Whelan International Music Bursary, and spent a number of years living in Chicago, where he completed a Masters in Jazz Studies at DePaul University.
His compositions and arrangements have been performed and recorded by the likes of Mick Flannery, Martin Hayes, Andrea Corr, Gavin James, Niamh Regan, Jack O’Rourke, the RTÉ Concert Orchestra, and the Cork Opera House Concert Orchestra.
In 2015, he released Cottage Evolution, his debut LP as bandleader, to widespread critical acclaim. He is also a member of Martin Hayes’ most recent project, the Common Ground Ensemble. As a conductor, he has led the RTÉ Concert Orchestra and the Cork Opera House Concert Orchestra.
He has toured widely and continues to be in demand as a composer, arranger, and orchestrator in tandem with maintaining an active performance schedule.
Cormac lectures in piano, arranging, and composition at the MTU Cork School of Music, and is director of the Cork School of Music Jazz Big Band.
He says teaching has been an intrinsic part of his musical journey, and he followed his father’s footsteps in teaching tin whistle in Ovens.
“If you’re trying to make a career in music, teaching is often quite a substantial part of that, and when I started doing it when I was in college, I really enjoyed it. Teaching is still something I love doing.”
He says he is often asked to classify his style, and he says he tries not to allow that style to be pigeon-holed or limited to any one genre.
“It’s a constant process of evolving and developing and trying to get better all the time, and as a result the music you play changes and you have new influences and new things which excite you, and everything feeds into one big musical pot and whatever comes out of that is what comes out.”
He quotes Andre Previn, that there are only two types of music: good music and bad music.
His new album, On The Other Hand, launched last month, got a four-star review from The Irish Times, which said the album “marks the 38-year-old out as one of the rising stars of European jazz piano”.
One of Cormac’s upcoming gigs is in the Triskel Arts Centre on Friday, February 17, with Iarla Ó Lionáird and Matthew Berrill.
For further details, see www.cormacmccarthymusic.com.