Interview with Molly on 5/10/14 for my website

Shared by Paul Riechmann on September 8, 2019
Tough End Music: Was there music in your home growing up?

Molly Pitcher: I didn’t grow up with music all around. I mean, I did music, I was involved in music with dancing school and different things, but I didn’t come from a musical family. Other than the guitar and the folk stuff, which was real popular back then, I never was exposed. People talk about, like, Rosanne Cash, you know [laughing], “It was music all the time in the house; it never ends.” And one of my friends in Wild Ginger: her dad was a singer, and his brothers were all singers, and so there was always music in her house. That wasn’t quite the background that I came from. It’s just been this slow work in progress. And this desire to perform: I have no idea where that comes from [laughs].

TEM: Was there someone in particular who encouraged you to perform music?

MP: That first kind of encouragement probably was my guitar teacher. She was an excellent folk singer and player. She got me singing and could critique. And she’s the one who got me these tiny little gigs at age 17 with my guitar, singing mostly protest songs. I don’t know how the audience really ... [laughs]. But, you know, I was very wrapped up in the whole Vietnam, anti-war movement. So those are the tunes that I went for.

TEM: How did your transition to jazz come about?

MP: I saw Betty Carter in Seattle and kind of went,”Huh! What’s that? That’s interesting.” And when I moved back to Maine and was living in Bangor, I met Don Stratton, the trumpet player. I was kind of interested in what he did, because that [jazz] is what he did. Also, at that time, back in the early 80’s, there used to be jazz on Sunday afternoons at the Bagel Shop. I started going and hearing different musicians: Don, some of his students, Muriel Havenstein, Patti Wicks, piano players, and others. I sat there in the audience thinking, “I want to do that. That interests me.” I didn’t really know the music but started listening.

TEM: What musicians are you listening to currently?

MP: Tierney Sutton is a big [favorite] of mine. I got to see her up at the University of Maine with the Turtle Island String Quartet. That was pretty wild; that was fun. Bobby McFerrin: I just got to see him at the Portland Civic Center. That was like a re-introduction to his music. I was just mesmerized by his ability to speak to the audience. He really has a very lovely way. Wow, you know, what’s not to like about Ella Fitzgerald? She’s always been high on my list. Anita O’Day: I’m a huge Anita O’Day fan. Cole Porter? His tunes: I really just feel like I discovered them over the past several years and have been blown away by his music. Dianne Reeves is a big influence. Mike Murphy: I got introduced to him by Sheila Jordan, who is also a very early influence. I saw her years ago at the Left Bank Café in Blue Hill. I had no idea who she was but really liked her – wondering, “What is that? What is she doing? This is really different.” – and got to work with her later at the Jazz in July camps. She doesn’t have a particularly pretty voice, but she can sing a song. And I was moved by the way she clicked with the band, with the rhythm section. I’ve been influenced by that.

TEM: How is performing different for you now than when you first started?

MP: When I first started, it was something I wanted to do. But when I was in the middle of doing it, it was – for me – a study in paralysis. I was so frightened. It took a long time to really get over that. Although sometimes I could sing, and I’d be fine. But if it was any kind of a performance, it was too frightening to want to repeat it.

TEM: So how did you get over it?

MP: I did a series of Voice Discovery workshops with a vocal teacher named Martha Murphy, and she was so free and so encouraging. It was at that point I said, “I want to do this.” You get to that point in your life where you say, “I keep wanting this. I really want it, but I don’t know how to do it. But if I don’t do it, I’m going to be really disappointed.”

And so that was the beginning of saying, “Ok, I’m putting myself out there. I’m going to do it. And if people like me: that’s good. If people don’t like me: well, you know what, here I am.”

And so I sang in front of those small groups [at the workshops], and we would have a recital at the end. It just was time to do it. After the Voice Discovery workshops, I started auditioning for solos in the Bagaduce Chorale, and I got them. I can remember wondering if the beating of my heart was visible from the audience. But you just open your mouth and breathe. It came out. I did it.

And, then, it was around that time that I became part of Wild Ginger. In the beginning, we played out a lot, and I remember – before performances – I had to go sit somewhere, do a little meditation, do my breathing, and then go out on stage. I wasn’t going to let them down. And I wasn’t going to let myself down. And gradually it got easier and easier. I won’t say that my heart stopped beating like that, but ... if you want to do something bad enough, even if you don’t know why you want to do it, you just put it out there and let it go.

Singing is breathing. And playing a musical instrument is breathing. If you hold your breath, because you’re scared, it’s not going to come out. So you don’t go to that place. If you let it go, you won’t worry about someone’s face in the audience maybe not looking happy.

Singing with Wild Ginger, we had a ball: I mean we had fun. You’d look out at your audience and see people smiling, and you’d kind of focus on them. It’s fun to get to where you can not be so scared: “We’re beginning; now we’re in the middle of it; and this is what we’re doing. And I’m going to do the best I can, and I’m going to have fun.”

TEM: What are some differences between being a jazz soloist and being part of the Wild Ginger trio?

MP: Oh, huge differences. The fun thing about working in an a cappella group is that you’re creating a sound – we were a trio and, so, creating a “trio sound” – and you constantly had to be aware of what other people were doing. You needed to pay attention; you needed to listen to them. I think we blended really nicely together. You don’t want one voice to be coming out.

Switching, when I started singing jazz as a solo performer, I wanted my voice to be part of the band – not the up-front person. That doesn’t quite make sense, of course, because the vocalist is the person with the words. But I’m extremely bad with words: they don’t stay stuck in my head, and I’m constantly forgetting them. The words for me are – how can I say this? – almost like a vehicle for getting the notes out.

I don’t see the vocalist as being more important than the bass player, or the guitarist, or keyboard, or whomever you’re playing with. The vocalist is not the most important player in that group. The vocalist is one of the players. And that is what creates the magic for me – and, hopefully, for anybody listening.

TEM: What has been the biggest "break" or "opportunity" so far in your musical path?

MP: I guess the first break was singing with Wild Ginger. Then, after that, the Nocturnem jazz jams. I don’t know that I’d call that a “break,” exactly, but it gave me a regular opportunity to work with different people, get to know them, and let them get to know me [well enough to say], “Hey, Molly, come on up.”

TEM: How do you imagine it potentially could feel at gigs, if you were playing bass as well as singing?

MP: [After some modest comments about her bass-playing skills, the topic turned to keeping time in a song.] I work with a metronome a lot. Time is my friend. Time is my responsibility. That’s a constant. If your time is off, you got a weird stew going on.

TEM: We [in the rhythm section] all say, “Oh, it’s just the singer!”

MP: [Laughs.] When I went to Jazz in July camp, they had these awesome rhythm sections. I had never worked with a rhythm section. I’d only worked with a keyboard player (who was very good). But I had never worked with a keyboard, bass, and drums – that were there for us. They were such good players: their time was amazing.

That’s where I learned about having a decent chart and transposing my music. But I used to think, “The time is up to those guys. I can do whatever I want, because their time is good.” I actually thought that for awhile. And then I worked with another jazz vocalist at another jazz camp, and she started our sessions out with, “We all are responsible for our own time. If you’re depending on, and waiting for, someone else to set the groove, you’re missing out on part of your responsibility – your contribution, your thing.”

My initial response was, “Huh?” But she was the one who started encouraging me to work with a metronome. Sometimes, if I was learning a new song – of course, if you’re a vocalist, words are part of the deal – she had me learn songs with the metronome on two and four, and just speaking the words and learning how to fit them in. First, you do it the way it’s written. And then, once you feel comfortable with that, you can fiddle around with it. You can, maybe, not come in, or sing a phrase fast or percussive or....

[Her tutoring] was quite interesting, especially the part about the time. So that goes back to [the comments from the rhythm section], “Vocalists are such a pain in the ass, because they think it’s everybody else’s job.” [In an affected, air-head-vocalist voice:] “Here I am. OK. OK, ready to go. Ready to go [laughs].”

TEM: How do you decide which songs to perform at a particular gig?

MP: If I’m doing a whole night, like I’m going to be doing three sets, my first set I’ll often stick to things that I’m real comfortable with, so I can get into my voice, especially if I’m working with someone I’ve never worked with before or haven’t worked with in a long time. And if it’s just one set, my first three songs are going to be ones I’m really comfortable with and, then, as it goes, I try to pick according to feel.

I love a good ballad, but I [also] want to have something that has interesting time, that moves. You want to have some variety. I want to have a little Latin. I want to have something that’s percussive. I want to have something that’s just fun. I want to do stuff that I like [laughs].

TEM: Have you ever had, or thought about having, an agent? Is that something that could benefit you – or did benefit you?

MP: Oh, in my fantasy world, I would like to have someone say, “Molly, I would like to manage you – for free. And I will go out and get good gigs for you. And you can work with whomever you want to work with. And I will do all the calling, and the re-calling, and the showing up. And I will take care of that for you, because you are the most wonderful person I ever have known in my entire life.” Yeah, I’d love to have someone who did that stuff for me.

TEM: You had your own medical business for years. Has that influenced, at all, how you approach the music business?

MP: Yeah, of course. In my work, I never was very good in the marketing department: knocking on doors. That didn’t work for me. So, somehow, I was able to promote myself by doing a good job for people. So it was kind of done by reputation. That took a while.

TEM: Does that work in the music business – the reputation thing?

MP: Well, it does and it doesn’t. [Some] players have the reputation that if you’ve booked a gig with them: they’re going to be there; they’re going to be on time; they’re going to be professional; they’re going to be dressed. And then other people, you know: you’re not really sure. There’s always like a little “iffy” thing going on. That’s not part of my make-up. If I say I’m going to do something, it’s going to happen.

And I have a good book of tunes. I have lots of music and don’t just do the same twenty songs over and over and over again. There’s variety, so I’d like to think my reputation is as someone who comes in with something that maybe [elicits a positive reaction] – ”Gee, I haven’t heard that one in a while. That was really fun to do.” – and doesn’t just do the “standard vocal repertoire.”

So, does that help you? No! [Big laugh.]

[Molly describes how, years ago, she set her mind on pursuing a career in the male-dominated field of orthotics and prosthetics, not because she had a natural or special aptitude for the work but, instead, because it was interesting and paid well.]

It’s the same thing, I finally realized, in music. If you want it, you have to get it. That’s not to say there aren’t musicians who are so talented that somebody always goes to them. But chances are all of those [successful] people who you think might have had it easy: they went after it. And they worked hard: any one of them; in any field. Everybody says, “Oh, he’s a natural.” But I bet, whatever it is – e.g., a basketball player – they worked their butt off.

So, it’s kind of the same in music. I thought [laughing], “Why isn’t anybody coming and sweeping me off [my feet] and taking me down the musical highway?” I finally realized you have to go get it yourself. That’s hard. I don’t talk to any musician who enjoys going out and trolling for gigs. Some people are better at it than others. I’ve had some recent success and am feeling slightly more confident. But [the trolling] is always ... not fun. If you don’t pick up the phone, nobody is calling you.

Meeting Molly

Shared by Elizabeth Brock on September 8, 2019
I met Molly early in our freshman year at the University of Maine. Like most who encountered her, I was enchanted. But I was also a bit intimidated. I had been raised on a small Maine dairy farm while Molly had grown up in New Jersey. How exotic! Somehow, despite those differences or perhaps because of them, we became fast friends. We joined Students for a Democratic Society due in part to the politics of the time, but also to a shared interest in boys with long hair. Over the years Molly was a frequent guest at my parents' home and quickly earned "favored nation" status, which included the right to fall asleep in my father's recliner. Our senior year we shared a ramshackle apartment in Bangor and for the years that followed our paths intertwined from Aroostook County to Seattle. Too many stories to recount and my heart is too heavy for the words. I love Molly.  A rare, bright light. 

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