Jazz legend's legacy will live on
By Katie Kocijanski
A local group of jazz professionals is celebrating the sweet success of preserving the legacy of an often-unknown jazz master — Gary McFarland.
Before his untimely death at the age of 38, McFarland was a prominent jazz vibraphonist, vocalist, producer and composer of the ‘60s and early ‘70s. His music career is making a comeback.
Thanks to the efforts of a group of professional jazz musicians called “The Gary McFarland Legacy Ensemble,” his music has now been re-recorded on the recently released CD “Circulation, the Music of Gary McFarland.”
“We are working on promoting his music in different ways for the future,” said drummer Michael Benedict. “This is the first major way Gary's work is being introduced to a new generation.”
Benedict, along with musicians Joe Locke on vibraphone, Sharel Cassity on saxophone, Bruce Barth on piano and Mike Lawrence on bass recorded the album over the course of two days at the end of January at NRS Recording Studio in Catskill.
Following the April 15 release of the album on the Planet Arts recordings, Benedict said the album has gotten a great response from the jazz community and favorable reviews from various critics in the industry.
In 1979, Benedict first came upon McFarland's music when he met and fell in love with Gail McFarland, Gary McFarland’s widow. She was married to McFarland until 1971 when he passed away.
Their children, Milo and Kerry McFarland, were 7 and 2 when their father passed away, and Kerry McFarland has been actively involved in preserving her father's legacy and is pleased with the album.
“She produced the album along with myself and helped pick out the material we recorded for it,” said Benedict. “We wanted to give the material the 2015 treatment.”
Well-known music critic Ted Gioia put the album on his list of top 100 albums for 2015, just under singer Adele's album, “25.” Benedict said this was a big honor and was happy the album is receiving so much positive attention and praise.
The album was among the preliminary list of contenders for the 2016 Grammy Awards. While it did not make the cut in the Monday nomination announcement, Benedict said he feels honored to have been considered.
Following his June retirement as band director for Greenville High School, Benedict is planning the next promotional steps for the album.
This includes applying to play at different jazz festivals in the Northeast. Spots being considered include Burlington, Vt., Albany and Lake George.
"I want to get the band back together to play some of the music off of the album," Benedict said.
Along with the album release party being held in Albany at the Madison Theatre, a documentary about Gary McFarland was also shown at the event.
Filmmaker Kristian St. Clair made a documentary about the musician's life and brief 10-year career. The film came out in DVD form this year.