Ken Maiuri’s Clubland: Jamming with singer/songwriter Marcia Gomes



Last modified: Friday, January 23, 2015

“More trees, less traffic, a slower pace and open space” is what singer/songwriter/multi-instrumentalist Marcia Gomes was looking for when she left Boston and moved to the Valley in January 2012.

She’d lived in the big city for more than three decades — during which time she graduated from the Berklee College of Music with a degree in voice and songwriting and performed in numerous busy jazz, R&B and pop bands — but Gomes was ready for a change. She soon discovered her new home offered more than just peace and quiet.

“I found the Valley to be extremely welcoming to new artists and musicians. I was inspired by the thriving music scene out here,” Gomes said in an interview earlier this week.

Her first area performance was at the Thirsty Mind Café in South Hadley and a few months later, she participated in a jam session at the Northampton Jazz Workshop at the Clarion Hotel in Northampton where she was introduced to the Green Street Trio (Paul Arslanian, George Kaye and Jon Fisher) and later a who’s who of local jazz talent, including drummer Claire Arenius, bassist Dave Picchi, pianist Eugene Uman, and flute/sax player Nancy Janoson.

Add to that list jazz vocalist Samirah Evans — the two met last December when they performed with others at a benefit concert. “I was blown away by Samirah’s soulful voice, her stage presence and her warmth!” Gomes said.

Now Evans has invited Gomes to be the latest guest vocalist for her every-other-month concert series, “Ladies in Jazz,” which takes place at the Arts Block in Greenfield on Nov. 22 at 8 p.m.

A lifelong passion

Gomes has been passionate about music since her youngest years. She grew up in soul music’s ’60s-’70s heyday and sang harmony with her favorite artists on the radio and the record player, including Dionne Warwick, The Fifth Dimension, The Edwin Hawkins Singers and The Jackson Five. Roberta Flack and Stevie Wonder became songwriting influences. “I loved the way their stories and soulful melodies wrapped around music,” Gomes said.

She made up songs to amuse her younger sisters at age 8, learned how to read music thanks to a middle school chorus teacher, Miss Ruddy, studied classical guitar in high school, and by the time she got to Boston University, she was writing lyrics to jazz instrumentals by composers like Earl Klugh.

“The first song I wrote on guitar was a gospel song called ‘Kneel Down and Pray,’ about having faith in the face of despair,” Gomes said. “I wrote it at a time of personal struggle. The song transformed the struggle into strength. It was the first song I had written that felt completely original. People asked me to play it over and over again, so I knew that it had somehow touched others, too. It felt important to me that people could relate to and find solace in the song.”

With singing and songwriting becoming more than a hobby, she transferred from BU to Berklee. “A new stage of my life began with music leading the way,” she said.

Gomes, who teaches 7th and 8th grade English at Amherst Pelham Regional Middle School, has been working on her craft ever since those college days; some of her songs can be heard on her website, www.justkeepclimbingmusic.com.

“Be Gentle” and “Overcome” are solo home recordings, direct and pure, with Gomes singing and playing everything, at times harmonizing with herself; her joy for the music comes through unfiltered. Even as her multiple voices soar, it’s a down-to-earth sound full of connection, like the open-hearted jazz-infused soul of Stevie Wonder.

One of the tunes was actually inspired by a generic drum machine rhythm she found. “It was so slow it made me giggle ... then it haunted me until the sound of a civil rights march came to mind,” she said. “I brainstormed some lyrics in my notebook and soon ‘Overcome’ was born.”

Despite being a full-time teacher, Gomes is finding the time to work on a new CD, thanks to help from her family, friends, Valley musicians and supporters; she hopes to have it out in 2015.

In the meantime Gomes is excited for the “Ladies in Jazz” concert, where she and Evans will sing separately and together on two sets of jazz, R&B, pop and original tunes, backed by a band of Eugene Uman on piano, Dave Picchi on bass and Claire Arenius on drums, with guests Jeff Olmstead on piano and Charlie Braun on guitar.

“We will be blending a well-known jazz standard with one of my Latin originals, which was particularly fun to arrange. I will play guitar on a couple tunes. However I am most looking forward to hearing [the band] put a new spin on popular standards and a few of my originals.” Gomes said. “It’s going to be a slamming show!”

Ken Maiuri can be reached at clublandcolumn@gmail.com.



Marcia Gomes joins Samirah Evans for the latest edition of the “Ladies in Jazz” concert series at the Arts Block in Greenfield Nov. 22 at 8 p.m.


 


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