Interviews

MaryLynn Gillaspie Took 25 Years Off From Performing. She's Back With a Secret Language

MaryLynn Gillaspie is back after 25 years.
MaryLynn Gillaspie is back after 25 years. Jack Sasson
MaryLynn Gillaspie spent nearly a decade performing with Rare Silk, a Boulder-founded jazz vocal group that racked up two Grammy nominations with its debut record, New Weave, and toured quite a bit through the ’80s. The group released two more records before breaking up in 1988.

Following the demise of Rare Silk, Gillaspie was at a loss when it came to what to do next. She didn’t sing at all for nearly 25 years.

“I was raising a family, and I wasn’t really sure how to get myself back into the music thing,” she says. “Rare Silk was a four-part-harmony group, so for me to get back into music, I wasn’t going to repeat that experience. I pretty much had to decide to get back in on my own and sing solo.”

And now, Gillaspie will play Caffè Sole in Boulder on Saturday, April 30, to celebrate the release of her solo album, Secret Language, which she's been working on for the past two years.

Gillaspie says that she required a higher amount of self-confidence to sing solo rather than in a group. About a decade ago, she began to reintroduce herself to Colorado’s vibrant jazz scene to get her chops up to a level she felt comfortable with. She says the area has many world-class musicians, and she was happy to find herself in their presence once more.

“I just took baby steps back into the scene, sitting in with people,” she says. “Once I realized that I did have a voice that I felt good about, I started thinking about recording an album.”

Gillaspie is currently in the final process of getting Secret Language out to listeners. The completed fourteen-track record alternates between short pieces and longer, meandering numbers that allow Gillaspie to show off her vocal chops. She’s spent the better part of two years working on the songs, which she describes as “vibey." It's a hard term to pin down, but she’s not the only one using it in reference to her music.

“I don’t know how to describe ‘vibey,’” she laughs. “The funny thing is, I had said that not too long ago in some post I did on Facebook. Someone recently, who I had sent the link to to listen to the album, they called it that, too: ‘Oh, it’s kind of vibey.’ How do you describe it with any other word?”
click to enlarge Album art for Secret Language. - MARYLYNN GILLASPIE
Album art for Secret Language.
MaryLynn Gillaspie
She adds that her music lacks the hard swing of some more traditional jazz styles.

“It’s certainly heavily jazz-influenced,” she says. “That’s been my background largely from a very young age. But there’s a lot of fusion in it. It’s taking a lot of different styles of jazz or fusion.”

The songs, she says, encourage active listening, and the record is meant to be listened to from top to bottom. “If you were going to put on an album, vinyl, you know, back in the day when we put an album on the turntable and actually listened to it,” she says. “That’s opposed to what a lot of people do these days, like, ‘I’m just going to put a list of different tunes together on my phone.’”

Gillaspie considers the record a collaboration between her and several other musicians, even if it is nominally a solo record. The album contains some original songs, and Gillaspie also added lyrics to existing instrumental jazz tunes. “This is sort of common with jazz vocalists,” she says. “We'll take an existing jazz tune that doesn’t have lyrics and write lyrics to it. Some examples of that are Herbie Hancock’s 'Dolphin Dance,' which I wrote lyrics to.”

She also wrote lyrics to Pat Metheny's “It’s Just Talk.” She’s been listening to the song for about thirty years and has never been able to write lyrics to it. Her producer, Kip Kuepper, kept pushing her as they were deciding what songs would go on the record.

“I said, ‘I don't know if the lyrics are ever going to come,'’’ she recalls. “He said, ‘Just try it again.’ I came home, and it all came out. You just never know when that’s going to happen.”

MaryLynn Gillaspie CD Release Party, Saturday, April 30, 7-10 p.m. at Caffè Sole, 637R South Broadway in Boulder. Pianist Eric Gunnison will also perform. There is an $18 suggested cover. Secret Language can be streamed at hearnow.com. Check out more MaryLynn Gillaspie on SoundCloud.
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