Tuesday, March 8, 2016

Rediscovering the Talents and Gifts of Inspirational Musician Gigi Worth

For a long time now, too long in fact, vocalist and musician Gigi Worth has been content to reside on the other side of the spotlight, but no longer. It’s most fitting for her to be seen and known by more than just the vast community of Grammy-winning multiplatinum recording artists and concert headliners who call on her to tour with them or sing on their records.

Now, you already actually know Gigi, at least her voice, very well in fact. Even if you don’t get to many live concerts, you’ll instantly recognize the standout style of the charming brunette, who graces numerous videos on YouTube as a featured backing vocalist, master percussionist or guitarist.

You might have seen her on tour with Michael McDonald, Kenny Loggins, or years ago when she stepped forward on tour to sing a duet with Christopher Cross on “Open Up My Window.” Gigi is also featured singing with him on Cross’ 1995 CD, “Window.”

Or you’ve possibly watched Gigi playing killer percussion while singing. Yes, drummers can sing and drum at the same time, well many of them at least. Or, sometimes Gigi just brings her own (anonymous) guitar brilliance to support Christopher Cross’ angelic “Words of Wisdom” as in this video.

Ever watch Don Johnson in “Nash Bridges”? From 1996–2000, Gigi was the one singing the theme song at the show’s opening. Remember the Val Kilmer movie, “At First Sight”? The exceptional vocal on the movie theme, “Love is Where You Are” is indeed all Gigi. Others have covered the song, but the best version belongs to Gigi, unquestionably.

The soundtrack from “Mr. Holland’s Opus” also belongs to Gigi. She’s a prolific studio singer who’s been requested by so many heralded artists to sing on their records as she makes those vocals “hers.” That’s a producer’s dream to find a talent who can do that.

You know Worth’s voice even if you can’t see her, because it is “her” voice that undergirds many signature premier television and radio commercial jingles for national accounts like Toyota, IBM, and Ford, but it doesn’t even phase her. What’s more you’ll never hear her discuss it. She may speak of “working on a project” but that’s it, according to friends who know her well.

How many singers would just love being “the voice of a brand” and then be so excited to tell everyone they knew? Not Gigi. That’s part of her professionalism, though. As a working professional singer and musician, she’d almost be content to be on the sidelines just doing her job, but she really belongs out front in the spotlight, for a change, and from the looks of things, she’s on her way. Once you meet her and hear her sing, unplugged, she’s absolutely unforgettable—a gentle dichotomy of bold reticence. And just call her Gigi. That’s really all you need to identify her.

One of the most beautiful songs from Gigi Worth's solo CD, "Skylark" is "Embraceable You." Her exquisite vocals lift the song to a new level of beauty.

Gigi’s debut solo CD, “Skylark” is quite the masterpiece and revisits the most beautiful standards ever recorded by the generation that preceded her. Songs like ‘Tenderly,” “Come Rain or Come Shine,” “Almost Like Being in Love,” “Embraceable You,” and “Moonlight in Vermont” belong to the generation of her mother, the exquisite singer and musician Gisele MacKenzie. In fact, Gigi actually recorded the album as a tribute to her mother, who appeared on television, radio, and in commercials for products in Canada and the United States.

A standout, must-hear track of all the beautiful ones, is “Stranger in Paradise,” on which Sony BMG gave their permission to use her mother’s version so that Gigi could add her harmonies on the song. The result is simply phenomenal, almost bringing tears to your eyes except that it’s so uplifting to hear the familial voices resplendent in crossing over time and space.

Gigi’s unique vocal skills remind you that one minute she can be singing “Cry Me a River,” and the next minute she can strum her guitar exactly like Joni does and sing Mitchell’s “Just Like This Train” to perfection. Her go-to bassist Steven Lawrence is on this CD and did the musical arrangement on “Embraceable You” and “Let’s Make a Go of It” (coauthored by Gigi, Catherine Beck and Steven Lawrence).

The CD, “Skylark,” has a special and poignant story behind it, and how it came to be released some ten years ago. There’s a beautiful story from 2011 shared by Susan Frances in “Jazz Review,” wherein Gigi relates how the earliest works in recording the album with her Executive Producer, arranger and keyboardist, Bobby Zee, were literally destroyed in a fire that burned his home and recording studio.

Imagine the feelings of devastation that followed. And yet, both Zee and Gigi agreed they, like the phoenix, would rise from the proverbial ashes and start over. The end result is outstanding and an important must-have for your collection. It’s available from CD Baby, but suggest you get the CD rather than the download as you will want to read the liner notes for the stories behind the songs, plus have the chance to see Gigi’s beloved horse, Miss Easy Street.

The opportunity to meet Gigi Worth came, thanks to her good friend and fellow musician, Kiki Ebsen, who invited this journalist for a behind-the-scenes look at their collaborative band, Trouble Child. Rehearsals were in progress, and the set list was taking shape for the band’s debut at Kiki’s peace.harmony concert at the Healing Equine Ranch earlier this year.

Gigi Worth sings "Free Man in Paris" in debut of Trouble Child, Joni Mitchell tribute concert.

It was a cool but sunny afternoon when the longstanding friends arrived simultaneously at the California home of fellow singer-songwriter and music professional, Guy Thomas. As Gigi unlocked the passenger door, a beautiful whippet named Tippy exited gracefully. “Tippy Whippetsworth” was there as I was, to hear the trio rehearse.

Multitalented musician Gigi Worth and her beloved Tippy Whippetsworth, who has an all-access pass and a great view of the stage.

Worth opened up her case, took out her guitar and then placed her coat inside to line the case. Tippy waited patiently while Mom did that and then curled right up in the case and Gigi covered her up. Rehearsal could begin. Thomas’ dogs Woofie and Sadie (whom Gigi insists on calling ‘Cabbagehead’ for fun) took their places and work began. Guy and Gigi have been playing music as a duo in many venues across Los Angeles recently and they work so well together.

Gigi and Kiki are longtime friends who have also worked together as the beautiful, talented bookends framing the stage with Grammy-winner Christopher Cross for several international tours. Check out some of their tour work as they perform “Alibi.”

Now, in previous rehearsals Kiki and Gigi had already carefully reviewed and considered Joni’s abundant catalog to choose 22 songs from which they would create their musical mosaic. So, this work session would determine which songs to which Guy would be bringing his brilliant guitar solos or adding in a third voice on harmonies. He loves Joni Mitchell’s songs possibly even more than Gigi or Kiki, though that’s a pretty high bar to meet.

Let’s just say that each is equivalently versed in every nuance of Mitchell’s collective body of work. The masters working on the masterworks is basically what was observed by this writer (and Tippy, Sadie, and Woofie). The quality was exceptional and the search for perfection was inspirational that afternoon.

The three-octave range that Joni had as she originally composed so many of these songs was met effortlessly by Worth and Ebsen. Give them a song, any song; they have it down. Gigi can sing brilliantly and richly in the highest parts of Joni’s songs, or she can shift right into alto parts and blend wherever it is called for, and she makes it all look easy. Gigi also has a grand time playing all the songs she knows by virtually any artist.

Yet, despite a disarming, genuine smile, Gigi is one of the most highly demanding artists you’d ever hope to meet. Yet, it’s only of herself that she demands it, that perfection she seeks to deliver, and she’s hard on herself at times because she won’t settle when she’s called upon to sing Joni’s songs. It’s touching to see how one amazing iconic talent, Joni, has inspired such devotion and discipline for these amazing professionals to “bring it” to do her music such justice.

Kiki and Gigi cofounded this band to honor and perform the music of Joni Mitchell, whom they revere and respect as iconic, influential, trendsetting and unique, the exact same properties many agree they each have as individual artists. When you put the two singers together, musical magic and harmonies emerged that even Mitchell herself would undoubtedly approve.

The concert was already sold out, but online viewing was going to be provided courtesy of the exciting new collaborative, Alert the Globe, who was filming the event for later broadcast and for some exciting simulcasting. The actual concert day and events preceding the concert are described in related articles regarding Kiki Ebsen's peace.harmony concert series at The Healing Equine Ranch.

After the gift of being able to watch Gigi Worth rehearse and later perform in concert later in the week it must be said that she still does not see what all the fuss is about. To her, it’s just what she does. And she loves what she does. Yet, when the audiences and her music colleagues shared their praise and regard for her gifts, she seemed not to understand why they were making such a big fuss over her vocal talents.

It’s likely because, and they all had this in common, they view their voices as their gifts and instruments, they take care of them, and when they are called upon to use their talents to entertain, they are entirely focused on the work, the music, the perfection in delivering the right notes, and they forget to take the time to hear the accolades.

Fortunately, the Alert the Globe network was on hand, thanks to Gary Bergeson, Southern California radio personality at KSBR Radio (he is also affiliated with Alert the Globe), the premiere Trouble Child concert was filmed for a future broadcast and some video clips are sure to emerge. It will be then, and only then, when she hears herself sing that Gigi Worth will finally understand what all the fuss is about.

Speaking of making a fuss, it can be a challenge for Gigi, having a famous, superbly talented mother (who was a television star, host of her own shows, plus a gifted violinist and concert-caliber pianist to boot). Just ask her good friend Kiki Ebsen, who also is finally being seen as the individual talent she has long been, separate and apart from her father (who was a television star, motion picture actor, vaudeville dancer, music composer and artist) and mother (who was a gifted theatre producer and exquisite writer).

Bassist Steven Lawrence had that in common also, as his parents were well known California studio and television singers for several television programs in the 1960s. And Gisele used to favor Steve with the praise by introducing him as “the talented one.” Gigi jokes about it all the time as Lawrence is like her second brother and he does look out for his little sister, whom he fondly calls “My Geege.” Steven lost his sister, Jules, whom he called “the joy of my life,” to ovarian cancer far too soon, so it would appear that into that void in his heart, he was gifted with another soul to whom he could be brother (and allowed to pick on her just like any annoying brother is capable of doing). Life is full of grand gifts and surprises in times of the most tragic events. A special spirit is everywhere it is needed, it seems.

It’s not about whose daughter or son you are (anymore) that defines the second-generation progeny first and best. Forget their last names or the body of work of their parents. Instead, focus on the voices and faces in front of you and just know they all had great examples by which to develop a professional work ethic. That’s their big secret advantage: they show up prepared and work.

You can call her Gigi MacKenzie if you want to order the CD, “Skylark” or you can call her Gigi Worth, when she’s touring on stage with the Grammy winners like Michael McDonald or Kenny Loggins most recently. But really, this down-to-earth talent with the ethereal voice and tremendous sense of rhythm is best known by only one name.

She’s the unforgettable artist with a voice that heals by creating harmony in a time and place for audiences in search of reasons to forget their day, their past disappointments or failures, and in search of beautiful music by which their souls can simply be healed.

May her voice be heard, now and always, on records and in concerts, in the front of the stage this time, because she has such tremendous gifts to share, so much to offer music lovers. And, you can just call her Gigi.