Sweet Megg & The Wayfarers — Jazz for a new (and old) generation

Sweet Megg & The Wayfarers

Dad was right all along. From the time he heard his daughter sing, he knew that the world would eventually hear her too.

“From when I was a pretty young age, he decided himself that I was a good singer,” laughs Megg Farrell, lead singer for Sweet Megg & The Wayfarers.

Farrell’s parents were actors, with dad throwing songwriting in the mix, and with his tastes running towards the “old stuff,” it was no surprise that she was probably the only nine-year-old in the universe who received a Billie Holiday album for a gift that year.

“She’s like my God now,” said Farrell of “Lady Day,” but back then, that album remained sealed. Eventually, though, she gravitated toward songwriting herself, and after spending a year studying jazz in Paris while in college, her die was cast.

But where was this going to take her in the Big Apple? Where else but Mona’s on Avenue B, where she spent many a night after class taking everything in on Tuesday nights.

“I went there for three or four months until four in the morning, and I would just watch and listen to the music. Eventually, I had a couple drinks and stayed late enough that I had the courage to ask if I could sing. I’ve been at Mona’s almost every week since then and now it’s taken over my musical life.”

And her life in general. Tireless musicians who are seemingly always playing somewhere, Megg and company are readying the release of their first album this summer, and now folks outside of New York can get on board.

“We got some funding for an album because there was a fan of ours that was willing to give us some money for it and so we said, ‘Well, we’ve got a proper amount of money, we can really do something great. So let’s do our perfect album,’” she said. “We did all the songs we love, it’s a mixed bag, and we got all the musicians we love to be on it. And after hearing it, it was exactly what we dreamed it would sound like. It’s the first time I recorded something where it was the best work I could give out at this point, and I’m very excited to get it out there and have people listen to it.”

When it does hit the streets, it will be interesting to see what happens next, because in playing a form of music that has struggled to reach a younger demographic in recent years, it could be an uphill battle. That’s the worst case scenario. But the more realistic one is that in coming at jazz from several different angles, Farrell and the band may be able to hit a new generation in a new way.

“One thing we’ve all noticed in the scene is when I started gigging, I was shocked at how much work there was in it.” she said. “There were so many bars and events where people wanted this kind of music, and we play a lot of rowdy bars with young people in them and not just fancy cocktail hours. And people seem to react to it. People like more complex stuff and this jazz music gives us that, but it’s also fun. A lot of bands on this scene recreate this music, and it’s almost like a historical reenactment. I think that’s brilliant and it’s really amazing the stuff that people do to capture the old playing styles. But we really don’t sit in that. I guess I make selfish song choices because I always pick whatever I want to sing. (Laughs) And it’s generally from the 20s and 30s, but I also choose stuff that was written in the 50s and there’s original music, and I even do a song from a band of Philly that’s almost a punk band. And with the album, we thought we can reach a modern generation of not only people who are hearing this music for the first time, but also jazz musicians and other musicians who are into the heavy jazz stuff, but it’s a fun version of all that.”

One look at one of their live gigs, and fun is the operative word. It’s not a bunch of folks sitting and playing, heads down as the cigarette smoke swirls. It’s a good time, and it may just be what the genre needs these days. But Farrell isn’t interested in getting into that debate. She just wants to play music.

“I don’t feel like I have the authority to know what jazz needs or doesn’t need,” she said. “I don’t believe in ever taking an opinion on that and saying what it is and what it should be. But in that same vein, that’s kind of what I am doing with this album, saying I’m a traditional musician, but I’m not doing just that. I’m doing something that’s different and I can still be a trad musician and a jazz musician. Jazz can be the past and the present. It doesn’t have to be one or the other.”

For more information on Sweet Megg & The Wayfarers, click here.

Megg Farrell & Friends play the Northside Festival on June 9 (click here) and Unit J Ladies Night on June 23 (click here)