Acclaimed singer Kate Baker and her late husband, guitar giant and influential educator Vic Juris, share a touching love story on Return to Shore, her powerful new album. Produced by the amazing guitarist Dave Stryker, Return to Shore features some of Juris’ most innovative guitar work while showcasing Baker’s impressive singing storyteller skills. With expressive interpretations of selected jazz and pop music as well as a collection of original compositions, “Return to Shore” is a breathtaking recorded document of tender connection and supreme musical synergy.
The genesis of Return to Shore began a few years before Juris’ untimely death nearly three years ago, when the couple entered engineer Paul Wickliffe’s recording studio in early 2019 to record six of the ten songs that make up this heartfelt release. We’ve been performing together as a duo for about twenty years and we knew what it felt like live, when the energy of the audience – the applause, the love – became so much a part of the process – we wanted to get one feel like it actually is sounded,” Baker hinted. Over the next few years, Baker and Juris “tried out new material in our home studio to see how it would sound without thinking that we would use it,” as Baker noted.
At the end of December 2019, Juris passed away after a relatively short but brave battle with neuroendocrine cancer. His untimely death at the age of 66 caused a crater on the music scene. For over forty years, his far-reaching stylistic breadth and technical mastery made him a first-call sideman and a true “musician-musician” in the truest sense of the word. While he has had several important musical partnerships throughout his career, including a 20-year stint in saxophonist Dave Liebman’s band, among the most significant of his collaborations has been the duo he had with Baker.
Baker, a veteran singer whose influence on the contemporary music scene cannot be overstated, particularly as an educator and vocal coach, was the perfect antidote to Juris’ distinctive playing. They often performed together and their unusual musical symbiosis left the audience flat. Despite their frequent live performances, the duo have never released an album together. Perhaps even more surprising was that Baker had never released an official recorded debut. When Juris passed away, the footage from earlier in the year took on new meaning and, with Dave Stryker’s help, Baker wanted to give the world one final document of her late husband’s work. The results are enlightening and cathartic.
“When we were thinking about songs, we wanted to make whole new melodies—there wasn’t a theme,” Baker reflects. “But in reality, the issue was there all along. But none of us knew what was coming. I think the spirit world gave us a message.”
That becomes clear already with the opener “God Only Knows”. Baker shares that after a home recording session of the play (one they did not normally perform but felt compelled to this day), Juris felt unusually tired. After a doctor’s visit, the worst was certain: Vic had cancer and the prognosis was not good. Suddenly her life changed instantly and gave a new meaning to Brian Wilson’s tune. The title track, “Return To Shore,” first got on Baker’s radar when she heard Juris perform it in duo with Larry Coryell. Impressed by the beauty of the melody, she wrote original lyrics and a shout chorus. “I got used to his face,” the Lerner and Loewe standard made famous by the 1960s Broadway show My Fair Lady, was a frequent vehicle for the duo. “I was always so special because it was an anthem about our marriage… I sang it to Vic at all our gigs,” Baker reflects. In this rendition, the remarkable musical and personal connection between Baker and Juris shines through.
“Black Crow” is the first of two Joni Mitchell songs to appear on “Return to Shore”. A live performance favorite, “Black Crow” showcases Vic’s unique playing on the Martin guitar, and together they transform this beloved Mitchell composition into something entirely new. An intimate rendition of Jimmy Webb’s The Moon Is A Harsh Mistress follows, followed by another Juris-Baker original, Moonscape. This has always been one of Baker’s favorite compositions penned by Juris, and the original lyrics flowed naturally. “There was something about the moon that always took my breath away and gave me hope when I was young,” she says.
Next up is “Madalena” by Ivan Lins, made famous by Elis Regina. Another live favourite, this one would always go to new places with each performance, in keeping with Juris’ intention to keep things fresh and never play the same thing twice. Joni Mitchell’s second work is the enduring Both Sides Now, which takes on a whole new perspective here. “This is the song I will remember until the end of my time on earth,” explains Baker. She remembers performing this together at one of the last performances before his death and deeply feeling their intense and intimate connection. “There was no fear and no ego… just a totally pure connection with my husband. Through this process, the music was sometimes able to speak louder than words.”
The final two tracks are incredibly meaningful to Baker: Alec Wilder’s “Blackberry Winter,” a staple that has become something of a signature song for the singer, and “Are You Kind” — an original composition written by Baker and her dear friend Shari was composed by Müller. Originally written for her father, who died at the age of 55, this cathartic tune took on new meaning after Vic’s death. It ends the album on a hopeful and uplifting note. She reflects:
“First the song asks questions: ‘Do you feel love? Do you feel pain?’ etc. But in the end it’s about the lessons learned: “Now I feel love, now I feel pain, now I feel life pulsing in my veins. I walk with grace, I walk that line, I take my time to be kind, I try to be kind.”
With Return to Shore, Kate Baker and Dave Stryker (who was not only Juris’ colleague and label mate, but also a neighbor and close confidante) present a far-reaching final document by the late Vic Juris that is both emotionally tender and musically compelling. While Vic Juris may no longer be physically with us, his legacy remains firmly intact on this essential final recording, which is all about love.
Return to Shore is available today on all streaming platforms.
More about Kate Baker
“One of the most impressive artists in years” (Los Angeles Times), much sought-after singer Kate Baker is a heartfelt interpreter of lyrics with “an unmistakably original voice that’s smooth and hypnotic” (Boston Globe). , which reflects her love for diverse musical inspirations.
As a musical singer with a high degree of musicality, she regularly performs in a variety of formations, from duos to small ensembles to big bands. For the past two decades, she has delighted audiences worldwide with a voice that bassist Harvie S. calls “beautiful and authentic” and pianist Rachel Z. Hakim “irresistibly engaging and intimate”… that reflects a lifetime of experiences of love, loss, and hope and deftly displays her brave spirit.” As a singer, she has performed at venues and festivals around the world.
Widely recognized as a master of vocal pedagogy (she also has a dedicated vocal teacher training program), Ms. Baker’s teaching style is an accumulation of over 25 years of training and achievement. Ms. Baker currently teaches privately and is on the faculty of the New School University of Jazz and Contemporary Music. She has taught master classes at major institutions in the United States and Europe, including co-chairing many master classes with singing legends Sheila Jordan and Mark Murphy, and teaching The Art of the Duo with Vic Juris. She is also known as a vocal producer in New York and Los Angeles.
More about Vic Juris
Victor Edward Jurusz Jr., known professionally as Vic Juris, was an American jazz guitarist. At age 11, he studied guitar at the home of his teacher Ed Berg and became interested in jazz when he heard Berg’s records by guitarists Django Reinhardt, Jim Hall, Barney Kessel, Jimmy Raney and Johnny Smith. As a teenager he played the rock music of the 1960s. At 19 he met blind saxophonist Eric Kloss and they became friends. His first recording was on Kloss’ album Bodies’ Warmth (Muse, 1975). Around the same time he met guitarist Pat Martino, who became a friend and mentor.
Juris recorded with Richie Cole in 1976-78 and released his debut album as a leader, Road Song, in 1979. In the early 1980s he turned to acoustic guitar in duos with Larry Coryell and Biréli Lagrène, and in the late 1980s he worked with Gary Peacock’s band. Since 1991 he has spent much of his career with saxophonist Dave Liebman.
In the 1990s, Juris worked as a sideman with Lee Konitz and Peggy Stern (1992), Benny Waters (1993), Jeanie Bryson (1993-94), Gary Peacock (since 1994), Steve LaSpina (since 1995), Judi Silvano (1996 ). ), Ken Serio (1996, 2007, 2019) and Joe Locke (1998).
Juris has taught at the New School for Jazz and Contemporary Music, Lehigh University and Rutgers University and has written guitar textbooks.