Mary Ellen Geist earned renown as a broadcast journalist and radio anchor in some of America’s biggest markets—Los Angeles, San Francisco and New York City—and landed a string of impressive journalism awards along the way. In 2005, she gave up a job with WCBS in New York to move to Petoskey and care for her father, who was fighting Alzheimer’s disease. Eventually she wrote a widely acclaimed book (Measure of the Heart) about the experience and has been busy on the book circuit for the past year, but now things have settled down, and she’s ready to resume a longstanding love, singing jazz, blues and Latin tunes in intimate venues. Friday night, October 30, her duet performs its public debut—she’s accompanied by guitarist Phil Tarczon—at Traverse City’s Phil’s on Front. We checked in with her to get a little background what we can expect from the duet called M.E. and Phil.
MyNorth: How far back does singing go in your life?
Mary Ellen Geist: I’ve really been singing my whole life. I sang jazz from the time I was very young and even dropped out of Kalamazoo College to be a jazz singer for three years, then I went back to school and got my degree. I decided to pursue a career in broadcast journalism, but I’ve always done jazz on the side—there are always musicians in broadcast newsrooms, and we’d form bands. One of my favorites was playing in a jazz trio at a little club on Sunset Strip. I just always moonlighted because I loved doing it.
MyNorth: Give us a few specifics about what we’ll hear at Phil’s on Front.
Mary Ellen Geist: I’m trained in the jazz standards, so I really enjoy Frank Sinatra, Cole Porter, Diane Krull, Tuck and Patty. That is the sound that Phil and I have. But I also love Latin, and do songs by Antonio Carlos Jobim. I do a Michigan version of “The Girl from Ipanema” that I call “The Boy from Escanaba.” I sang it at a party, and it went over well.
MyNorth: Are you going to sing the Escanaba song at Phil’s on Front?
Mary Ellen Geist: Absolutely. You will definitely hear that. Phil’s is just a perfect venue for us. The right size and the kind of people we want to perform for. We’re really excited about it.
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