Segal is a guitarist based in San Francisco, California. Fluent in multiple genres, including jazz, rock, funk, fusion, folk, and Latin music, Her guitar playing is distinguished by her eclectic, soulful, and original sound. Segal has performed and recorded nationally and internationally both as a solo artist and band leader, earning the title “Leading Lady of Jazz” by Jazz Times magazine.
Segal was raised in a musical family in both Boston, Massachusetts and Copenhagen, Denmark. As a teenager, she studied guitar with Dean Brown (a Berklee College student who later toured and recorded with Marcus Miller, Brecker Brothers, Roberta Flack) As a teenager in Copenhagen, Denmark, she discovered free jazz, playing bass with Marilyn Mazur (Miles Davis and Jan Gabarek) and Pia Nyrup (Søsterrock). Segal studied music theory with Ray Copeland (Thelonlius Monk) and majored in Music & Jazz History, culminating in a Styles and Analysis study of Wes Montgomery. While living in London for 7 years she was mentored by Cedric West (BBC Radio Orchestra). “He taught me jazz standards and gave me a solo spot during his band’s break each week at his Sunday afternoon gig at the Bow Bells in London’s East End. Each week he gave me a hand-written chord melody and I built up quite a collection. He also made sure I learned to read notes on the guitar, which has proven to be really helpful in all sorts of ways.” While in London, Segal performed with several swing combos, big bands, and a choreographed Prince cover band.
Segal returned to the United States, moving to Los Angeles where she got a solo spot playing nightly in a popular Indian restaurant. “It was a great place to land and get my solo playing together. I met all sorts of people there, including a lady that got me on the radio on one of my first nights there, and that led to all kinds of other gigs. I met Eric Johnson, who played my guitar and loved it." (Segal's Gibson L-4 has been her main signature instrument for over 30 years). A customer there told her about Emily Remler’s death, which floored me. She was a huge inspiration and I had always wanted to meet her.” Segal attended the Musicians’ Institute in Los Angeles. “It was a crazy place that kicked my ass, mostly in the best possible way. It was so much information all at once, I’m still digesting it. I met and played with people from all over the place. Ron Eschete and Joe Diorio were the main guys I studied with. After that I met Jean Marc Belkadi who put a lot of it all together for me. He was just starting to write guitar books for Mel Bay, and I traded notational transcriptions for lessons with him.” She co-founded the acid-jazz band “Red Clay,” the house band at the Lava Lounge in Hollywood, with David Brown (Beck, Brazzaville) and played guitar for singer songwriter Jill Cohn. She completed her Bachelor’s degree in Los Angeles and got a Masters degree in Education and teaching certification from UCLA.
Segal moved to New York City where she lived for three years teaching music full-time at a public elementary school in Harlem. “I had trained to become a fifth grade classroom teacher, but when they discovered that my California credential wasn’t transferable to New York, they made me a music teacher, and I’ve been doing that ever since. I didn’t know anything about teaching music, but I did know about teaching and I knew about music, so I just put them together.”
Segal moved to the Bay Area with her then wife in 2000 and gave birth to their daughter in 2002. “That was a really creative time for me,” Karen recalls. “I started getting up in the middle of the night to compose while everybody else was sleeping. I eventually got enough material together to make “In the Moment” (2007), my first CD recording as a bandleader playing my original music. It was a big milestone. Magic happened in the studio that day, it was palpable. A few months later I got into my car one day after teaching, started it, and heard my music playing from the KCSM 91.1 radio. It was super cool! Even got a shout out from DJ Jesse Chuy Varela, ‘An up and coming artist in the Bay Area,’ or something like that. As I kept at it, my confidence, connections and playing grew, eventually leading to my second CD recording “The Mystery of Life” (2010). This one got national and international attention, including a great review in JazzTimes magazine, ("A prodigious leap in jazz fusion") a write-up, photo, and “Leading Lady of Jazz” title in JAZZIZ magazine, and a European tour on a Fulbright Grant from the State Department.”
Segal's third CD recording, "Songs of the Danish People," was a studio recorded version of a solo guitar home recording that she made for her elderly Danish mother. "She just loved these songs, and I inherited a fondness for them." They have received airplay on American "world music" radio, and in Denmark.
As her artistic career was gaining traction, however, her marriage was failing, ultimately leading to divorce and single parenting. “No regrets, but this cramped my style big time. Everything became about survival, parenting, and taking care of my elderly mother who was also living with us. Teaching high school music full-time was rewarding in many ways, but also exhausting. My own music pretty much went on hold for a few years. I subbed here and there, played as a sideman once in a while, and did a few weddings and special events. I accompanied a number of Bay Area cantors including Sharon Bernstein and Marsha Attie. But I didn’t really develop my own music much during this time, it was all I could do to keep up maintenance.”
As things in her personal life have been settling down, Segal has returned to expressing and developing her unique sound and style on the guitar. With regular spots at the Ocean Ale House and The Lucky Horseshoe in San Francisco her trio is back up and running.
Over the course of her life, Segal has developed a unique sound and skill set, and is eager to continue to make use of them. You can follow her by joining her mailing list, subscribe to her YouTube channel, and follow her on FaceBook.