Gretchen Parlato: Musical Immersion
In listening to your previous albums, including 2011ís The Lost And Found (Obliqsound), there seems to be a strong affinity for Brazilian music. Are there any future plans to record an entire album of Brazilian jazz?
Thatís a great idea and concept. I donít know when that would happen but actually Iíve always had that in the back of my head that it would be kind of nice just to have the time and focus for a completely Brazilian project. So I think the answer is yes. I donít know when but I think that anything is possible. I just completely fell in love with Brazilian music [at around] the same time I realized as a teenager that I wanted to become a singer. Itís a very humbling thing because Iím American and itís not my native language so Iím always a bit shy and kind of humbled about singing in Portuguese or being kind of accepted into that world. And Iíve thankfully connected with really wonderful Brazilian artists and musicians who have kind of welcomed me into that world. Theyíre very flattered and itís like an honor for people to sing and play their music and I think if your heart is in the right place, thereís room for that.
There are also some noticeable pop selections in your body of work, including music from artists such as Simply Red, Lauryn Hill and SWV. What inspired you to take this direction in your work?
In all of my albums, thereís always been a pop song thatís been covered. I did a Bjork song (ďCome to MeĒ) on the first album and ďI Canít Help ItĒ on In A Dream (Obliqsound, 2009). Itís always been a part of my repertoire. Thereís that standard repertoire of jazz that Iíve studied and love. I treat any song of any genre in the same manner—a good song is a good song. Iím not a pure jazz head at all. I grew up in the í70s, í80s and í90s listening to all kinds of music, specifically pop music. It triggers something in me. Thereís a nostalgia, love and emotional reaction to these songs. I always find songs that have some kind of meaning and that I have an emotional connection to treat in the same way. If thereís melody, lyrics, harmony, a feel and a story, then that transcends any kind of genre of music. Itís been kind of a fun challenge for me to always find different kind of material to incorporate in my repertoire.
What was the process like when you composed the original music for The Lost And Found?
[Composition] is a newer thing for me, something that will be always somewhat of a challenge. I had to push myself to compose and it came later in my life. I think I was in my late 20s or maybe close to 30 before I got into writing a complete song. I kind of tapped into lyric writing in my late 20s, so it was later in my development that I kind of allowed it to come out. I would get shy about it and was very hard on myself and think that I didnít have anything to say. I donít like to spread myself thin on it. Lyric writing is a thoughtful process, and everything is meaningful and close to my heart. If Iím going to do it, I want it to be really special. It felt really good on this album to open up and have more original material. Itís a great pass to continue to climb with writing. Iíve connected with a lot of really wonderful musicians who have become really great friends like Alan Hampton, Becca Stevens and Rebecca Martin who are brilliant songwriters and they inspire me all the time and encourage me to continue. I have a nice team of people [in that] we all support each other and we all collaborate. Iím sure it will continue.
Do you feel pressure to be unique in a way that artists such as Bobby McFerrin or Ella Fitzgerald have been throughout their illustrious careers?
No matter what level you are or where you think you are in your career, no matter what youíre doing with your life, every human being should feel like they are completely unique and special and not spending your time trying to emulate or imitate anybody else. I think about that a lot, especially in art. Itís not a very productive way to live your life if youíre chasing after what you think youíre supposed to do or what other people think youíre supposed to be. As an artist, I think then it becomes very easy to express your life through your art and become genuinely in touch with who you are because youíre not trying anymore—itís just about realizing what is already there.
What lies ahead for Gretchen Parlato? Any new music that we can look forward to?
The timing is perfect where itís really at a time where everything you just mentioned is kind of simmering right now. Itís all in the works, and nothing is definite but itís definitely time to think of another recording and of other projects. Itís just a matter of us choosing and figuring out really what works for me and the other people involved. I canít really say anymore yet but thereís definitely talk of the next project. When I know more, I can share more [laughs].
—Shannon J. Effinger
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