Seattle Times Review: Jazz Port Townsend Showcases a New Generation of Jazz


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PORT TOWNSEND — During a workshop she helped teach on the art of vocal jazz, Gretchen Parlato confessed that many of her favorite singers were those who “don't really sing."

Several hours before she took the big stage at McCurdy Pavilion for her festival debut, she explained some of the singers she liked the most did not have the greatest technical ability, but rather a certain quality to their voice, a pleasing sound, an emotional gravity.

To a large degree, she could have been talking about herself. New to many audiences, Parlato performed Friday night at Jazz Port Townsend with the Gerald Clayton Trio, challenging notions of what defines a great jazz singer. Her voice has a breathless quality to it. She emphasizes phrasing and subtle changes in pitch rather than melodic acrobatics.

She sings much the way she talks. She possesses a soft but striking voice that sounds wistful and sleepy, the way someone sounds perhaps if they've recently been crying. As festival director John Clayton put it, she puts the microphone close to her lips and “whispers" the song into your ear.

She demonstrated her technical ability--she does have chops--during a Brazilian number accompanied only by drummer Justin Brown. She sang several songs from her upcoming album and finished with a cover of the Michael Jackson song, “I Can't Help It," as she was joined by trumpeter Ambrose Akinmusire, who played the second set of last night's concert, also with the Gerald Clayton (John Clayton's son) Trio. Returning the favor, Akinmusire invited Parlato, whom he called “the human nightingale" onstage for a few songs during his set.

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This story appears courtesy of Seattle Jazz Scene.
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