On Thursday, April 26, Gretchen Parlato and Mirella Costa performed at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum’s Calderwood Hall as part of the monthly Rise Music Series. Costa, a current Berklee College Of Music student, opened the show. It was clear that she brought a good amount of support from the college due to the enthusiastic audience response when she was introduced. With her robust and warm voice echoing up to the top of the balconies of the venue, she effortlessly sang Brazilian jazz tunes with her impeccable band. She moved around the center of the floor as though it was her hundredth time singing in that space. Mirella was the perfect opener since her warm personality perfectly complimented the serenity of Gretchen’s.
Gretchen’s performance was absolutely stunning. She sang some fan favorites such as her rendition of Herbie Hancock’s “Butterfly”, “What Does A Lion Say”, and “All That I Can Say.” Her voice is so unique. It is breathy yet supported. The soft tonality of her voice somehow cuts clearly through her band’s sound. Throughout her set, Gretchen pulled out different stories about her life and her career. Her tender and cheerful aura brought smiles to the audience’s faces and laughter from the whole hall. Her song “What Does A Lion Say” was the first song that she wrote after having her now four-year old son. The piano part was composed by a friend and then sent to her for the lyrics to be written. Gretchen’s writing was inspired by her son and one of her favorite children’s books. She performed this song accompanied only by her pianist, whom she had never played with before. The hall was completely silent apart from the occasional camera click. After that special song, there a was a moment when no one moved or stirred and then the roar of applause hit the walls all at once. Gretchen’s entire performance was accompanied by a loving and admiring crowd who she asked to sing along to some of her songs. She even asked for harmonies for some songs that she’d never heard harmonies on before.
Parlato found jazz when she was a teenager and immediately found an identity. Gretchen was the first vocalist to attend the Thelonious Monk Institute, and she spent her time there focusing on her sound and how she wanted to develop it. “You have an opportunity to immerse yourself in your art, and really tap into the self, the soul.. In ways that kind of makes you break everything apart and then figure out how to put it all back together even stronger than before.” Her performance was experimental and refreshing to see as a part of the jazz world, and it was obvious that this was her own unique sound that she has been creating for years before and since being at the Institute. When asked about her passion for traditional jazz versus contemporary jazz, her answer was this, “I love traditional jazz standards. They have always been a part of my study and repertoire. It’s important to have roots in the jazz tradition, and its wonderful when the music can breathe and grow with the times into something contemporary; There’s room for it all.” Her inspirations are “Ella Fitzgerald, Sarah Vaughan, Joao Gilberto, Julie Andrews, Bobby Mcferrin, and really every 80s pop singer.” Those influences were definitely apparent in her own art and performance style. The passion that she holds for her music and jazz is something that she feels in her bones.
Story by Allie Kersten