Parlato takes chances

SEPTEMBER 25, 2009

If her family background is any gauge, singer Gretchen Parlato's fate was sealed early on, and the fact that she's winning praise from the likes of Herbie Hancock is only part of destiny unfolding as it should.

The Los Angeles native was raised in an artistic family. Her father played jazz bass, so she was exposed to lots of jazz influences, singers in particular.

"It was completely normal to me that music was playing all the time," Parlato recalls. "It seemed normal that everyone was an artist, and there was never any question about getting a real job. I was lucky to be spoiled, because music was always considered as important as any other field."

After gaining early experience in music theatre, she enrolled in an arts-oriented high school and made her first public performance at age 15. A subsequent degree in ethnomusicology and jazz from UCLA helped her expand on a universe of possibilities, including Brazilian and African music.

After that, she became the first singer accepted to the Thelonious Monk Institute of Jazz Performance. In 2003, she moved to New York and started making musical connections. The following year she won the Monk International Jazz Vocal Competition, performing for a jury that would be intimidating to anyone-- Quincy Jones, Kurt Elling, Al Jarreau, Jimmy Scott and Flora Purim.

She's been getting attention ever since, and rightly so. You can hear how jazzy phrasing and taking chances come naturally to Parlato on her excellent new, second album In a Dream (ObliqSound), over a range of material from straight-ahead jazz and dreamy ballads to a Brazilian number and a funky cover of Herbie Hancock's Butterfly. She co-wrote two of the tunes.

Parlato and her band play the Yardbird Saturday at 9 p. m. Tickets are $22 for members, $26 for guests, from Ticketmaster or at the door. This could be the only time you get to see her in a club space, because she will probably be playing concert halls next time around.