Nature and Nurture 

Jazz singer Gretchen Parlato searches for the essence.

click to enlarge Jazz singer Gretchen Parlato comes from a musical family. Her trumpet-playing grandfather performed with bandleader Lawrence Welk, and her bassist father was a longtime Frank Zappa sideman.
  • Jazz singer Gretchen Parlato comes from a musical family. Her trumpet-playing grandfather performed with bandleader Lawrence Welk, and her bassist father was a longtime Frank Zappa sideman.

The title of jazz vocalist Gretchen Parlato's third album, "The Lost and Found," might suggest a ragtag collection of songs thrown together in a jewel case without theme or thought of cohesion. Thankfully that's not what we have here. Instead, it's another solid effort from the Los Angeles native, a singer who has respect for the jazz gods but isn't ashamed to reveal her pop-music influences. She comes to Richmond to perform at the Modlin Center this week.

Style Weekly: There are two covers on your new album, Simply Red's "Holding Back the Years" and Mary J. Blige's "All That I Can Say." Is this a clever way to attract people to your music who might not listen to jazz?

Parlato: These were just songs that I have just always loved the original version of ... and then thought, what could I do with this song? How could I sing and speak through and tell my own story with this song? I kind of had the same general method ... kind of deconstructing it and getting it to the most pure, just skeleton form of the song, and everything that I reconstruct the song with is from just my own experience — my own life experience, my own musical experience — and hopefully the end result is that it still has the essence and the center, the core and heart and soul of the song is still there, but ... transformed in a different way.

What drew you to jazz?

I grew up in a musical family. My father is a jazz musician ... a bassist. His father was a trumpet player and a singer. On my mother's side, her father was a recording engineer, her mother always played Ella Fitzgerald, Sarah Vaughan, Frank Sinatra and Nancy Wilson in the house. So it was basically setting the scene for a lot of exposure to jazz specifically, but really in general all kinds of art. It's kind of a combination of nature and nurture.

Sounds like your parents gave you nothing to rebel against.

[Laughs] I know, right? Rebellion would've been to be a doctor or a lawyer.

Let's talk about "The Lost and Found." Why'd you give it that title?

Ooooh. That's good. It's the song title of one of the tracks .... It was written by Dayna Stephens, who plays saxophone on the album. He wrote this instrumental piece called "The Lost and Found" and asked me to write lyrics. Because it already had that title, I just went with that theme and that idea. Lost and found in general, to me, it's opposites, right? So it's lost, found — dark, light ... bad, good — you know, it's kind of this cycle and this realization that I've come to. Lost and found seems to exist in our everyday existence, in our lives all time, kind of moving through feelings, high and low and good and bad, happy and sad, light and dark. ... It's always kind of feeling satisfied, unsatisfied. And that it's not that life is all uphill, you know, it just gets better and better. It's really a cycle, accepting that life is full of sorrow as much as it is with joy and kind of figuring out how to embrace all of it. It can get pretty deep, but it's also pretty simple. S

Gretchen Parlato performs at the Modlin Center for the Performing Arts on Dec. 1 at 7:30 p.m. $17-$34. For information call 287-6632.

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