Melody Gardot: Perspective
Sometimes life just has the overwhelming ability to throw some rough tests your way, and a person can find oneself dealing in silence with the aching certainty of an unfinished journey, where life seems to have ended with you and with all the marvelous possibilities that used to lie before your feet. This is as far as you will go, you tell yourself. You struggle to breathe and drag what is left of you around, and then life tends to surprise you again.
There is always music, they say, and for Melody Gardot, music became more than a therapy for her broken soul, after a terrible accident that turned off the lights of her rooms forever, and almost kept her in a wheel chair. Music became the life she was actually suppose to have, with its ups and downs, with its sudden darkness, with its loss of colors and faces...but also with the undeniable truth that can only come from what's important.
Today her heart has a voice that sings without cracks; her heart has words that rock the spirit, always leaving the door open for music to grow in every direction her emotions want to go. While Worrisome Heart (Verve, 2008) was filled with songs that were pouring out of her with the sadness and beauty of a wounded, hopeful, little bird, her new studio album, My One and Only Thrill (Verve, 2009), wraps her up in strings arrangements over a jazz/folk canvas of brighter colors, to perfect a voice that was already perfect, but most of all, to embrace the life she lives today.
Still acoustic, still absolutely brilliant, and yet a little more than what she was before, exploring the possibly un-existing limits of her talent. Humble and profound, Melody Gardot's enchanting personality draws her fans that much closer to the music that reached out to her, and that she has translated into beautiful songs for everyone.
All About Jazz: Who is Melody Gardot?
Melody Gardot: She is a girl who has six letters in her first name and six letters in her last name.
AAJ: Give me a few little words to describe your new album.
MG: Um, it's like an old black and white movie.
AAJ: I was very impressed by the fact that you chose to use strings arrangements on this album, which you didn't do with the previous one.
MG: They were there from the beginning. When I hear music I hear it all done. It's all finished. The song, the music, the melodies, everything is just...done! But the problem with having it done is trying to find a way to catch it, so that you actually get what it is that you were hearing, and you captured it. So I was trying to find those strings for a while, which I did through my producer Larry Klein, and pretty much by accident. But those strings where there from the beginning, in my head.
AAJ: Do you think that there is a different you on this new album? Like a different concept, as if you had mutated into a new you? Your first album, Worrisome Heart reflected a kind of longing and sadness that seems to have disappeared from My One and Only Thrill.
MG: It's different that way. I actually wondered what people would think, because it was different in a way that it was bigger, because of the strings arrangements, but it had less intimacy in the sparseness that was on the record that people first fell in love with. My goal was to try and expand the planet, not to take away from it. My goal was to make something that you could listen to, and still hear the band, but also with strings there too. It was part of that. I think we did it. It took a while, it was a lot of work, but I think the strings enhance the songs.
AAJ: Why is your band so special to you?
MG: Well, I love them! They are all incredibly talented, and they toured with me on the road. It's a special bond to be able to tour with them and to also have them on the record. It makes for a more intimate and more unique record making experience. We all love each other.
AAJ: Tell me about you as a songwriter.
MG: I started to write songs after I was in that accident. The first song I wrote was "Some lessons," and everything else just kind of followed. And no, I hadn't been writing songs my whole life. I loved writing, but I wasn't a songwriter. The songs for "My One and Only Thrill" developed just a bit differently though. They were written over the course of a long period of time, but I am not sure exactly when the first song was written. It was hard because we were touring, but for the most part they all came together within months of each other. It was fairly easy to watch in that way, but they all happened on their own, and in their own time.
AAJ: So, before your accident you never wrote a song?
AAJ: Did you ever feel that your accident was kind of a serendipity thing then, a fortunate accident?
MG: Of course, yes. Absolutely. There is this thing people say, that everything happens for a reason. I believe that's wrong, because I think that everything happens for many reasons, not just one. And we usually don't figure them out, and it's not our job to. We tend to be a little more preoccupied with everything else that's going on; we don't usually think too much, we just do. If we thought more and did less, the world would be incredibly different. But under the circumstances, when you think about it, I can't imagine what life would have been like without music, because I wouldn't have had any of the perspective that I have now, and perspective is really all that counts.
Perspective gives us the opportunity to see things with a new vision, with new ideas, with new sightlines, and suddenly the details which seem so far away make sense, because you understand where they come from. And when you see them closer you understand how they got there. Perspective is a beautiful thing, and it only comes, unfortunately, from circumstance. You are not born with perspective, you gain it through life, and because of life circumstances I think I gained a lot of perspective quickly and as a young person. In a way, I think it's been a very supportive thing to be able to do what I do.
I don't think I could have done it without it. In fact, I think of it this way: people ask and inquire why I write instead of covering other people's songs, and the answer is that I would have done it, but I have things to say that I want to say, because I have my own perspective. I wouldn't have had anything to say if I didn't have perspective. It all comes from there.
AAJ: Why did you choose to cover "Over the rainbow"?
MG: It was an homage to my grandmother. She used to make me watch The Wizard of Oz (1939) all the time, and that was one of my favorite movies growing up, not by choice, but by circumstance [laughs]. It was one of her favorite movies, and got me interested in it. And then one day by accident I was writing and the song just came along, and I thought "well, I'll put it on there, under my grandmother."
AAJ: Do you think you are the same Melody you were a year ago?
MG: No, we all change all the time and I changed too. My faith changed, my ideas on music changed, my ideas on love changed. Everything changes. And I've seen so much in the last year; I couldn't help but change.
AAJ: Have your ideas on music changed?
MG: The way I hear music, what I can appreciate. I can appreciate different music now that I couldn't appreciate before, and I just see it with different eyes now.
AAJ: You always say that you are not a jazz vocalist. How would you define yourself, music wise?
MG: I am just a singer. Like a bird; we are all birds. Some of us are on bigger branches, some others live in different climates, but we are all birds. And some of us sing in the morning, and some in the afternoon. We are just songbirds. Some of us have really busy songs, and some have fickle songs. I'm just a bird, a singer, a songbird. I think that if someone were to call himself or herself something else it would just be foolish.
AAJ: What's music to you?
MG: Music is everything. It's the sound track to our destiny. It's why we remember people; it's why we forget them. It's why we fall in love, and why we fall out of love. It measures up on every level. We look to it, and those of us who forget it live life that is in a glitch. Because music is a portal, music is a transportation...a direct transportation to a place where we can exist in our world even more peacefully, more natural. Music is everywhere. Music is in the birds, music is in the scene, music is in the footsteps in the people walking in the mall; It's everywhere, it's everything!
AAJ: Do you think you are connected to jazz?
MG: Yeah, sure! Jazz comes from the blues, and the blues comes from a place of pain. And the blues came from the slaves, people in their homes that sang for the sake of their souls, not for anybody to listen to. They were not recorded. Music like that comes from that place and never goes anywhere. Even when you look at blues, blues moved slowly into jazz with artists like Louis Armstrong taking blues to a new stage. It all comes from blues. There is blues and jazz in my music.
AAJ: Scat for Melody Gardot.
MG: Scat is nonsense. Scat is just that silly thing that you do when you don't have the words to sing, and you scat. It's really not anything, it's just gibberish. If you wanna be a trumpet, you scat; You wanna be a clarinet? You start to scat. Kind of goofing off. It's fun goofing off, and we are happy that we can do it. It's like playing, when we get to do something silly.
AAJ: How would you describe your voice to somebody that has never heard you before?
MG: I sound like a trumpet. I think I sound like a horn [laughs].
AAJ: What did Worrisome heart mean to you?
MG: It was the album before this [new] one. I was proud because at the end of the day, when I listened back, I was happy with how it sounded, for my sake. It sounded as though I couldn't do anything else to it, it was done, it was complete, and that was important to me. It needed to feel finished, and it did.
AAJ: Larry Klein, your producer.
MG: We met by way of serendipity; he heard my music on the radio, and he liked it, and when I met him I liked him too, I thought he was very sweet, and we decided we wanted to work together. It was very simple; there is not a whole lot to tell, really. Just two people that happened to find out about each other within a few weeks of each other and decided to work together, in a serendipitous kind of way.
AAJ: What's the perfect song to sing?
MG: You're gonna laugh [laughs]. "He is a Tramp," from the Disney movie Lady and the Tramp (1955). I just love it.
AAJ: And the most difficult song for you to sing?
MG: "Some Lessons" from my first album and "My One and Only Thrill," from this new album. The more emotional the song is, the more difficult it is to perform.
Melody Gardot, My One and Only Thrill (Verve, 2009)
Melody Gardot, Worrisome Heart (Verve, 2008)
Top Photo: Janneke Michels
Bottom Photo: Georges Braunschweig