While driving to work during a run of recent rainy days–which is a rarity in my state where it is sunny 90% of the time–I was contemplating some weather-appropriate emotions of weariness, worry and frustration. I know that a great deal of this came from the weather, but it seemed to be bubbling from within and spilling over without.
As usual, I was listening to the radio. This day was a jazz day because I just couldn’t handle commercials or, I thought, anything with words in it. The children were strapped in their car seats. The traffic was beginning to clear. The rain stopped and the sky seemed to lighten. And then this song came on the radio:
To paraphrase the Rolling Stones, you sometimes really do get what you need. This song pulled me in and out of myself. It made me slow down at a stoplight and email myself the name of the artist (Melody Gardot) and the song (“Baby I’m a Fool”). And, of course, I listened multiple times as soon as I got to work
The guitar playing is absolutely perfect–you can hear the smoothness of the tone and feel the deftness of the player’s fingers. When the drum kicks in on the second floor, it is the spare and well-place kit of a traditional jazz drummer using a brush on the snare with a limited but coy sampling of high-hat and the occasional emphatic splash. The quality of the recording is quite fine–I can visualize the movements of the brush on the snare drum with each measure.
From the official music video, you can’t tell that it is Melody herself who is calling forth the warm jazz notes from the nylon strings of her classical guitar. If anything, the live version is far superior to the recorded one mostly for the absence of the overproduction–the backing orchestration of the recorded version (present in the official video) just clutters up the sound and distracts from the two things that make this song phenomenal (the guitar and the voice).
(Brother, check out the beard on the bassist. It almost makes up for the drummer’s cheesy ponytail)
The arrangement of this song is fine, but what makes it outstanding as a performance and a recording is Gardot’s voice. Now, I will admit I am a pathetic fool for a smoky, lower-ranged female vocal. I love jazz vocalists especially because they combine a sense of emotion and raw inspiration with training and skill that you don’t always find (or rarely do find) in the pop divas who blast high notes and run trills with technical brilliance but often fail to match the display of skill with what the moment calls for).
But, back to my point: give me a dusky and emotional jazz singer over an acrobatic soprano diva any day of the week. (Blues vocalists are even better–the growl, grunt and pant of blues vocals bring out the natural tones and beautiful sonic range of the human voice.) Norah Jones, Fiona Apple, even Adele (to mention pop stars alone) and, especially, Nina Simone, have won me over with that combination of smoke and fire that the best jazz vocalists convey.
If you watch the video, Gardot is set out as a blonde bombshell flirtatiously admitting her foolishness from the bath. The quality of her vocals and the honest yet roving lyrics let us know she is something far more (for, this is her song, her composition). What is even more amazing is that she has continued with this musical career after a life threatening accident that forced her to relearn most simple physical tasks and left her intolerant of bright light and sounds.
Her voice is truly a treasure and her sense of how much to give is also something special, as displayed in this short piece–the muted trumpet solo is a great match to her vocals. The bass below her lilt and spring is exactly paced. Yet, this is an artist who knows how to expand the sound and give more breath and time to her compositions. Check out the different pace and the carefully posed repetition on this second version of “Who Will Comfort Me”.
Melody can mull over a syllable and spit it back with the best jazz singers, but she has a growl and visceral keen that shows her roots in blues as well. Watch her sing carefully–her breathing gives her exactly the support she needs to create rich tones without bellowing or over-articulating the sound.
Melody, keep it up. Brother, check her out. Inspiration can be transcendent.