Thursday, November 12, 2009

Gail Pettis' new CD ready for release in January

"Here in the Moment," the assured new Origin/OA2 CD by Seattle jazz vocalist Gail Pettis, is only the second recording in a professional career that began in 2002. But Pettis has quickly worked to establish herself in a crowded field as a consummate stylist who sounds like no one but herself.

After spending nearly two decades as a successful orthodontist, Pettis turned to music in midlife and was soon attracting the cream of Seattle's jazz instrumentalists, who've backed her on her recordings and her gigs in Seattle and abroad. Named 2007 Northwest Vocalist of the Year by Earshot Jazz Society, Pettis debuted on record two years ago with the well-received "May I Come In?" (Origin/OA2). Cadence magazine called the CD "deliciously soulful," while critic Doug Ramsey praised her "warmth and intelligent interpretation. . . She is a standout."

On the new CD, which will be released on January 12 and was produced by Pettis, the singer mixed staples of her repertoire ("The Very Thought of You," "Night and Day") with others, such as "In the Still of the Night" and "I Could Have Danced All Night," that she had seldom sung prior to the recording. "It was interesting to look for a balance between familiarity and freshness," she says. Her accompanists on the disc are also her frequent collaborators on the stage: the pianists Darin Clendenin and Randy Halberstadt, bassists Clipper Anderson and Jeff Johnson, and drummer Mark Ivester.

"What makes Gail's musical overview so special is her remarkable combination of a sumptuous sound, a storyteller's capacity to find the deepest layers in the lyrics of a song, and an irresistible rhythmic lift in her phrasing," observes CD annotator Don Heckman. "Add to that her gift for melodic paraphrasing, and a selective ear for finding a new way to sing old songs, and the results completely fulfill the definition of the word 'unique.'"

Born in Kentucky in 1958 and raised in Gary, Indiana, Pettis comes from a family of medical professionals -- her father was an anesthesiologist, her mother a pediatric nurse, and several close relatives were dentists. As a result she followed the family trade, graduating from the Meharry Medical College School of Dentistry in Nashville and an orthodontic residency program at Harvard University. Pettis moved to Seattle in 1996 and opened a private practice. She also became an avid participant in West Coast Swing dance events in Washington and Oregon.

Although Pettis had been very involved with music as a child and through her teens -- as a singer in church and school ensembles and as a French horn player in her high school band -- it wasn't until years later that she became aware of a musical branch of the family tree. Her grandfather Arthur Pettis was a blues singer and guitarist who recorded for Victor Records in Memphis in 1928 and for Brunswick in Chicago in 1930. Her grandmother, Ninevah Pettis, played piano around Chicago.

When a 2001 knee injury ended Pettis's dancing aspirations, she started looking for another creative outlet and eventually found her way to a jazz workshop at MusicWorks Northwest. Her instructor, saxophonist Darren Motamedy, was more than encouraging: he invited her to participate in jam sessions with his band. Later, Pettis continued her jazz studies with Dee Daniels and Greta Matassa. From there, she has constructed a flourishing career as a singer and performer known for infusing her delivery with emotion and honesty.

"Often, what I do seems to stem more from emotion than from technique," says Gail, "because I find music to be a safe place for vulnerability. The simple fact that there is freedom to be completely in the moment influences my singing more than anything else."

1 comment:

Unknown said...

Pettis' version of the Etta James
tune "At Last" on this album is very nice!
It's been playing on the local
jazz station here in San Francisco.