Gretchen Parlato didn’t swing (and that’s OK)

University of Richmond’s Modlin Center hosted Gretchen Parlato, a Thelonious Monk International Vocal Competion winner, on Thursday night December 1st.

The average season ticket holder at the University of Richmond’s Modlin Center seemed totally unprepared for the music of Gretchen Parlato on Thursday night. Full of back-beats, bass grooves and “pop” song forms, her performance had more in common with Stevie Wonder than Ella Fitzgerald. Aside from the early departure of a few members of the audience, Parlato and her band did an incredible job of entertaining old and new fans alike.

Joined by Taylor Eigsti on piano, Alan Hampton on bass/guitar/vocals, and Kendrick Scott on drums/vocals, Parlato started the set in a serious mood. After performing a Robert Glasper arrangement of Society Red’s “Holding Back the Years”, she completely changed the mood as she introduced her band and talked about “being silly,” and YouTube videos.

The third and fourth selections of the night paid homage to the masters. Her versions of Herbie Hancock’s “Butterfly” with Jean Hancock’s lyrics and Wayne Shorter’s “Juju” with her own lyrics beautifully re-imagined some of the most landmark jazz tunes this side of 1959. While “Butterfly” was part of Hancock’s more commercial period, her version of Shorter’s “Juju” presented the complex harmonic and melodic material in a more easily digestible format.

“Still”, penned by bassist Alan Hampton, offered him the opportunity to set down the bass, pick up the guitar and sing lead vocals alongside Parlato. In addition to being a jazz bassist, Hampton is an avid singer-songwriter and his song offered the greatest departure from the otherwise homogenous set.

The band finally hit their full stride on the last tune of the night. After remaining sonically reserved in the the echoey Camp Concert hall, drummer Kendrick Scott turned it up to ten on “How We Love.” After Parlato exited the stage mid-tune, the trio took over and dished out some of the heaviest improvised music of the night.

After an ovation, Kendrick Scott returned to the stage for a drum solo and he turned it up to eleven. Parlato, Eigsti, and Hampton then joined him on a cover of SWV’s “Weak.”

As the #1 Rising Star Female Vocalist in the Downbeat Critics Poll, Parlato’s music is worth purchasing, and if presented the opportunity, her shows are entertaining enough to warrant the $30+ ticket prices.

The Modlin Center also hosted Grammy award winning bassist/vocalist Esperanza Spalding in October. On February 8th, The Modlin Center will host another incredible jazz vocalist in René Marie (tickets).

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Gretchen Parlato has three albums:

Photo by David Bartolom

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Aaron Williams

Aaron Williams loves music, basketball (follow @rvaramnews!), family, learning, and barbecue sauce.

Notice: Comments that are not conducive to an interesting and thoughtful conversation may be removed at the editor’s discretion.

  1. irishjazz on said:

    The name of the band was “Simply Red.” ( think “Society Red” may have been Malcolm X’s pimp name.) They were one of the Manchester bands that formed in the wake of the Sex Pistols. Joy Division has had a bit more lasting fame- especially reincarnated as New Order- but Simply Red had their one big hit.

    I am not sure why swing is still so central. There are many ways to drape a lyric across a variety of rhythms. Then again, maybe Nicholas Payton’s “Why jazz isn’t cool anymore” is still echoing in my head. (

  2. Aaron Williams on said:

    Thanks. “Society Red” is also a tune by Dexter Gordon.

    Nicholas Payton is obviously getting a lot of attention for his article. I only mentioned the swing because of the season ticket holders who were clearly surprised by her sound.

  3. I think the title of the article makes no sense. I think that whether you realize it or not you are implying something greater than the season ticket holder of U of R are not up to speed on the performance they go see. What is the title going to be when Rene Marie performs, “Rene Marie Swings, and thats not ok?” You can do much better than that.

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