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Catching up with vocalist Gail Pettis

Gail Pettis with Jamael Nance and Medearis Dixon
Tom Collins
Gail Pettis with Jamael Nance and Medearis Dixon

Northwest favorite vocalist Gail Pettis talked with KNKX’s Robin Lloyd about getting through the pandemic, her plans for a new album and more.

Seeing Gail Pettis perform at the "Celebrating Ernestine Anderson" tribute last month reminded me just how much I’d missed hearing her sing. Recently, we had a delightful and wide-ranging conversation. Here are some highlights.

On navigating the pandemic:
“It's amazing to me the ways that every profession and every person has been affected by this pandemic," says Pettis. "Before the shutdown, I was doing three things to stay afloat: I was doing music, I was substituting at dental offices [Gail was an orthodontist before she started singing professionally], and I was also substitute teaching in the Bellevue school system. So I was cobbling it all together. Then when the pandemic hit, boom, all of my income streams were gone."

"I really wanted a remote, work-from-home position, like an insurance consultant, where I didn't physically have to be in a clinic or a school, because I thought that that would afford more flexibility to be able to travel and record and tour and focus on the music," she says.

On recording:
"I started working on another CD and had just filmed a video for Indiegogo funding, right when the pandemic started," Pettis recalls. "I was excited to have another project, and I anticipated having it come out during the summer or fall of 2020. Right now what I'm thinking is just to go ahead and finish it and release it."

"Another CD I'd love to do: I've been really, really enjoying playing with bass, like just bass and vocal duos. I've been trying to figure out that kind of concept," she says.

"So this is what I’m working on, like when people say, ‘Well, over the pandemic, you know, I became fluent in Mandarin and started two companies,’ or whatever.”

On getting back to live performances after nearly two years:
“When I tried to make my first set list for a gig after the shutdown was lifted, I almost couldn't do it," Pettis laughs. "It took forever, and I was scratching my head and sweat was popping out. How did I used to do this all the time?"

"I worried that it would feel weird or foreign or different to be singing again. But it's just as good! So that was kind of a surprise. I don't know what I expected, maybe I was looking for drama, but I was feeling, ‘This is the best. It is so good to be back.’ It was it was very, very enjoyable and very fulfilling."

"I'm also a little bit less concerned about perfection than I used to be," she adds. "Your priorities shift a bit, you’re more willing to try things that you don't know for sure will work. Maybe that's a benefit.”

Gail Pettis joins Pearl Django for the KNKX Holiday Jam this Saturday, December 18, at 7 p.m. at Town Hall in Seattle. Register here for in-person and livestream options.

Originally from Detroit, Robin Lloyd has been presenting jazz, blues and Latin jazz on public radio for nearly 40 years. She's a member of the Jazz Education Network and the Jazz Journalists Association.