A true icon of Northwest jazz stopped by the KNKX studios recently. Singer, songwriter, educator, bandleader Greta Matassa has been a professional musician since her teen years, and was recently inducted into the Earshot Jazz Hall of Fame. With her long-running band, Matassa gave an appreciative studio audience a thrilling taste of her new album, Portrait. Featuring a portrait of Greta's mother painted by Greta's father, Portrait gets the CD release party treatment at Egan's in Ballard on June 29.
The stellar performances of jazz standards on Portrait, plus one song by Bob Dylan, represent the close musical relationship Matassa has built with her band over several years. This is much more than a singer with backing musicians, it's the Greta Matassa Band.
Newest band member Alexey Nikolaev's saxophone adds a musical counterpoint to Matassa's vocals, both playful in back-and-forth swing rhythm and softly supporting an emotional ballad. Pianist Darin Clendenin, bassist Clipper Anderson, and drummer Mark Ivester seem to know exactly what to play and when.
"I feel like we are a unit in the true sense that jazz is, and that is singing and listening at the same time; playing and listening at the same time," Greta said. "It allows us the opportunity to have real spontaneity in our performances, and I think the recording reflects that."
Discussing her artist father's influence, Greta told us that he was at home with the kids while her mother went to work. She says they often connected over his love of jazz, and his abstract impressionist paintings drawing on the heart of jazz: improvisation. Greta laughs about her father's art on the CD cover. "I've gotten more comments on the cover than anything else in the project!" she says.
When it comes to jazz education, Greta Matassa has been on the forefront for singing students since the turn of the century. Her own education came on the bandstand, as she started singing professionally around age 16.
"I had no idea how to teach, because I hadn't been taught myself," she says. "Learning to teach this music has been an experience for me just kind of remembering when I didn't know something." Passing on the lessons she has learned to her vocal students is her focus.
Everytime I hear Greta Matassa singing, I find myself wanting to sing, too. I'm sure you'll feel the same way when you enjoy her new album, Portrait, and this exclusive KNKX studio session. Join the band for their CD release party at Egan's in Ballard on June 29.
Abe Beeson hosts The New Cool from 3 to 5 p.m. each Saturday. He's also producing studio sessions and the School of Jazz for KNKX Public Radio in Seattle, Wash.