Kat Edmonson, from Austin, Texas, has been called, “memorable and contagious” by NPR and, “the most promising American jazz singer to come along since Cassandra Wilson” by The Boston Globe. At 19, she decided to try out for the second season of American Idol. She sang Fever and impressed the judges, making it all the way to the final 48 in Hollywood before getting the ax. Music continued to beckon, and she started singing pop songs and her own compositions in Austin. In June 2005, she found herself at a Monday night jam at the legendary Austin jazz club, the Elephant Room. It was there that she realized jazz was her calling. Ms. Edmonson has had no formal training; instead she has a preternaturally gifted voice, sense of rhythm, and ability to swing. Where other singers her age tend to belt out a tune, she retreats, nearly whispering the lyrics, with a timbre that recalls Blossom Dearie.
With hypnotic elegance and a voice beyond her years, Ms. Edmonson borrows effortlessly from many musical styles. From a delicate bossa nova reading of the Cure’s Just Like Heaven to a backbeat-laden interpretation of Just One of Those Things, her repertoire encompasses standards and also gives a nod to modern artists that have made an impact on the world’s musical landscape. Her debut CD, Take To The Sky, produced by pianist Kevin Lovejoy, has made many national top 10 lists of 2009, become a top seller on iTunes and Amazon, and debuted at #21 on the Billboard charts. The album reached the top 10 on the jazz radio charts and has garnered wide critical acclaim. Grammy Award-winning engineer Al Schmitt, who mixed the record, calls Ms. Edmonson, “the best new jazz singer I have heard in years.” Constantly forging new artistic ground, she popped up on CNN and NPR with her video, Be the Change, a politically inspired song meant to generate interest in the 2008 primaries. Another original, “Lucky,” was recently used in an episode of the Showtime series The United States of Tara. Recent highlights from her touring schedule include performing at the Tanglewood Jazz Festival, opening for Boz Scaggs on his national tour, and singing a duet with Lyle Lovett and His Large Band.
Herbie Hancock has said that Gretchen Parlato has a “deep, almost magical connection to the music,” and Wayne Shorter has said “in an inconspicuous way, Gretchen plays the same instrument as Frank Sinatra.” Jazz gained a special foothold in Parlato’s musical life because, she says, it forces an artist “to figure out who you are and find your own voice.” In 2004, Ms. Parlato won the prestigious Thelonious Monk International Jazz Vocals Competition and, in 2005, self-released her debut album. In the years since, Ms. Parlato’s star has only risen. She’s toured internationally with her own band and as a guest of many A-list artists; notable performances include La Villette in Paris with Wayne Shorter as her guest, the Hollywood Bowl with Oscar Castro-Neves, Gal Costa, Ivan Lins, and Dianne Reeves, and the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington D.C. Her recording credits include Terence Blanchard’s 2005 Grammy nominated album Flow, Kenny Barron’s The Traveler, Esperanza Spalding’s 2008 self-titled album, and her own In a Dream. She was recently featured in The Documentary Channel’s four-part series Icons Among Us: Jazz in the Present Tense, and in a special called Rising Stars on Japan’s NHK-TV, with a one-hour focus on Ms. Parlato.
Glowing reviews have followed her around, such as the one from the New York Times’ Ben Ratliff that singled out her attention to rhythm and dynamics, and proclaimed, “It’s evident that she’s an extraordinary singer.” Adds Lionel Loueke, “She is the only singer that I never have to account for or change the way I play; the guitar and the voice are so well balanced that no one is ever out in front.” That is in fact true of each of her accompanists. Inherently aware of the leader’s ability to find herself within a given song, the musicians instinctively find their place alongside her and serve to accent Ms. Parlato’s fine-tuned arrangements. She is understandably proud: “I sing from my heart and soul and hope that people feel that. I just want them to feel something. That could be joy or sadness, as long as it moves them in some way.”