Gretchen Parlato has an unmistakeable voice and presence, and there would be no better way to close out 2019 at The Jazz Gallery than with two nights featuring Parlato’s new music. Joined by a dream team of Camila Meza (guitar), Chris Morrissey (bass), and Mark Guiliana (drums), Parlato will premiere The Stars Or Space Between, a cohesive set of originals over two nights on the Gallery stage. In 2019, Parlato was honored with a Jazz Gallery Fellowship Commission, affording her an opportunity to compose a new body of work, and the whole band is excited about it: According to Parlato in a recent phone conversation, “It’ll be as much a premiere for us as the listener. I’ve been imagining this music all year, and can’t wait to hear it realized.” Read on for the interview below:
TJG: I hear you’ve been living in LA since June. How do you feel about living in California now?
GP: It’s coming back home, I grew up in LA. Mark and I moved from New Jersey, where we’d lived for six years. Before that, I spent 10 years in New York City. I’ll always be nostalgic for my time on the East Coast, the feeling of living there, but I always dreamed of some point coming back home and settling in Los Angeles. Thankfully, Mark was into the idea too, and our son is so happy. We love it.
TJG: Does the new music in the commission resonate with the idea of homecoming?
GP: Perhaps. The title of the show is “The Stars Or Space Between.” I wrote some thoughts for the program, stream-of-consciousness, that I’d like to share:
the stars or space between is a contemplative musical experience
revolving around life and the existence of opposition. /em>
up and down. joy and pain. day and night. light and dark.
like an inhale and an exhale, life is effort and release.
holding on and letting go. movement and stillness.
it’s finding the balance, and accepting the ever-constant changes.
there are events in our lives we view as anchors, milestones, or turning points.
like stars in the night sky, we can point to them. they define us. they guide us.
they are clearly bright and visible.
in that same night sky, is the vastness of space.
to be here may feel empty, transitional, dark, and uncertain.
but the space is only seemingly invisible.
in this journey of nothingness, everything is happening.
let tonight be about reflection of where we’ve been
the wonder of where we’re going
and most importantly, gratitude for where we are right here and now.
are we the stars or space between?
GP: These thoughts can be interpreted in many ways, as broadly as possible, or in minute detail. My hope is that the audience can connect and relate to the music: I’d like the evening to be a chance for reflection, meditation, therapy, any word that is comfortable. The songs reflect my own life and past, but my hope is that the listener can hear these songs and define their meaning for themselves, and maybe even see or hear their own story as they listen.
TJG: I’d be keen to hear about one of these songs that revolves around a specific story, where you’ve also thought about how people can experience it on their own terms.
GP: Sure. I wrote a song that honors my family, the family I’ve created, starting with meeting Mark and connecting with him, having our son. This song is, to me, about how no matter what happens in the future, we’ve created a history together that will exist forever. It’s a reflection. It’s a reminder to cherish what we have. Everything will change, which becomes very clear when you have a child [laughs]. With kids, everything is about what’s important to them at that very moment. Every single thing in your daily life becomes fine-tuned and detailed. If you step back from that, you realize it’s only here right now, and soon it will all change to something else. So, it’s my own story, but I imagine someone could listen to it and have their own interpretation relating to their own life.
TJG: Is the song groovy, spacey, layered, improvisational, how are you thinking about it?
GP: All of those feelings will exist within the show. For that song specifically, it will be treated like a classic Bossa Nova. It’ll be contained and direct. This is generally an organic, acoustic-sounding group, but everyone is capable of different textures, so over the course of the show, there will be harder grooves, more space, everything.
TJG: When you work through new material, do you tend to share what you’re doing with Mark, or do you keep your projects separate from each other?
GP: Our music is our own when we’re not a part of each others’ projects, but because he’s part of this, he’s involved, as are Chris and Camila. Of course, when you are married to someone, you witness their whole creative process from beginning to end, so I suppose our music is always a shared experience.
TJG: How do you plan to allow the evenings to unfold? Will both evenings be the same? Is the commission a single cohesive set?
GP: Yes, it is one complete set of music. My attempt is to fine-tune and perfect the interludes and textures and sounds in between, so that it becomes a whole experience. Trying to depart from the “head in, solo, head out, stage banter, another tune” formula [laughs].
I want to emphasize this work as an offering, revolving around life’s path, engaging opposition, wondering whether we might consider ourselves to be stars or the space between them, the destination and the journey. Is it only in hindsight that you can determine your life path, the order and direction of things? Is it possible, in the moment, to stop and reflect about where you are, to think ahead, acknowledge what’s going on? Sometimes we can look back and think we were so certain, only later realizing “Oh, I was really just figuring it all out. I had no idea.” I want to create a set for people to take an hour and just experience those feelings and questions.
TJG: The Gallery feels like the perfect space for you to be doing exactly what you’re doing with this music.
GP: It is. I have so much gratitude for the opportunity to create songs that are my own: A lot of the work I’ve done in the past has been collaborative. I only have a handful of songs that I could say I’ve written completely by myself. So, this was a good challenge for me. As usual in the creative process, there were breakdowns and breakthroughs along the way… but now, here we are, it’s complete.
The Jazz Gallery presents Gretchen Parlato’s Fellowship Commission, The Stars Or Space Between, on Friday, December 27, and Saturday, December 28, 2019. The commission features Ms. Parlato on voice, Camila Meza on guitar, Chris Morrissey on bass, and Mark Guiliana on drums. Sets are at 7:30 and 9:30 P.M. each night. $35 general admission ($20 for members), $45 reserved table seating ($30 for members) for each set. Purchase tickets here.