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Gretchen Parlato: Quiet Revolutionary

By Published: June 27, 2011
AAJ: Did you have a greater desire to be involved in the production this time because a lot more of the music was written by you?

From left: Robert Glasper, Gretchen Parlato

GP: Yeah; I've only put out three albums and I've kind of played the producer role each time. Each album has been my own seed that's blossomed. I've always had help from people but the idea of being in control of a project as an artist is something that has been necessary for me so I've been lucky to have had that control from the beginning.

AAJ: Your lyrics on The Lost and Found are often quite poetic; are you inspired by any particular lyricists or songwriters in that regard?

GP: I have such wonderful peers who happen to be brilliant songwriters so I get inspired by other singers that I know and love who are around me; those would be Becca Stevens
Becca Stevens
Becca Stevens

, Rebecca Martin and Alan Hampton. There are always the classics like Bob Dylan
Bob Dylan
Bob Dylan
and Joni Mitchell
Joni Mitchell
Joni Mitchell
, artists who know how to state something so profoundly and so eloquently. And sometimes lyrics that are a little less obvious; I like the intrigue of allowing the listener to think a little about a very personal line, you know, what do they even mean by that? [laughs] Knowing that there's something underneath the lyric, besides the obvious.

AAJ: One of the standout songs on a uniformly strong album is "Winter Wind"; it's a very good example of how music and lyrics go very much hand in hand. Could you tell us a little about this song?

GP: Yeah, thank you for that. I was inspired by a line that I saw in a Robert Frost poem. "He was a winter wind"—I took that and ran with the idea of using the imagery of the seasons and how that can connect with love. Beyond that, there's a deeper sense of accepting where you are in your life and it's about the fine line between holding on and letting go. Perhaps that's really what the song's about.

It was an idea on paper but I have to give the band a lot of credit for bringing that song to life. The wind effect, musically, has a lot to do with [drummer] Kendrick Scott
Kendrick Scott
Kendrick Scott
, and how he shaped that song. Every song that I write on paper is very simple and when I bring it to the band that's where all of this magic happens and where the direction is realized. I love working with these musicians so much because they help me to realize each piece of music.

AAJ: Do the music or the lyrics come to your first?

GP: I usually hear music first and then the lyrics but with that one ["Winter Wind"] I saw this line and I just started singing. I gave myself the assignment of just singing, and recording myself singing "he was a winter wind," and kind of going from there and seeing where that would take me. The general theme developed with the lyrics at the same time but then the bridge of the song and the end of the song I pieced together lyrics that would complete the whole idea.

AAJ: You mentioned Kendrick Scott, and all the musicians bring a lot to The Lost and Found; let's start with Scott, what do you like about his playing?

From left: Kendrick Scott, Gretchen Parlato, Taylor Eigsti Dayna Stephens, Derek Hodge, Robert Glasper

GP: He's one of my favorite drummers. What's so wonderful about him is the sound of his drums. A lot of that has to do with his detail, precision and tuning. Beyond that it's the textures and the sounds he's able to create from the drum set. Everything that he plays is really thoughtful. He's exciting to sing with because he'll give me the support I need but he always throws something new at me in a really good way. When we do live performance I'm always turning my head and smiling back at him because he'll create something that just snaps me into that moment. He's brilliant. He's a wonderful composer and visionary with his own projects and how he's hearing and feeling music. He was wonderful on the project, and he helped arranged the song "How We Love," which really pushed that song and took it to another level. He's a dear friend and really funny. The people in this group are some of the funniest people I know; it helps so much just to laugh with people and bond with them that way.

AAJ: You mentioned Alan Hampton before and you wrote wonderful lyrics for his music "Still"; that's such a great song and his voice is amazing.

GP: I know, thank you. I agree. He's really special and I can't tell you how excited I was to have him sing on my album. Not that many people know about his singing, yet. It was exciting for me to imagine that this might be the first time people hear how amazing he is as a singer and a songwriter.

AAJ: If Jack Johnson can sell gazillions of CDs then so can Alan Hampton, with a voice and music as good as this.

GP: Right, you never know. He's very capable and the sky's the limit for what he can do. He writes music all the time and he'll always bring me more profound songs. I say: "Oh, you'll never be able to top that one," but he does. There's a very heartfelt, very emotional quality to his singing that really hits you at your core immediately.

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