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Ashley Pezzotti: Telling Her Story

R.J. DeLuke By

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I wanted to approach [composing] from a very accessible way, almost like I'm playing and writing a letter to my nine-year-old self. —Ashley Pezzotti
As a child, Ashley Pezzotti, from Brooklyn, by way of Miami, was singing and performing. It hasn't stopped. And though only 23, it seems she has a strong career ahead of her.

The title of her first album, We've Only Just Begun, out earlier this year, is a harbinger by title. As a work of art, its very strong. It displays not only an outstanding vocal instrument with a sassy flair for negotiating the jazz genre, but solid songwriting—something that is important to her.

Also in 2019, with the recording behind her, she was enrolled in the Betty Carter Jazz Ahead Program, where she was mentored by a number of noted jazz musicians, most importantly singer Dee Dee Bridgewater, who made an impact on a career that is already ascending.

"Dee Dee Bridgewater changed my life," says Pezzotti. "She's the greatest mentor I've ever had."

Pezzotti considers herself a jazz singer, but prior to investigating that music, she was singing R&B and "was in a metal band for a little while. I don't pigeon hole myself into one thing, but I think when you're a jazz singer you can do anything."

Her family jokes that her singing began when she was "pretty much out of the womb. At least that's what my parents tell me," says the bright and upbeat Pezzotti. "I don't know anything else. I wouldn't change it." The performing spawned in front of her grandparents, but quickly had her on small stages at the age of four.

"My mom told me my grandparents used to babysit me and I would put on little concerts for them. I would get on the coffee table and perform for them. My grandparents told my parents, 'You have to take her to voice lessons. She has a gift.'"

Her mother found a place for vocal instruction, but the minimum age was nine. Pezzotti's gift was such that the rules were waived. She was four. "I couldn't read or write or anything. I was taking voice lessons and I guess the rest is history."

History, for recording, starts with We've only Just Begun. She brought in musicians that she had known for awhile, like saxophonist Alex Weitz, who attended the University of Miami with Pezzotti. "Ever since I met him, we've been collaborating. We co-write a lot of my originals and we perform a lot together. I thought he'd be a great fit for the record." Pianist Emmet Cohen she met in high school. "I thought he would be a great fit for my music, with his style and the mastery of his craft. Bob, we met in high school too. I've always admired his playing. Kyle, his playing speaks for itself. He's fantastic. I'm honored I got to work with this great group of musicians." It contains standards, but many originals. Sometimes with a young writer, quality can drop standing along songs that have set the bar high. Not the case here.

"I love jazz standards and I love the straight ahead vibe. I wanted to kind of write my own stories. I love jazz music, but so many people have recorded them. I wanted to tell my own stories with my own compositions, as well as the jazz standards. So I tried to write stories that were relatable to me in my life, so I could share them with people. That's why it's half originals, half standards. I wanted to share my stories."

A highlight is "I Hope You Find Her," a poignant ballad by the singer that showcases here rich voice and great feel for a melody; under the heady lyric, her delicate phrasing and ability to deliver the goods could almost go unnoticed. It's the story of a brokenhearted woman apparently hoping for a wonderful new love for her ex, until: "I hope she leaves you, I hope she makes you weep..." and more until "I hope you love her like I love you." Revenge can be sweet.

"September in the Rain" is a scat vehicle, "Drunk on Love" is an original with a smart lyric and bouncing swing. One could image Dave Frishberg doing it. "We've Only Just Begun" shows her sharp and confident attack, displaying a crystal voice that can go just about anywhere with superb vitality. "Darn That Dream" has always been a beautiful standard ballad and Pezzotti is exquisite, caressing and stretching the lyric in the manner of the masters. The closer, "Jackie," shows if she had to sit in with The Manhattan Transfer or New York Voices she could.

"I've been pleasantly surprised," she says. "It's always a scary thing when you share a piece of yourself with people, like I did with these compositions. I've been getting great feedback. Everyone's been enjoying my compositions, especially.

Pezzotti doesn't have an agent or a booking manager, so has been handing those tasks herself. But she's managed to do some touring with the music, doing shows in Miami and at Birdland in New York. Also in Georgia, Arizona and Chicago's Jazz Showcase.

I'm trying to make the effort to play at places because I really wanna share my tunes with everyone. It's been really fun. I'm having a great time. In each city I play with local musicians... It's cool to meet new musicians and have new conversations with people through the music."

Pezzotti was born in New York to a Dominican father and a Puerto Rican/Ecuadorian mother, but they soon moved to Florida. [She has plans to move back to New York in August]. The Latin influence is inescapable, but she was classically trained and also did musical theater. "I started performing when I was a kid. I can't say the exact age, but I know I was on a Spanish channel... I performed a song in Spanish. I think I was nine years old. I was in competitions as a kid and performing in West Palm Beach. I did a Latin festival. I was singing salsa and meringue. I was also singing pop. I performed locally as a child. Then I got into rock and roll when I was in high school. I was in a band for a couple years. We performed locally. We wrote all our own tunes. But as most bands do, we broke up."

"I didn't discover jazz until I was a sophomore in high school. Even then, I didn't take it seriously until I was a sophomore in college. Jazz is the newest genre I delved into, and by far my favorite," she says. Her decision to make music a career wasn't something she stressed over, or that struck her suddenly. It was the world she was in. She enjoyed it and has never left.

"It's just always been how I've lived my life. I never thought, 'Maybe I can become a doctor or a lawyer.' I never thought about a career. I've just always done music. It always felt natural to me. I never really thought, 'Let me pursue music.' It's just something I've always done."
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