Vocalist Gretchen Parlato is a forward-thinking jazz vocalist with an emotive, languid, intimate style and consummate control. Her aesthetic leads her to meld her varied musical influences into a modern brand of creative, contemporary jazz. What she consistently reveals is a chameleon-like ability to fully inhabit the material she chooses to perform. Her 2005 self-titled debut outing showcased her readings of tunes by Hoagy Carmichael, Björk, Antonio Carlos Jobim, and Wayne Shorter. In 2009, Parlato issued the modern jazz outing In a Dream for ObliqSound that showcased her own arrangements alongside those of Robert Glasper. In 2010, she was a featured vocalist on Esperanza Spalding’s Chamber Music Society. 2011′s The Lost and Found listed her as producer in an ambitious program that included readings of Miles Davis’ “Blue in Green” and Simply Red’s “Holding Back the Years.” In 2012 she reprised her role with Spalding on Radio Music Society, and in 2013 released Live in NYC, an audio/video package with an all-star band that included her husband, drummer Mark Giuliana. Parlato subsequently topped jazz vocal polls across the U.S. and Europe. In 2015, she became a mother and took an extended break from recording. She returned with the pop-cum-Brazilian-inspired project Flor for Edition Records in early 2021.
A native of Los Angeles, California, Parlato comes from a musical family. She is the daughter of top-tier session and soundtrack bassist Dave Parlato and the granddaughter of trumpeter and vocalist Charlie Parlato. An early musical memory was flipping through her mom’s record collection and coming across the 1963 album Getz/Gilberto. Drawn to its cover, she put the record on and fell in love with bossa nova and the grain of Joao Gilberto’s voice. She was 13. Parlato pursued musical studies while attending Los Angeles County High School for the Arts. After graduation she attended UCLA and earned a bachelor’s degree in Ethnomusicology and Jazz Studies.
In 2001, Parlato became the first vocalist ever admitted to the Thelonious Monk Institute of Jazz Performance. The panel of judges included Herbie Hancock, Terence Blanchard, and Wayne Shorter. Two years later she moved to New York City. In 2004 Parlato won first place in the Thelonious Monk International Jazz Vocals Competition. The panel of judges included Quincy Jones, Flora Purim, Al Jarreau, Kurt Elling, Dee Dee Bridgewater and Jimmy Scott. The following year she independently issued her self-titled debut. The band included pianist Aaron Parks, guitarist Lionel Loueke, and bassist Massimo Biolcati performing a program of American standards, iconic bossa novas, a medley of Wayne Shorter’s “Juju”/“Footprints” (with lyrics by Parlato), two tunes by Loueke, and a cover of Björk’s “Come to Me.”
That year, Parlato also appeared on Terence Blanchard’s Blue Note outing Flow, and began a bumper-crop career as a featured guest vocalist. Over the next two years she toured and appeared on records by Loueke, Gregoire Maret and Sean Jones. 2008 Parlato appeared on bassist Esperanza Spalding’s debut and pianist Kenny Barron’s The Traveler. The floodgates opened; since then, Parlato has appeared as a collaborator and guest on dozens of recordings.
In 2009, Parlato delivered In a Dream, her sophomore album and her debut for ObliqSound. The cast included Loueke and Parks, bassist Derrick Hodge, and drummer Kendrick Scott. Parlato arranged seven of the set’s ten tracks. It appeared on year-end publications’ and critics’ best-of lists and was also selected by NPR’s music staff as one of 2009′s best jazz albums. In 2010, the singer appeared on Spalding’s Grammy-winning Chamber Music Society project.
Parlato returned in 2011 with her self-produced third album Lost and Found for ObliqSound. Her cast included pianists Robert Glasper (who also served as executive producer) and Taylor Eigsti, saxophonist Dayna Stephens, guitarist Alan Hampton, and the returning rhythm section of Hodge and Scott. She penned two tracks for the recording and featured tunes by Stephens and Eigsti, as well as peer Ambrose Akinmusire. She also showcased a new arrangement of Shorter’s “Juju.” The album spent 34 weeks on the jazz albums charts and peaked at number two. She was selected Best Female Vocalist by Jazz Times, received an ASCAP Award of Merit for Songwriting, and early the following year was selected Best Female Vocalist Award by the Jazz Journalists Association. Parlato and her band went on tour, playing jazz festivals across the States, Asia, and Europe.
The following year she joined Spalding again to collaborate on the double Grammy-winning Radio Music Society. Over the next two years, in addition to her own touring, Parlato appeared on recordings led by Stephens, Loueke, Joe Sanders, Marcus Miller, and Nilson Matta.
In 2013, Parlato released the live audio/video album Live in NYC, from a concert at Rockwood Hall the previous year. The program featured material from across her career. Parlato was accompanied by two trios. Eigsti played piano for both. Drummer Scott and bassist Burniss Earl Travis II comprised one rhythm section, while Parlato’s husband, drummer Mark Giuliana, and bassist Hampton made up the other. The set spent six weeks on the jazz albums charts and peaked at 12. Parlato had a child in 2015, returned to Los Angeles, and retreated from making records for the next six years. She did, however, make occasional recorded guest appearances, including contributions to Shai Maestro’s The Stone Skipper, Nate Smith’s Kinfolk: Postcards from Everywhere, Joel Ross’ Kingmaker, and Keiko Matsui’s Echo.
Parlato also assembled a new international quartet. Based in L.A. it included Brazilian guitarist Marcel Camargo (Michael Bublé, Herb Alpert), Brazilian drummer/percussionist Léo Costa (Sergio Mendes, Bébel Gilberto), and Armenian cellist Artyom Manukyan (Melody Gardot, Kamasi Washington). This group entered the studio in late 2019 and early 2020 with Giuliana, pianist Gerald Clayton, and Airto Moreira in guest roles. They emerged with the Grammy-nominated Flor, produced by the singer and issued by Edition in February 2021. The nine-song set offered originals — including first single “Wonderful” — and covers including Anita Baker’s Sweet Love” and “É Preciso Perdoar.” Composed by Carlos Coqueijo and Alcyvando Luz, it was a popular early-’70s vehicle for João Gilberto, the very singer whose voice had moved the 13-year-old Parlato to become a musician. ~ Thom Jurek