May 12, 2010

USA: Once an orthodontist, Gail Pettis now evokes smiles with music

SEATTLE, Washington / The Seattle Times  / Music & Nightlife / May 12, 2010

An interview with jazz singer Gail Pettis, a former orthodontist who has reinvented herself as one of the great interpreters of American jazz standards.
By Andrew Gilbert,  Special to The Seattle Times

Call it a midlife crisis or call it an epiphany. Either way, Gail Pettis got bit by the jazz bug and reinvented herself as one of the most sensuously swinging new singers on the American scene.

One day she's tuning up smiles at her successful orthodontic practice in Issaquah, and the next she's spreading grins from the bandstand, where she's forged deep creative ties with some of Seattle's deepest players.
"I enjoyed the patients, but I was looking for a change," Pettis says. "At the time I wouldn't have said, 'I'm leaving my practice to pursue music,' but it turns out that's what happened."

 "Singing is an outlet for me, one place where it's completely OK to let your emotions flow and show," said Gail Pettis. She released her sophomore CD, "Here In the Moment," in January. Jim Bates / TheSeattle Times

For jazz fans outside the Seattle area, Pettis seemed to emerge out of nowhere in 2007 with the release of her luminous debut CD "May I Come In?" on OA2 Records. She confirmed her status as an exceptional interpreter of the American Songbook with the January release of "Here In the Moment." Soulful and understated, her voice caresses each melody, transforming even the most familiar standards into highly personal narratives.

Gail was born in Henderson, Kentucky, on May 30, 1958
"I've always tended to be a person who lives by their emotions," Pettis says. "I have periods when everything is so intense. I'm driving down the street in the fall and the leaves are illuminated, and I have a cup of coffee, and it's the best I ever had. It's a double-edged sword because it's a challenge to keep that balance with practical things. Singing is an outlet for me, one place where it's completely OK to let your emotions flow and show."

Like European classical music, jazz is an art form that usually requires early entry. Pettis is the rare case of a performer coming into her own well into adulthood. It's a testament to a natural gift for phrasing, musical intelligence, dogged work ethic and simple good luck at living in an area with several singer-friendly venues.
She credits Bake's Place and Tula's, where she and her trio perform this Friday, with providing supportive environments where she's honed her bandstand skills. Pettis plays a duo brunch gig with pianist Ed Weber at Artisanal Brasserie and Wineshop in Bellvue on Saturday. On May 29, she returns to the Sorrento Hotel's Fireside Room, another venue that's played an essential role in her development.

One advantage of getting a late start is that Pettis comes to every song as a musical ingénue, with a fresh set of associations and expectations.

"It's kind of funny," she says. "I don't have a good sense of which songs are overdone, and which are standards not done as much. I'll tell the guys, 'I learned this great new song, do you guys know it?' And it's 'Misty' or something. Everything is new to me."  [rc]

Andrew Gilbert:

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