HOME SWEET HOMEBODY -- If Greta Matassa is not a jazz star outside of the Seattle area, it's only because Matassa hasn't performed much outside of the Seattle area.
But the 43-year-old singer, who grew up on Bainbridge Island, absorbing the sound and soul of her father's jazz record collection, has been a highly regarded artist among our northern neighbors for years, at least since she began singing a popular program of Kurt Weill music with the Pacific Northwest Ballet in 1989. Matassa has been voted best Northwest vocalist in the Earshot Jazz Golden Ear Awards four times, and has a new album, "Favorites From a Long Walk," due soon on the exemplary regional label Origin Records.
Though she's a talent worthy of wider recognition, she's made a decision to stay close to home instead of pushing her career as a touring act.
"A month away, with two pre-teen girls (at home)?" Matassa muses. "Maybe not the right idea.
"I've met an awful lot of musicians who come through Seattle and say, 'Well, why would you leave?' " Matassa says, talking by phone from her home. "There are great musicians here. And you can make an artistic statement in any city."
In recent years, though, Matassa has begun to make her way down Interstate 5 more often, having been championed by the respected Portland drummers Ron Steen and Gary Hobbs. She'll perform at Brasserie Montmartre on Saturday, then join Kelly Broadway and the great Dave Frishberg as featured artists in a sold-out "Vocal Magic" showcase in the Benson Hotel's Mayfair Room.
Frishberg, renowned for his witty songwriting and poignant piano playing, is Sunday's headliner. But listeners wanting a voice to fall in love with more likely will latch onto Matassa. She has a lovely tone, great range and a keen sense of song interpretation, plus she's a confident, assertive improviser. Her sound is at once daring and readily accessible.
Matassa stands out as well for her wide-ranging repertoire. She revels in unearthing little-known gems, such as a suite of songs by Curtis Lewis that she found on an old Shirley Horn album and excerpted for "Favorites From a Long Walk." In shows, she often lets listeners call most of the tunes.
"They think it's a miracle: 'Lord, she knows so many songs!' But the secret is, they all pick the same 10 songs. So I try to find new ways to sing those," she says. "And my tradeoff is that I'm going to bring them some things that they haven't heard before. And sometimes I lose them. But I've also had people start to request some of these lesser-known tunes that I do.
"I have a list of 2,000 songs, and I'm tired of about 1,500 of them. . . . The songs, for jazz artists, are an armature you take on. And I like to switch armatures pretty often. I'm always digging for something new to sing."