Greta Matassa was dazzling at the recent Ballard Jazz Walk. She did what few singers dare to do--let the audience call the tunes. I walked in just as Matassa scatted with aplomb on "How High the Moon," raining serpentine ribbons of nonsense syllables that would have made the legendary Ella Fitzgerald proud. After a slow, succulent "Lush Life," Matassa plunged into Antonio Carlos Jobim's "Wave," faultlessly navigating the treacherous melodic shoals of that tricky bossa nova classic.
The audience groaned when someone called out the cornball "Moon River," but Matassa smiled, arched her eyebrow, and declared, "I'll change your mind." She did, molding mawkish lyrics into a melancholy missive. Morphing her voice to channel Ella Fitzgerald, Matassa then brought down the house with a dead-on take of Ella's 1938 hit "A-Tisket, A-Tasket."
Unlike most other singers I hear, Matassa has an enormous vocal flexibility that ranges from a big-boned, brawny set of pipes built to belt the blues to a lithe, flutelike voice capable of peeling off notes at high speed. More impressively, Matassa has a highly refined sense of how a song should be sung, keenly choosing the right phrasing, dynamics, and tempo.
Ella and Billie is Matassa's homage to Ella Fitzgerald, who fused peerless technique with swing, and to Billie Holiday, who brought the blues back into jazz. Matassa explains, "Everything I've learned about singing comes from listening to Billie's and Ella's records." Along with tunes made famous by Ella and Billie, Matassa shares biographical tidbits and anecdotes about their lives. Don't miss this tribute to two jazz legends by one of the few vocalists around who really delivers the goods.