Greta Matassa
shim shim shim

Matassa’s vocal passion powers "Ella & Billie":
tribute to jazz divas is singer’s tour de force

by Roberta Penn, Seattle Post-Intelligencer

With 10 years of roasting pop culture under its belt, Cabaret de Paris has decided to toast jazz with an evening of songs that Ella Fitzgerald and Billie Holiday made their own.

“Ella & Billie” not only salutes these two premier vocalists who came on the scene in the big-band era and remained divas until their deaths, it also showcases the talents of Seattle-bred vocalist Greta Matassa and a trio of some of the city’s finest jazz players — pianist Barney McClure, drummer Mark Ivester and bassist Clipper Anderson.

Director David Koch was a musician before he turned to cabaret comedy and is an admirer of Matassa’s vocal work. The singer, now in her mid-30s, has matured during the past decade into a classy vocalist with a natural, hometown-girl stage presence. Together the two created “Ella & Billie,” and it is a respectful tribute with a lot of heart.

Seated on a stool in an evening gown, Matassa opens the show by telling the audience how she grew up singing to the recordings of Fitzgerald and Holiday as well as those of Dinah Washington and Sarah Vaughan. She would mimic the vocalists note for note, learning how they used melodies as launching pads for their own expressions of the tunes.

Matassa then gives a little background on Fitzgerald’s life and the beginning of her career before breaking into “A-Tisket, A-Tasket,” the First Lady of Song’s signature tune.
The vocalist sounds almost like Fitzgerald and Holiday, and has practiced their phrasings until she’s made them her own. Most of the tunes are delivered in the manner of her mentors, but Matassa isn’t rigid in her trueness to the singers’ styles; her own growl and breathy edge slip through occasionally.

Instead of detracting, this naturalness brings the material up to date and shows Matassa’s passion for singing. It’s a quite impressive balance, for there are many young vocalists who focus so much on sounding like the great ladies of song that they put a seasoned jazz fan to sleep. Matassa not only keeps the audience’s interest, she intends to keep the material fresh for herself and the band by varying the song list for each performance, and her repertory is big enough to do just that.

Between songs, and there are about two dozen of them, Matassa tells both humorous and heartbreaking stories about Fitzgerald and Holiday’s lives and careers. Though she wrote a script to work from, the singer knows her stuff and seems to be speaking off the cuff. And there’s just enough information; this is not a history lesson, but entertainment.

The band is swinging with Matassa all the way. She has worked with these players in various settings and their mutual respect makes for tight presentation. Jazz fans might want a bit more improvisation or soloing from the musicians, but this is a show about singing. It is Matassa’s tour de force.



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