Matassas vocal passion powers "Ella & Billie":
tribute to jazz divas is singers tour de force
by Roberta Penn, Seattle
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 citys 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 Matassas 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 Fitzgeralds life and
the beginning of her career before breaking into A-Tisket, A-Tasket,
the First Lady of Songs signature tune.
The vocalist sounds almost like Fitzgerald and Holiday, and has practiced
their phrasings until shes made them her own. Most of the tunes
are delivered in the manner of her mentors, but Matassa isnt 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 Matassas passion for singing. Its 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 audiences 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
Between songs, and there are about two dozen of them, Matassa tells
both humorous and heartbreaking stories about Fitzgerald and Holidays
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 theres
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 Matassas
tour de force.