Greta Matassa
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Debut CD may give jazz singer Greta Matassa a new audience

by Ray Kelleher, Tacoma News Tribune

When Greta Matassa was a 17-year-old Bainbridge Islander, she took out a piece of paper—many pieces of paper, actually— and wrote down every song she ever knew. On Matassa’s list, “Santa Claus is Coming to Town” may have landed somewhere between “The Itsy Bitsy Spider” and “April in Paris.”

But, in plotting a singing career, she wasn’t leaving out any possibilities. Little more than 10 years later, Matassa has culled the best 11 tunes from her list and presents them on her debut CD, “Got a Song That I Sing.”

Featuring some of the top jazz sidemen in the Northwest, “Got a Song That I Sing” ranges from inventive bop to the hard swinging that Matassa is known for in her work with the big-band Jazz Police.

With a feathery touch, Matassa exquisitely understates the Brazilian “Azure Blue.” Three cuts later, she shreds the Judy Garland classic, “Zing! Went the Strings of My Heart” with a grinding blues interpretation.

“I tried to keep this album fun, not self-indulgent,” Matassa says. “I wanted something that aficionados can appreciate and non-jazz fans can just enjoy.”

To achieve that balance, Matassa sticks to recognizable standards for the most part. Then she adds her stamp—throwing in a hip-hop beat, adding imaginative instrumentation or original lyrics—“not for the sake of screwing around, but because it makes the listener hear it in a different light,” she says. “And maybe they’ll pay attention to a lyric or a phrase they’ve never noticed before.

The wild card in the whole thing is whether you can find an arranger that’s a genius, that can grab onto your ideas,” says Matassa, who found the required simpatico in veteran Tacoma keyboardist Craig Hoyer.

“Genius is overstating it,” Hoyer says. “Greta had a lot of strong ideas on her material. I tried to put in as much of what she wanted as I could and still preserve the integrity of the whole package. But she brings the stuff. She’s got all the tools to convey the emotions. She’s got tons of chops, a wonderful ear, a great brain. She can sing to people’s hearts, and you get more out of it the smarter you are.”

Hoyer says the real value of “Got a Song That I Sing” is the documentation of the emergence of a major talent it will provide for future jazz scholars. Matassa herself isn’t thinking quite so long-term. “We planned the whole thing out so that we can sell it and break even,” she says of the self-bankrolled production. “But I hope this album is going to be a calling card for me. I’ve already sent it out to all the major labels.”

She says she hopes to be under contract by the time she records her next album.
Joey Cohn, music director for KPLU radio, thinks Matassa has a shot. “It’s already on the air here. Greta has a lot of talent,” says Cohn, who adds that the real challenge is getting radio stations and swamped industry executives to listen.

“I’m about 200 CDs behind in my listening,” says Cohn, describing the volume of new jazz being released. “She needs a promoter who will call the stations once a week and say, ‘Will you play it, will you play it, will you play it?’” Once the album is in play, Cohn says the promoter must remind the stations to report that exposure to the Gavin Chart, the industry’s record of airplay. “Then, hopefully, her name will show up in print somewhere,” he says.

“If the talent is there, it can’t be ignored,” Cohn says. “And Greta is one of the most persistent self-promoters I’ve ever seen.”

Even through 1991 was a big year for jazz, Cohn maintains the real music opportunities are in Top 40. “There’s really no big money in jazz,” he says. In addition to advertising work, Matassa has sung plenty of contemporary pop, but, big money or not, her commitment is to jazz.

“I want to sell records” she says. “But more than that, I want to be an artist. I think you can do both. I don’t want to go sort of ‘Kenny G’ in order to make it. I consider myself a jazz musician, and I think I’ll suffer the consequences.”

If initial critical response is any indication, the consequences of “Got a Song That I Sing” look positive.



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