Melody Gardot’s 2009 album, “My One and Only Thrill,” is a collection of masterfully arranged and sung jazz songs. The album placed on charts around the world, reaching No. 1 in Switzerland, and No. 4 in both France and Germany, and hitting No. 42 in the US. Among the album’s highlights are the title track, and “Your Heart Is As Black As Night.” Both songs show Gardot’s penchant for poetic phrasing and her elegant approach to song making.
About Melody Gardot
Gardot was born in New Jersey. From all accounts, her childhood and beyond have been spent in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Among Gardot’s influences are Janis Joplin, Judy Garland, and Miles Davis.
Gardot’s recording career began in 2005, with an independently released album released on iTunes. The album was called “Some Lessons: The Bedroom Sessions.” That release was followed by “Worrisome Heart” in 2008; “My One and Only Thrill” in 2009; “The Absence” in 2012, and “Currency of Men” in 2015.
Melody Gardot: “My One and Only Thrill”
A moody, but simple soundscape created by instrumentation that is more orchestral than jazz, opens the song. The soundscape is comprised entirely of strings. The sound calls to mind a breeze and the subsequent swaying of the natural world. The rich texture is created by what must be different types of strings playing dynamically. This motif continues for several measures. For some audiences, this motif will call to mind the score of a thoughtful foreign film.
When the string-filled motif has completed, there is a brief rest, and in that tiny span, listeners can brace themselves for a change in the song’s dynamics, and that is exactly what happens.
A gentle, but spirited piano line begins and it preps listeners for the beginning of the vocals. Sort of. “Sort of” because unless a person has heard Gardot sing, he or she won’t really be prepared for the husky, inflection-rich whisper that is Gardot’s voice. The overall moodiness of the song remains, even as the track builds towards its logical conclusion. Gardot’s phrasing sounds like a series of stressed and unstressed words, not just syllables.
The mood of the song is amplified or replicated in Gardot’s voice. The lyrics depict a series of hypothetical events, such as “birds may cease to flap their wings,” she sings. But, Gardot responds, “but it don’t matter.” That is the basic structure of the song, a description of something that might or might not pleasant, but the narrator doesn’t care. Her beloved is her one thrill.
The way Gardot sings the refrain “but it don’t matter” helps to give the song its character. It is a sultry whisper that accentuates “T” sounds. There is something of the performance of poetry or spoken word in Gardot’s delivery. Toward the end, however, Gardot pushes her voice past a hushed register and emotes boldly in a modern pop way. This adds to the song’s dynamics because audiences have been lured by the quiet. Further, Gardot plays with the syllables of the final phrase. The effect is haunting even with the light crashing of cymbals and other developments in the instrumentations. Gardot’s voice steals the show. It is both modern and classic and sounds perfectly suited to the musical poetry that is jazz.
“Your Heart is As Black As Night” by Melody Gardot
It is clear at this point that Gardot excels at creating classic sounds. “Your Heart is As Black As Night” opens with horns that sound as if they have been ripped from jazz songs almost a century ago. A brief song at two minutes and 42 seconds long “Your Heart…” is more uptempo than “My One and Only Thrill,” but “Your Heart…” has a bleak narrative.
Gardot shows off a style that captures the husky vibrato that can grow into the more forceful, sultry contemporary pop style. Strangled horns and saxophones play up the song’s sass factor. The song’s brevity’s is unfortunate because just as the song ends just as listeners begin to completely warm to the song’s arrangement. Maybe that is what makes the song most memorable. It ends at the height of its tension and leaves audiences wanting more.
Gardot’s style is classic with modern twists. By reserving the modern sounds for bigger notes, Gardot displays a knowledge of jazz traditions and vocals performance that doesn’t disappoint.