Jazz bassist/singer Nicki Parrott at the Palladium Friday • St Pete Catalyst
You can probably count on one hand the number of jazz bassists singing at the same time. Change the equation to vocal bass players who also happen to be female, and the number drops even further.
Meet Nicki Parrott, who will perform Friday at the Palladium as part of a trio with pianist Rossano Sportiello and drummer Ed Metz.
Parrott, an acclaimed performer and recording artist in her own right, has been making music with these guys in particular for nearly two decades. Their show is a mix of classic jazz, American Songbook standards, pop melodies and even weird classical interludes.
“We vary it, and that’s what makes it interesting for us,” Parrott told the Catalyst. “With a trio, you can really complete an ensemble by doing a lot of different things. It remains interesting and fun for us to offer them a fairly broad repertoire.
They live in three different states – only Metz is from Florida – but they perform together all over the world (they just finished a week-long residency in Zurich, Switzerland, for example).
“The best kind of rehearsal, and that’s how this trio really works, is at the bandstand,” says Parrott. “We just go up and we pass it – Rossano starts, then I sing, I pass it back to Rossano, Eddie is featured… it’s very even like that. And because we’ve worked so hard together, it works.
Originally from New South Wales, Australia, Parrott studied music in Sydney. Jazz is his one true love, but ironically his earliest performances were Beatles songs and other popular music.
As a child, “I played the piano and the flute. And then my sister had a band. She basically said if you wanted to be in my band, I needed a bass player.
“There was one at school. I brought it home, it had three strings on it – someone in my town said ‘You don’t need the fourth string anyway. You don’t need low notes. So I tried playing three-string bass for a while until I finally realized that I To do need this fourth string.
“I basically taught myself for many years transcribing records and playing with my sister and friends from school. We just started jamming a lot.
It was, she says, during her time at the Pan-Pacific Jazz Camp in Sydney (she was around 15) that forged her lifelong allegiance to the Songbook and to jazz. In 1994, the Arts Council of Australia granted him the funds to come to New York to study with Rufus Reid.
From 2000 to 2009, Parrott was part of a trio with guitar legend Les Paul at the Iridium Club.
“I started singing and playing at the same time while working for Les,” she recalls. “I was hired as a bass player – and he asked me one night on stage ‘Is that all you do, just play bass?’ I said, well I sing at home, like everyone else. But I sang that night and he wanted to keep it. So I sang every Monday night… then I started to really appreciate it. And I made a thing out of it.
These meetings with Paul were important springboards for Nicki Parrott. “It was really, really fun. It was a great gig to have on a Monday night, which is often a weird night – it’s a quiet night in New York. But it was always packed. And it was crowded with all kinds of people, from celebrities to rock stars, everyone was going down there, tourists.
“And it was really a show. A lot of people used to sit out, especially the second set. It made it different and really interesting every Monday. Often we played a lot of the same songs, but the guests were different. We never created a set list, it was just what Les wanted to do. It kept you on your toes.
On those toes she remains, to this day. It is a characteristic of jazz. “Eddie and I sometimes have an idea of which direction Rossano might be going, but he likes to keep it cool and at night,” Parrott says.
“I pretty much know what songs I want to sing each night, but he often starts a tune that we haven’t really played together much, but he’s in the mood to play it that night.”
Find details and tickets here.