Prelude Feature: “A Whole New Reason to Smile”
Jazz vocalist and seattle resident Gail Pettis spent nearly two decades working as a successful orthodontist. Also an accomplished swing dancer, she injured her knee in 2001. For her, There was hidden fortune in that injury. When I was unable to dance anymore, Pettis recalls, “I began looking for other creative outlets. I took some cooking classes, experimented with home coffee-roasting, and eventually ended up in a jazz workshop at MusicWorks Northwest.”
Pettis’ MusicWorks instructor, saxophonist Darren Motamedy, invited the aspiring singer to sit in with his band. After the workshop ended, she continued her studies and was soon playing with groups throughout the Seattle area. Her first paying gig came in late 2002 at an assisted-living facility. From there, it was local restaurants and clubs, and eventually to jazz festivals in Boise, Idaho, the Netherlands and Kobe, Japan.
“It feels like I’ve been looking for this all my life,” says the 51-year-old vocalist, whose second album, Here in the Moment, will be released on January 12 on the Origin/Oa2 label. “Jazz invites you to be yourself, and that really appeals to me. You’re not required to sound like anyone else nor do you ever have to sing a song the same way twice. Jazz only asks that you live in the moment. That is tremendously freeing.”
Here in the Moment–which arrives two years after Pettis’ debut release, May I Come In, also on Origin/OA2–consists of 11 tunes, mostly standards, some of which had long been staples of the singer’s repertoire, some of which were less familiar to her when she went into David Lange Studios in Edgewood, Washington, to record in late 2008 and May 2009. Pettis is ably backed throughout by pianists Darin Clendenin and Randy Halberstadt, bassists Clipper Anderson and Jeff Johnson, and drummer Mark Ivester–all frequent collaborators.
The disc is an entirely lovely affair. What veteran music critic Don Heckman wrote in the liner notes is on the money. “What makes Gail’s musical overview so special is her remarkable combination of a sumptuous sound, a storyteller’s capacity to find the deepest layers in the lyrics of a song, and an irresistible rhythmic lift in her phrasing. Add that to her gift for melodic paraphrasing, and a selective ear for finding a new way to sing old songs, and the results completely fulfill the definition of the word ‘unique.'”
Soon after moving to Seattle in 1996, Pettis opened a private practice as an orthodontist. She sold that practice in 2006. Today she could probably still fix your teeth, but she’d much rather sing you a song.