TO Jazz Review: Melody Gardot, June 29, Harbourfront Centre


Toronto – Melody Gardot’s set at the Enwave Theatre in the Harbourfront Centre for the Toronto Jazz Festival very nearly put me to sleep.

I guess that’s a review in itself.

Gardot is a singer and piano player from Philadelphia who was hit by a car when she was 19, according to Wikipedia. She was helped in her recovery by something called music therapy; she already knew how to play piano (during the set she remarked she started playing in a piano bar in Philadelphia at age 16), but during her therapy learned to play guitar. She damaged her pelvis in the accident, and as a result, she has to sort of put one foot up on a pedestal when sitting on a stool to play guitar (or piano, presumably, though I couldn’t see what she rested her foot on under her piano) to ease pressure on her hip area. She also reportedly has a sensitivity to light and sound, as evidenced by how dark it was in the Enwave Theatre throughout her set, with minimal lights on her and the band, the strict no photos at the show policy, and the hat and dark glasses she wore throughout the set.

Interesting stuff, right? If only Gardot’s music were nearly as engaging as her back story.

Now, I don’t think Gardot is a bad singer. I can understand why some people quite like her voice. It’s sort of sultry and husky easy to listen to, even if it doesn’t seem to have a whole lot of range. Gardot is also rather pretty with very nice legs, which she was more than happy to show off in a short skirt, fishnets and high heels.

Do I think she’s a particularly good songwriter? Well…no, not really. Her songs all sound more or less the same after a while and all seem to devolve from lyrics into scat-vocals at almost exactly the same time. Her choices of covers, the Bill Withers classic “Ain’t No Sunshine” and the pop standard “My Favourite Things,” were uninspiring. Apparently singing them slower and quieter in a bluesy manner makes them songs “you’ve heard before, but never quite like this” in Gardot’s mind (’cause no one’s ever thought of covering those songs from a different genre before). Really, if you’re going to do a version of “My Favourite Things” at a jazz festival, you should be a saxaphone quartet channeling John Coltrane.

The music she and her five-piece backing band played, at least on this night, never elevated above the level of decent hotel lounge music. Despite several horn and bass solos, her backing band rarely distinguished itself, except maybe for the xylophone player, who was quite good and entertaining to watch as he clutched four mallets in his hands to strike different tones. Gardot’s own piano and guitar playing was unremarkable.

Gardot started off in piano bars, in her own words “playing songs [she] didn’t want to play,” something she’s now grateful she doesn’t have to do. That piano bar/lounge singer vibe pervades her show. Some crooners are entertaining and talented enough, with a combination of a great voice and a charming persona to outgrow that cheesy lounge vibe (Like Tony Bennett, appearing later this week at the Jazz Festival). Gardot just isn’t there, at least not yet; she spoke briefly and quietly between songs, revealing little about herself, and although she tried to make a big deal about strutting over to her piano with her cane and high heels and taking a sip of brandy several times, she just doesn’t have much of a stage presence.

You can draw a pretty straight line between Diana Krall, Norah Jones and Gardot’s music, and I’m not sure Gardot offers anything new. It’s all ‘pop-jazz,’ if you will, jazz for people who mostly listen to top 40 and want to seem more well-rounded. Honestly, I’m trying to be less of a music snob these days, and wrapping my head around the idea of different people having different taste, but it bothers me that a show like this sold out the 350-seat Enwave Theatre and played to a standing ovation when a show like Delerium the other night at the Church of the Redeemer drew all of ten people. I ducked out before Gardot’s encore.

Posted on by Brian in Concerts, Toronto Jazz Festival

11 Responses to TO Jazz Review: Melody Gardot, June 29, Harbourfront Centre

  1. nathan


    You are entitled to your opinion of her performance, but please get some sensibilities about jazz. Ain’t No Sunshine and My Favorite Things have been covered by many jazz vocalists over the years.
    Contrary to a lot of jazz “snobs” there is great jazz being made by today’s young artists, particularly the vocalists. Open your ears and stop closing your mind and you just might enjoy

  2. Brian

    You’re right, they have been. This is why I was a little irritated by Gardot’s assertion that her version of “My Favourite Things” was a song “you’ve all heard before, but never quite like this.” Lots of people have covered both before, in and out of jazz.

    If you really want my opinion, I wouldn’t call what Gardot does ‘jazz’ at all. You’re right, there are a lot of great young jazz vocalists out there right now. Try and find some Gretchen Lieberum or Cecilia Stalin or Pat Appleton or Tina Dico or even Madeleine Peyroux if you want something a little more well known. All of them are a lot more interesting than Gardot.

  3. Sydney

    I have to say that I was terribly surprised to read this review of Melody Gardot’s performance. I attended this performance and I have to say that I disagree with everything you have uttered. I found her performance to be inspiring, entertaining and magical. I recently discover Ms. Gardot a couple of weeks ago and was so excited to see she was coming to Toronto. I snatched up tickets as soon as I found out. I’ve been disappointed by artists before but this was definitely NOT the case with Melody Gardot. I felt her stage presence was captivating and she has such a natural talent for music. I realize that she could fall into the jazz/pop music stream but I find her musicality anything but top 40. I feel sad for you for missing out on a fantastic encore but I have a feeling you wouldn’t have enjoyed it anyways. I am a lover of jazz but I have found over the years that there is a large level of snobbery within this genre. It’s unfortunate.

  4. Brian

    I say this in all honesty, Sydney: I’m glad that you, as one of Gardot’s fans, enjoyed her performance.

  5. maryann brancaccio

    please. this review is not an opinion, it’s more like an attack. WAKE UP!!!! MELODY’S music and her band are great

  6. Brian

    I’m sorry you feel that way. But really, if I had wanted to write an attack, it would’ve been a whole lot nastier.

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  8. Shawn Jones

    Refreshing web site and useful posting. I love music a lot. I’ve marked it to come back later. If at first you don’t succeed-skydiving is not for you

  9. Butter Fried

    He’s for a jig, or a tale of bawdry, or he sleeps.

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  11. Scarlett

    I’m reading this review in June 2012 having seen Gardot last night at the Fleck Theatre at Harbourfront. Until I got to the part about Ain’t No Sunshine and My Favourite Things, I thought I was reading a review of last night’s gig not one from 3 years ago. clearly this artist hasn’t developed much over the years.I didn’t know about her accident or sensitivity to light so the darkness of the stage and crazy lightshow was just annoying to me and her use of a cane seemed just affectation. I like some of her recordings though and will stick to listening to those from now on.

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