Performance Friday, March 9, 2012 | 10 PM

Gretchen Parlato
Lionel Loueke

Zankel Hall
Two of today's most innovative voices in jazz showcase a special project as they continue their journey of sharing the stage.


  • Gretchen Parlato, Vocals
  • Lionel Loueke, Guitar
  • Special Guest Becca Stevens, Vocals, Ukulele, Guitar, Charango and African Harp


  • Gretchen Parlato

    Gretchen Parlato's 2009 sophomore breakthrough, In a Dream, signaled the arrival of an incredibly inventive modern jazz singer. Her follow-up, The Lost and Found, demonstrates that she has staying power. Revealing a seamless, crystalline, and more personal voice, Parlato says that the overall theme of The Lost and Found is about accepting opposition and embracing the ebbs and flows of life. "One day we may think we've found all the answers, and then something suddenly happens that makes us feel completely lost as though nothing makes sense. This is life. Accepting that we are always in transition without attaching a judgment to the experience is freeing. We are always the lost and found."

    An alumna of the Thelonious Monk Institute of Jazz, Parlato has been turning heads ever since she won the 2004 Thelonious Monk Institute International Vocal Competition, during which she displayed a musical individuality loaded with paradoxical powers. Parlato's sultry, intriguing voice and unique, rhythmically agile phrasing came with inescapable centripetal force; the more intimate and understated she sang, the more she drew listeners in. Since then, she has toured worldwide to sold-out audiences. Her originality captivates musicians as well, prompting invitations to appear on more than 50 recordings with the likes of Terence Blanchard, Kenny Barron, Terri Lyne Carrington, and Esperanza Spalding. Her breathtaking performances have been captured on television in Europe and Japan, and she has become a sought after clinician on vocal styling.

    With The Lost and Found, Parlato is emerging as a thoughtful composer and lyricist, while also delivering a powerful testament to the beauty of space and simplicity. "I've become more interested in finding not only a higher, but a deeper level and connection in music. And this seems to be done by shedding everything, and getting right to the heart and core."

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  • Lionel Loueke

    Originally from the West African nation of Benin, guitarist Lionel Loueke has enjoyed a meteoric rise. In 2008 and 2009, he was recognized by DownBeat magazine as a Rising Star in its annual Critics Poll. His sophomore release for Blue Note, Mwaliko, follows up 2007's acclaimed Karibu, with a series of searching, innovative, intimate duets with Angelique Kidjo, Esperanza Spalding, Richard Bona, and Marcus Gilmore. Mwaliko is also buoyed by Loueke's inspired mix of acoustic and electric sound: vocals with layered harmonizer effects, nylon-string guitar with Whammy pedal to create an organ-like sound during solos, and a new custom-made Rolf Spuler guitar that enables him to access low bass tones, filling out the spectrum of sound.

    Praised by his mentor Herbie Hancock as "a musical painter," Loueke combines harmonic sophistication, soaring melody, a deep knowledge of African music, and conventional and extended guitar techniques to create a warm and evocative sound of his own.

    In addition to Loueke's recordings as a leader and with his collaborative trio project Gilfema, he has appeared on Terence Blanchard's Grammy-nominated Flow (2005) and Hancock's Grammy-winning River: The Joni Letters (2008). He has also appeared on recordings by such fellow rising stars as trumpeter Avishai Cohen, drummers Francisco Mela and Kendrick Scott, vocalist Gretchen Parlato, and more.

    After his initial to exposure to jazz in Benin, Loueke left to attend the National Institute of Art in nearby Ivory Coast. In 1994, he left Africa to pursue jazz studies at the American School of Modern Music in Paris, before relocating to the US on a scholarship to attend the Berklee College of Music. After graduating from Berklee, Loueke was accepted to the Thelonious Monk Institute of Jazz in Los Angeles, where he had the opportunity to study his greatest mentors: Herbie Hancock, Wayne Shorter, and Terence Blanchard.

    Soon after his time at the Monk Institute, Loueke began focusing exclusively on nylon-string acoustic guitar, an instrument on which he's developed a signature voice. As his sound evolves, it still retains the qualities of immediacy, tenderness, and passion that have made Loueke an influential force on the world stage in jazz and beyond.

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  • Becca Stevens

    New York-based singer-composer-guitarist Becca Stevens communicates both warmth and effortless urgency through her intimate vocals, while her exquisitely understated arrangements and seamlessly crafted tunes embrace inventive acoustic textures and idiosyncratic rhythmic and melodic elements. The resulting music offers a beguiling blend of head and heart that resists easy categorization, drawing upon elements of pop, jazz, and folk without limiting itself to the rules of any particular genre.

    Stevens became fluent in jazz and classical guitar and in the folk music traditions of her native North Carolina-influences that still echo in her songwriting. After graduating from the high school program at the North Carolina School of the Arts with a major in classical guitar, Stevens attended The New School for Jazz and Contemporary Music in New York. It was at The New School that she met the musicians who would subsequently become the Becca Stevens Band. 

    Since graduating from The New School, Stevens has served as lead singer of Travis Sullivan's Bjorkestra, fronting a genre-bending 18-piece jazz orchestra that interprets the songs of Björk; toured and recorded with, and written lyrics for, jazz pianist Taylor Eigsti; and most recently performed at Carnegie Hall as featured singer with pianist Brad Mehldau. She's also toured as part of drummer-composer Eric Harland's all-star band; and has written and/or recorded with such notable players as Clarence Penn, George Garzone, Julian Lage, Kendrick Scott, and Jeremy Pelt.

    Stevens also moonlights as one-third of Tillery, a trio with fellow singer-songwriters Rebecca Martin and Gretchen Parlato. In 2011, Sunnyside records released the critically acclaimed Weightless, a sparkling 12-song set that revealed the accomplished young songstress as a startlingly original, refreshingly distinctive talent in her own right.

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"In a Dream"
Gretchen Parlato

Jeff Tamarkin on Gretchen Parlato and Lionel Loueke

If Gretchen Parlato and Lionel Loueke’s duo concert at Zankel Hall were to be given a name, they might think about calling it “An Evening of Risk.” Vocalist Parlato and guitarist Loueke, in their respective careers, have both displayed a bold fearlessness in their approach to music making. When they join forces and feed off of one another, there’s simply no telling where they might go. With the addition of special guest Becca Stevens, a similarly innovative vocalist and multi-instrumentalist who also knows no bounds, the potential is infinite.

The bonds between them are thick. Parlato and Loueke have performed and recorded together on numerous occasions since they first met in 2001, when both were auditioning to attend the Thelonious Monk Institute of Jazz in Los Angeles. “He was second to last at the audition and I was last,” remembers Parlato. “We were sitting around in that very focused but excited, nervous pre-audition state where you’re in your own head but very aware of everybody else.”

Both were accepted and spent the next two years working together. Since then, having settled in New York, each has turned the world of jazz upside down. LA-native Parlato has recorded three award-winning albums thus far as a leader, including last year’s critically praised The Lost and Found, and has contributed to dozens of others. Loueke, born in the African nation of Benin, has released four albums under his own name, most recently 2010’s Mwaliko, and has worked with Herbie Hancock, among many others.

About Parlato, Loueke says, “She’s always going for the unknown. She has her own style. Her sense of rhythm is amazing. She stretches the harmony, and she has great ears. I can be myself when I play with her. It’s like we are two voices completing each other. Gretchen is my musical soul mate.”

Parlato returns the compliment and also lavishes praise on Stevens, with whom she has often collaborated since they met in 2006. “We think the same way about music,” Parlato says about Stevens, whose 2011 Weightless album received rave reviews. The prospect of the trio creating new music together without further accompaniment excites Parlato.

“There’s something profound about having three different energies, three people who can all sing and all play,” Parlato says. “We all have something unique and different, but we’re all in the same head space of wanting to create beautiful, powerful music. We’re really trying to make it an experience,” she adds about the Carnegie Hall gig. “In our rehearsals, we’ve been coming up with new ideas of things we can do together. We’re all so excited, and this is just the beginning of the possibilities.”
Presented by Carnegie Hall in partnership with Absolutely Live Entertainment LLC.