Nicki Parrott: A Lovely Way to Spend an Evening

If civilization has come up with a better way to spend an evening than a good dinner (including wine) with a floor show consisting of master musicians performing standards from the Great American Songbook, I don’t know what it is.

nicki parrott

Nicki Parrott: a double threat on vocals and stand-up bass.

The other night I was at Sarah’s Wine Bar in Ridgefield, Connecticut to see the triple-threat act of Australian-born singer/bassist Nicki Parrott (pronounced Par-OTT), clarinetist/saxophonist Ken Peplowski (one of the best in the world), and sparkly pianist John di Martino.

Parrott, who was resplendent in a little black dress, lives in Connecticut now so this was a local gig for her. Peplowski, who’s always working, had just flown up from Miami that day (though he seemed fresh). And di Martino was catching a 2:30 a.m. flight to Bangkok. This kind of mobility is necessary for today’s peripatetic jazz musician.

The three recorded an album together for a Japanese label–all Carpenters songs. Here they are on Burt Bacharach’s “This Guy’s in Love With You”:

Parrott (a ringer for the actress Kirsten Dunst) could be anybody’s stand-up bassist/vocalist, and indeed, after making the big leap to come to the U.S. and study with Rufus Reid, she fulfilled that role with the late Les Paul for years. But now she’s stepping out front, most recently with an album tribute to the great Blossom Dearie. They aren’t far apart stylistically, though Blossom’s voice was higher.

From that repertoire, Parrott gave us “Rhode Island is Famous for You,” via Arthur Schwartz and Howard Dietz, and Cole Porter’s “Give Him the Ooh-La-La.” Parrott, a happy singer of sublime taste, could put this stuff over with just her bass, but with multi-instrumentalist Peplowski and di Martino in the house the whole affair swung like a watch chain.

Nicki Parrott and Ken Peplowski

Nicki Parrott and Ken Peplowski, having a good time. (Jim Motavalli photo)

Parrott sings the songs straight, but she’s a fine scat singer too. Peplowski is best known on clarinet (and played some trills that were out of this world), but he was excellent on tenor, too, especially on ballads where he had some of the breathiness of both Ben Webster and Stan Getz.

Other highlights included the Cy Coleman/Carolyn Leigh vehicle “Walk a Little Faster,” Ray Noble’s “The Very Thought of You” and, from the great Burton Lane and Frank Loesser, “The Lady’s in Love With You” (featuring a strong bass solo and Peplowski back on clarinet).

nicki parrott

Parrott in full flight. (Jim Motavalli photo)

Maybe it’s just me, but I’ve never fallen in love with Ella Fitzgerald’s take on Sam Coslow’s “Mr. Paganini” (though it was a big number for her), but Parrott got through it as painlessly as possible.

Here’s another video, this time an instrumental version of “You’d Be So Nice to Come Home To,” with Peplowski on tenor:

The Sarah’s Wine Bar Jazz Masters Series is worth checking out if you’re anywhere near Connecticut. Up next on January 28 is a duo of Mark Shane, piano, and Terry Blaine, vocals.