Jazz singer Greta Matassa is a fixture at Tula's, a hub of Seattle's jazz scene.
In the relatively small circle of musicians who make up Seattle’s jazz scene, only a handful of clubs are as important as Tula’s. And to the man who owns Tula’s, few performers are as important as singer Greta Matassa.
To call Tula’s the house that Greta built is only a slight exaggeration.
“When it comes to Greta, it’s difficult for me to find the proper accolade,” said the longtime owner of the Belltown jazz club, Mack Waldron. “She’s important to the club and to the jazz community. She’s just a real pro.
“Audiences warm up to her right away. She utilizes top-notch players. She has the reputation that will bring in people who might not ordinarily come to Tula’s.”
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Saturday night, Matassa and her quartet will perform at the club, as she does every other week. Tuesday, she appears with the Critical Mass Big Band. She also hosts a vocal jam session and a workshop there every month, bringing in many of her own students.
While she performs at local festivals and tours in the region and very occasionally abroad, she does most of her singing at Waldron’s club, where she is a weekly presence.
“Tula’s is my home,” said Matassa, 48. “If [Waldron] ever quits, I’m going to have to move.”
Matassa is completely self-taught. She dropped out of Bainbridge Island High School her junior year to move to Salem, Ore., where she got a gig at a country club. She never got her diploma as she kept finding singing jobs in rock bands or jazz bands.
She is known for her perfect pitch and sense of time, her vocal range, her encyclopedic knowledge of songs, her willingness to take requests from audiences and her ability to mimic other famous singers like Ella Fitzgerald or Ray Charles.
“I think she can do that because she’s studied how her own voice sounds,” said vibraphonist and friend Susan Pascal. “Most singers don’t get that far … but my favorite stuff is when she’s just Greta.”
As established as her reputation is in Seattle, she is relatively unknown outside of the Northwest, something that might soon change. She recently released her eighth CD, “I Wanna Be Loved.” It was recorded with pianist Tamir Hendelman and guitarist Bruce Forman and — a first for Matassa — included string arrangements.
The album, released by a new Los Angeles label, Resonance Records, also marks the first time Matassa had a big marketing budget to work with. The album has gotten national airplay and increased her exposure, marking a potential turning point in her career that, until now, she has kept close to home.
“I’ve been raising kids and I didn’t want to travel,” said Matassa, whose daughters are now 15 and 16. “It’s really been only in the last two years that I’ve started to tour.
“I never considered moving to a place like New York,” she said. “I know a lot of musicians who live there who (complain) about the scene. They look at me and say, ‘It seems like you’re working a lot.’ I have no desire to be famous. I just love performing and working with great musicians wherever that happens to be. Seattle is a great place to live, and so far I have plenty of work.”
Hugo Kugiya: firstname.lastname@example.org