Grace Terzian
Gracie Terzian at Rockwood

Grace Terzian at Twins Jazz, The Spellbinding Singer’s Homecoming Show

Many of the world’s musicians have spent their lifetimes chasing one of the most elusive elements of music; Tone. Tone has been, in many ways, the singular and defining reason for a musician or group’s success. Tone is also elusive and near-ethereal, but it’s usually the way an artist endears herself to us. You know Miles from the muted trumpet, Bill Evans by the longing, lush harmonies. And it applies beyond music: If you prefer Haruki Murakami over Christopher Marlowe, it’s because you’re more stirred by his subtle surrealism and simple language than by Marlowe’s Elizabethan vernacular. It is then remarkable to see a musician who has already captured and begun perfecting a tone at only the outset of their career. DC had the fortune to experience such when Northern Virginia born, rising jazz vocalist Gracie Terzian gave quite the homecoming concert at Twins Jazz this past Wednesday.

Accompanied by a trio of robust players who also share ties to the region—guitarist Ian Dansey, bassist Charlie Himel, and drummer Graham Doby—Terzian delivered a mix of originals and beloved standards that showcased her enviable tone. Terzian’s voice channels some of the distinctive qualities of two of jazz’s greatest singers; there is the laid back, casual welcoming of Norah Jones, as best exemplified by her original “Saints & Poets,” and the irreplaceable crisp warmness of the Queen of Jazz, Ella Fitzgerald. Ella, indeed, seems to live inside Terzian’s voice, as few artists have been able to recapture defining vocal tonality and timbre like the Queen’s: and she had ample time to demonstrate it. Whether on her own numbers like “Love Rest,” or on signature Ella standards like the Gershwins’ “I’ve Got a Crush On You” or the Kern/Mercer tune “I’m Old Fashioned,” it was inspiring to hear that tone reincarnate in 2015. Even more refreshing was to see it from such a young, promising artist.

Beyond her invocations of Ella, Terzian proved herself to have a shrewd ear for selecting and performing what standards she did. The classics she chose seemed linked in many ways to her own originals–melodically, harmonically and even thematically. A singer performing their own compositions is indeed a rare thing in the history of jazz vocalists, yet Terzian more than proved herself as not only a brilliant interpreter of her own music but a decently crafty and classy wordsmith as well. The themes and images she plays and paints with across the six songs from her debut EP, Saints & Poets, revolve around duality, mystery, enchantment, the frustrations of infatuation, and classic romance. Complimenting these themes in her works were some numbers that allowed the enchantment in her words and her voice to cast an intoxicating spell. She showed her vulnerable side on Benny Golson’s “Whisper Not,” invoked her spell binding on Coleman and Leigh’s “It’s Witchcraft,” and, at her most captivating, invoked idyllic romance on Youmans and Caesar’s “Tea For Two.” As one of the oldest songs in her book, it revealed Terzian’s aptitude as an interpreter, making the 1925 number it just as if she herself had written it in a DuPont cafe just last week.

Terzian’s successful homecoming was elevated further by the efforts of her backing trio. Not enough jazz vocalists utilize the guitar-bass-drums accompaniment trio: Terzian is a refreshing reminder of what emotional and harmonic complexities are sometimes lost with a piano base. Ian Densey in particular —whose playing was occasionally too busy for the mood—brought the right amount of delicate harmonic play to the mix. And, in one of the night’s most intimate and beautiful moments, Terzian and Densey on vocals and guitar alone delivered Kern and Mercer’s “I’m Old Fashioned,” impeccably and stunningly. Terzian even revealed herself to be a fair instrumentalist, adding her own delicate, musician’s touch with a range of ukuleles to two numbers: her own “Love Rest” and Andre, Scwhandt, and Kahn’s “Dream a Little Dream Of Me.”

Good jazz vocalists are a dime a dozen. Truly great vocalists, the ones who are able to actually impart their own distinctive imprint on the music, are quite difficult to find, and have been few and far between in the 100+ year history of the music. Those of us at the Twins this past Wednesday, even those locals who were there to cheer on a friend, knew that we were witnessing the rise of one of the future greats in jazz singing. The testimony to Terzian’s eventual rank amongst the modern greats lies not in the words she writes or the repertoire she selects—both of which are laudable in their own right—but in the quality, timbre, and tone of her voice. DC has not heard a classic jazz singer like Terzian in quite some time; hopefully the rest of the jazz world will hear her too, soon.

Setlist: 

  • Love Rest
  • Comes Love {En Francais}
  • Lullaby of Birdland
  • Saints & Poets
  • Iris
  • Exit Strategy
  • Whisper Not
  • Wait Silently
  • I’ve Got a Crush On You
  • I’ve Told Every Little Star
  • I’m Old Fashioned
  • It’s Witchcraft
  • Tea For Two
  • Dream a Little Dream
  • Crave You (Flight Facilities Cover)