Philadelphia jazz singer finds warm welcome overseas

Fri Jun 18, 2010 10:19pm EDT
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By Aymeric Pichevin

PARIS (Billboard) - Melody Gardot is the latest beneficiary of France's long love affair with American jazz. Following in the footsteps of French favorites like Josephine Baker, Dexter Gordon, Bud Powell and, more recently, Diana Krall, singer-songwriter Gardot has found fame in the land of Brigitte Bardot.

Her second album, "My One and Only Thrill," is certified double platinum (200,000 units) in France, shipping 270,000 units since its March 2009 release, according to Universal -- an impressive sum for a jazz album.

"The moment I got to France, I fell in love with it," Gardot says. "People take their time, and it's the same with my music. I feel I don't need to rush to a climax."

Philadelphia native Gardot took up songwriting as a form of therapy after a bicycle accident kept the then-19-year-old hospitalized for a year in 2003. After her recovery, she began playing gigs and mixing traditional jazz with pop, blues and Latin influences. Gardot eventually signed with Verve Records, releasing debut album "Worrisome Heart" in 2008.

"My One and Only Thrill" is a more pop-oriented follow-up, with songs like "Baby I'm a Fool" and "Who Will Comfort Me" making full use of Gardot's smoky voice. The album also features one song sung in French, "Les Etoiles," while a special edition in France features her cover of "Over the Rainbow" with French chanson veteran Eddy Mitchell.

Yann Ollivier, managing director of Gardot's French label, Universal Classics & Jazz France, says Gardot's fluency in French helped "My One and Only Thrill" reach a crossover audience through high-profile TV appearances on shows like "Le Grand Journal de Canal +" and "Vivement Dimanche." Gardot also played three sold-out nights at Paris Olympia in April and appeared at the opening ceremony of the Cannes Film Festival in May.

"France gave her confidence," says Max Hole, executive vice president of Universal Music Group International. "If it works in France, it can work anywhere ... and it did."

In addition to claiming its No. 4 French peak, the album hit No. 1 in Norway and No. 2 in Sweden. It also broke into the top 20 in Denmark, the Netherlands, Spain, Switzerland, the United Kingdom (where it has sold 100,000 copies, according to the Official Charts Company), Poland, Wallonie and New Zealand. Sales in Scandinavia have been further boosted by the airing of a Universal-produced TV documentary, "The Accidental Musician."

Gardot has sold 100,000 copies of "Heart" and 117,000 of "Thrill" in the States, according to Nielsen SoundScan. However, as Hole says, "We have done so well (internationally) that America suffered from her lack of availability." To compensate, Gardot just squeezed in an 11-date North American tour before doing 23 European festival dates this summer.

<p>U.S. singer Melody Gardot performs during the 43rd Montreux Jazz Festival in Montreux, July 17, 2009. REUTERS/Valentin Flauraud</p>