The story of vocalist, guitarist, and pianist Melody Gardot is remarkable; she’s persevered against abject adversity throughout her life. Blessed with a beautiful alto voice and grand insight as a songwriter, Gardot overcame a life-threatening bicycle accident early in her career.
As amazing as her story is, what is more evident is that she possesses a blue, jazz-oriented style and dusky persona that reflect not only her afflictions, but conversely the hope and joy of making personalized music that marks her as an original.
Born in New Jersey in 1985, Gardot took up piano and played as a youngster on the nightclub scene of Philadelphia, influenced by jazz, folk, rock, and pop music. At age 19 she was a fashion student at the Community College of Philadelphia. But, on a fateful day, while riding her bicycle, the driver of a Jeep made an illegal turn, hurtling into Gardot and leaving her in the street for dead. As she lay hospitalized for months with multiple head injuries and pelvic fractures, her love for music was the best therapy she could receive. While in her hospital bed, she wrote and recorded songs that would become the EP Some Lessons.
Upon her eventual release from intensive care, Gardot found the strength and determination to further her career. Hypersensitive to light and noise, she wore dark glasses. Onstage she also required a special seating unit, and often wore a Transcutaneous Electro-Nerve Stimulator, or TENS device, to assist in alleviating her neuralgic muscle pain. Despite these hurdles, she recorded her debut full length, Worrisome Heart, which was reissued in 2007 by the Verve label. Well-received, the album drew comparisons to Laura Nyro, Joni Mitchell, and Eva Cassidy.
In 2009, working with producer Larry Klein and arranger Vince Mendoza—both known for their work with Joni Mitchell—Gardot followed up her Verve debut with My One and Only Thrill. The album peaked at number two on the Billboard US Jazz Albums chart. She returned in 2012 with her third studio album, The Absence, featuring production from guitarist/composer Heitor Pereira. The effort continued her upward trajectory, landing in the Top 30 on the Billboard 200 and reaching the top of the US Jazz Albums chart.
Gardot altered her musical direction when she returned to the recording studio. She reteamed with Klein and focused on music strongly influenced by R&B, blues, and jazz in a set of original, socially conscious songs, including her first single/video, Preacherman, inspired by the death of Emmett Till.
In 2020, she again paired with Klein for Sunset in the Blue, with the first single from the album titled From Paris With Love featuring a global orchestra of musicians. Hand assembled by Gardot from more than 30 different countries and recorded in isolation during the first COVID-19 pandemic lockdown, the track was released with an accompanying video piece in order to raise charity money in support of healthcare workers and public awareness for those struggling in the arts.
On August 22, 2021, Philippe Powell—composer pianist and son of Baden Powell—came to Gardot’s studio in Paris to stay for two weeks. Their mission: write a record. This led to the May 2022 release of Entre eux deux, in which Gardot and Powell breathe new life into the classic piano and voice format with their fresh perspectives.