Like a phoenix rising from the ashes, Melody Gardot began to spread her wings, tenuously, after an accident left her body badly broken in 2003.
She had been hit by a car while riding a bicycle in her hometown of Philadelphia at the age of 19. Serious head and spinal injuries and a pelvis broken in two places kept her lying in a hospital bed for a year. When she was finally able to get up, Ms. Gardot had to learn to walk again and, throughout her recovery, she struggled with short and long-term memory problems and hypersensitivity to light and sound.
Also throughout her recovery, she learned to play the guitar, wrote songs and sang. She even recorded and released tracks from the hospital.
In the seven years since, Ms. Gardot and her musical career have been soaring. She has released two full-length albums—“Worrisome Heart” in 2006 and her sophomore effort, “My One And Only Thrill,” in April 2009—the latter of which was nominated for two Grammy awards; she has toured the world and, most recently, she performed at the opening ceremony for the 63rd annual Cannes Film Festival in May.
This weekend, she plans to bring her unique, personal blend of jazz, blues and torch songs to the East End when she makes her Hamptons debut on Sunday, June 6, at the Westhampton Beach Performing Arts Center.
What exactly the audience can expect, Ms. Gardot said, is hard to describe. She’s been on the road performing live for most of the last four years—so much so that the 25-year-old said she no longer has a regular home base and lives out of a single suitcase—and her style is to “break down the glass wall that performers sometimes put up between themselves and the audience.”
“How do I do that?” she wrote in an e-mail response to questions this week. “You’d have to come to a show to witness it.”
That said, clues to her approach can be found in the way she talks about what she gets out of performing live.
“Performing isn’t about taking, it’s about giving. No artist can stand on stage and resist the temptation to have his or her heart open its arms to the public,” Ms. Gardot wrote. “Regardless of genre, if you perform with a closed heart, you are not an artist, you are a spectacle. But again it’s not about taking or getting anything, its about sharing and giving: joy, strength, emotion, and in the end, simple energy gets passed back and forth between a performer and an audience.”
A self-described “citizen of the world,” Ms. Gardot infused the music on “My One And Only Thrill” with Latin rhythms and was heavily influenced by her love of Brazilian music. The album went double platinum in France and Sweden, platinum in Norway and Russia and gold in the UK, Denmark, Poland, Greece and New Zealand. It also reached the top spot on Amazon.com’s sales chart in the United States and Ms. Gardot recently received the 2010 Echo Jazz Award for international female singer of the year in Germany.
These days, she said, having recently visited the deserts of Morocco, she’s been listening to and getting inspiration from Moroccan and Senegalese music. On the other end of the spectrum, when she’s working, she often listens to ’80s pop music.
“I have a playlist that centers on Billy Idol, David Bowie, Queen, and Duran Duran ... you just can’t deny the grooves!” she wrote.
One of the most constant inspirations that colors her work, Ms. Gardot said, is love.
“Not just love for a lover, but love for the world around you. And in this way, seeing the world country by country, I’ve seen the beauty in extension when you open your heart to others and they do the same in return,” she explained.
While music played a part in Ms. Gardot’s life prior to her accident, it was her decision to take a doctor’s suggestion that she dive into music therapy during her recovery that gave her career flight. Learning the guitar helped improve her mental functions and offered a distraction from her physical condition, she said.
“I found it soothing and freeing for moments when my body would command my attention, in terms of pain or discomfort,” she wrote. “It would allow me to escape that momentarily.”
If the guitar was a deliberate endeavor, songwriting was something she fell into.
“[It] was simply something I arrived at, rather than found because of an intention to seek its embrace. I was playing one afternoon and just arrived upon lyrics,” she said. “From that moment, things were ‘uncanned’ and I was able to continue with the direction.”
When she’s not performing or writing, Ms. Gardot is actively involved with developing a music therapy program for patients battling all manner of injuries and ailments—“men who return from the war with head injuries, people who suffer from chronic pain related to AIDS, and people who have suffered accidents that left them with similar injuries as myself,” she wrote.
Looking ahead, it’s hard even for Ms. Gardot to say what’s in store for her next. Prior to her accident, she was deeply involved in the visual arts and she doesn’t rule out the possibility of returning to that medium someday.
“They say when you do what you love and you love what you do you never work a day in your life. Being in that space now, I’d like to continue until something changes and sways my passion to something else. I love so many types of art that it’s possible one day you’ll find me in a small home in Paris simply painting,” she wrote. “But I still have so much to say in terms of music as I keep waking up with new dreams for what I hear, and an overwhelming desire to share them.
“Perhaps I’ll sing till the moment I journey on to another realm, or maybe even beyond that. Who knows, I could be a bird in the next life, in which case this is only my training.”
Melody Gardot will perform at 8 p.m. on Sunday, June 6, at the Westhampton Beach Performing Arts Center. Tickets are $40, $55 or $70, available online at www.whbpac.org; by calling the PAC box office at 288-1500; or at the PAC at 76 Main Street in Westhampton Beach between noon and 6 p.m. Wednesday through Sunday and later on show nights.
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One fine body…