Jazz chanteuse Matassa returns to island

Greta Matassa in concert. - Courtesy of Darden Burns
Greta Matassa in concert.
— image credit: Courtesy of Darden Burns

She hasn’t been back since leaving BHS to start her singing career.

Since trading schoolbooks for a microphone, Greta Matassa has made her living as a singer.

“I’ve never had a straight job,” said Matassa, whose name is well-known on the Pacific Northwest jazz circuit.

Matassa’s parents were big jazz fans and from early on, she was, too.

She taught herself to sing by listening to recordings by jazz greats from the 1930s and ’40s, such as Billie Holiday, Ella Fitzgerald, Carmen McRae, Anita O’Day, Fred Astaire and Frank Sinatra.

She and her father, a visual artist, spent hours in old record stores and “talking about abstract expressionism and how that related to jazz.”

The family moved to Bainbridge while she was in middle school and in her junior year of high school, Matassa left the island.

“I pretty much knew what I wanted to do when I was 15,” she said. “I was very serious about it. I took off and did it.”

The year was 1980 and Matassa, then 17, headed to Salem, Ore., with her parents’ full support. She joined a piano man for a country club lounge act and learned the tricks of the trade.

“It was an interesting time,” she said, made more so with the eruption of Mount St. Helens.

After a year Matassa headed to Seattle to make it on her own. While looking to break into mainstream jazz, she blew out her voice singing rock and moved on to wedding receptions, where she made jazz contacts.

This led to gigs in jazz and top 40 bands and studio work. Diversification, she figured, was the best way to stay employed.

Expand-ing her singing portfolio, Matassa sang a program of Kurt Weill music for the Pacific Northwest Ballet “which put me in the legit field and eventually led to Spectrum Dance Theater.”

Then it was time to record songs she loved from big name and lesser-known composers.

Matassa will headline the First Sundays at the Commons concert on March 5.

It will be her first time playing Bainbridge since high school. In all the years since she left the island, she has not been back.

“Once or twice a year somebody will walk up to me from Bainbridge Island,” she said. “It’ll be fun to come out and do the concert here.

“I haven’t kept up with people in 20 years. I only cross it to go to Port Townsend for the jazz festival.”

Seattle has been the perfect base for Matassa, allowing her to blossom as a singer and raise her two children.

“I never actually traveled,” she said. “I’ve mostly worked in the Seattle area. I kind of got the best of both worlds.”

Matassa’s versatility and audience rapport shine through her one-woman tribute to Fitzgerald and Holiday, evenings of audience requests, concerts with the Seattle Men’s Chorus and big band and nightclub performances. She also does a lot of radio commercials and TV jingles, offers rhythm section workshops and has a full load of singing students.

“It’s never boring,” Matassa said. “I’ve got my fingers in a lot of different pies.”

Matassa is known for her musicianship as well as her vocal stylings. She’s comfortable singing in seemingly any venue, with big or small groups. In recognition, Earshot Jazz voted her the Northwest’s “best jazz vocalist” four times.

Her fifth CD, “Favorites From A Long Walk,” features several musicians, including pianist Darin Clendenin and bassist Clipper Anderson, who will perform with her on Bainbridge.

The songs – by some of Matassa’s favorite jazz singers – showcase her considerable talent. Standouts include “The Man With a Horn” and “If I Love Again.”

“I picked more obscure songs that people needed to hear again,” she said.

* * * * *

Uncommon jazz

First Sundays at the Commons presents jazz vocalist Greta Matassa at 4 p.m. March 5 at the Bainbridge Commons, 402 Brien Drive. Admission is $15 for adults and $10 for students at the door only.

For more information see or call 842-3380. See for more on Matassa.

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