Melody Gardot (born February 2, 1985) is a Grammy-nominated American singer, writer and musician in Philadelphia. She has been influenced by such blues and jazz artists as Judy Garland, Janis Joplin, Miles Davis, Duke Ellington, Stan Getz and George Gershwin as well as Latin music artists such as Caetano Veloso. Her music has been compared to that of Nina Simone.
Gardot follows the teachings of Buddhism, is a macrobiotic cook and humanitarian who often speaks about the benefits of music therapy. She has visited various universities and hospitals to speak about its ability to help reconnect neural pathways in the brain, improve speech ability, and lift general spirits. In 2012, it was reported that she had given her name to a music-therapy program in New Jersey. Gardot considers herself a “citizen of the world”.
While cycling in Philadelphia in November 2003 she was hit by a car whose driver had ignored a red traffic light. In the accident she suffered serious head and spinal injuries and her pelvis was broken in two places. Because of these severe injuries she was confined to her hospital bed for a year and had to remain lying on her back. As a further consequence of her injuries she had to re-learn simple tasks such as brushing her teeth and walking. The most noticeable effect of the neural injuries she suffered is that she was left hyper-sensitive to both light and sound, therefore requiring her to wear dark sunglasses at nearly all times to shield her eyes. The accident also resulted in both long and short term memory problems and difficulty with her sense of time. Gardot has described coping with this as like “climbing Mount Everest every day” as she often wakes with no memory of what she has to do that day.
Initially prompted by an attending physician who believed music would help her brain injury drastically improve, Gardot began writing music after her accident and now often speaks about and advocates music therapy. The accident had damaged the neural pathways between the brain’s two cortices, which control perception and higher mental function, and made Gardot (in her own words) “a bit of a vegetable.” As well as making it very hard for her to speak or communicate properly, she found it difficult to recall the right words to express her feelings.
Music involving listening and making a verbal attempt to sing or hum is thought to help the brain form new pathways. At first, Gardot learned to hum and was eventually able to sing into a tape recorder. She made good progress and was eventually able to write original songs that sometimes referred to her rehabilitation.
Gardot’s doctor at the University of Medicine of New Jersey, Richard Jermyn, compared her condition to a computer. The computer was still intact and the memory was there but she could not access it. “That’s what a brain injury does – It takes your ability to access that away”, Jermyn stated.
For several years after the accident Gardot traveled with a physiotherapist and carried a transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS) machine strapped to her waist which released pain reducing impulses. While onstage Gardot explains, “the first maybe half a dozen times experiencing this, that was the only 30 minutes in my life that I did not feel pain for that moment. And it was addictive.” And so from her accident to her first performances, her music career was born. “It was a most unusual start, but when you come from a place where things are tough it makes it that much easier to appreciate the times when life is easy”, she said.
After her accident, Gardot could not listen to the music she had listened to before, as she could not tolerate anything above a whisper. Because of this, she had to find quieter, more soothing music to listen to. She recalls that while on the treadmill learning to walk again, she would listen to Stan Getz’sThe Bossa Nova Years album. Because Gardot could not sit comfortably at a piano, she learned to play guitar on her back while in the hospital and shortly after began to write her own music. During her recovery, she wrote material that later became part of a five song EP, “Some Lessons: The Bedroom Sessions” that Gardot produced herself. Gardot was reluctant to record her songs at first, stating that they were too private for the public to hear. However she soon relented and her songs were soon being played on a Philadelphia radio station.
During her time in hospital she learned how to play the guitar and began writing songs, which were made available as downloads on iTunes and released on Some Lessons: The Bedroom Sessions in 2005. She began to play these songs at venues in Philadelphia and was spotted by the radio station WXPN, operated by the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia, which helped to launch Norah Jones. As well as playing her songs, WXPN encouraged her to assemble a demo, which was quickly picked up by Universal.
Released in 2006 and then re-released in 2008 on Verve Records (and UJC in the UK, both independent subsidiaries of UMG), her first full-length album was entitled Worrisome Heart. After meeting her in New York City in 2008, producer Larry Klein began working with Gardot and they released her second album, My One and Only Thrill, on April 28, 2009. From this album, the song “Who Will Comfort Me?” became a top 10 hit at Smooth Jazz radio. Also in 2009, Gardot released a live EP, Live from SoHo. Gardot is a recipient of the 2007 VSA International Young Soloists Award.
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