She’s a success story of a different sort for the Israeli army, for it was there that pop-jazz singer-songwriter/guitarist Dida Pelled paid her dues—and found her direction.
That direction—to branch out from instrumental guitar play to singing and then songwriting—first took her to New York, where four years later, she’ll graduate from the New School for Jazz and Contemporary Music in May. But she’s already made a mark as a performer and recording artist, and is building a devoted following with regular club performances featuring her renditions of jazz standards and insightful originals, immaculate jazz/blues guitar play (on the classic Gibson ES175 jazz guitar) and a soft voice that draws the listener in deep.
At City Winery last week opening for the New Standards, she and upright bassist/collaborator Tal Ronen covered Bob Dylan (“I’ll Be Your Baby Tonight”) and “one of my favorites,” Blossom Dearie (“Blossom’s Blues”), though with Pelled’s own sexy personalized bits and “Dida” name-scatting.
But Pelled's originals really stood out, and included the poignant “Apology To A Mouse In A Glue Trap” (“Sorry little guy/You don’t deserve to die/Today was not your day to come out to play”)—all songs sung with barely the hint of an Israeli accent.
“I have more of an accent when I speak,” says Pelled, “but I listen to a lot of music in English, so it’s more natural to me to sing in English.”
Incredibly, Pelled didn’t begin writing songs until she moved here.
“I left Israel when I was 20--after high school and two years in the army,” she recalls. “I played guitar in an army band, which was one of the triggers for me to want to sing: We were playing for soldiers around the country--so no one wanted to hear jazz! So we played Israeli songs and I sang background, and it got me wanting to sing songs that weren’t jazz. It was a very important experience for me in getting me to sing--and sing in other genres as well.”
She played straight-ahead jazz guitar in Israel, her influences including the likes of Wes Montgomery and Grant Green. In New York, she fell under the bluesier spell of Tony Scherr, “the most soulful guitar player I’ve ever heard.”
“Before I moved here I knew I wanted to start singing—so I tried for the first time,” Pelled continues. “It opened up a whole new thing for me!”
She began playing guitar and singing jazz standards Sunday nights at Lelabar in the West Village, where trumpet player Fabio Morgera discovered her.
“He came a few times and talked to me about making a record for an Italian label he was working with,” she says. Morgera produced Plays And Sings, an album of jazz standards including “Our Love Is Here To Stay” and “After You’ve Gone,” which was released to great acclaim on Italy’s Red Records in 2011 and featured Morgera and Roy Hargrove on trumpet, Ronen on bass and Gregory Hutchinson on drums.
But Pelled is now looking to record her original material--largely written with fellow Israeli Ronen—while simultaneously building a base back home.
“I go back at least twice a year—once in the summer and once in winter for a month or two,” she says. “I never had much time to perform there before moving here, and didn’t start writing and singing until after I left. But I recently started writing Hebrew songs—in the middle of the night!”
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