While growing up in Los Angeles during the '80s, Gretchen Parlato was a "Valley Girl" who came of age weaned on new wave and pop.
"I guess it was unavoidable, growing up there," Parlato said. "I actually did live in the Valley, in Sherman Oaks, so new wave was everywhere."
But she was also exposed to jazz and other forms of music. "I always had an appreciation for jazz," she said. "I heard all kinds of music. There was classical and, well, everything."
In the end, it was jazz that won her heart. Now 35, Parloto will headline the Wichita Jazz Festival on Saturday night. She'll be performing with guitarist Lionel Loueke on the 40th anniversary of the Wichita Jazz Festival. This year's festival, titled "Echoes of Africa," highlights the influence of Africa on jazz and modern art.
Parlato is well known for her work with the Grammy-winning jazz star Esperanza Spalding. In between recording and touring with Spalding last year, Parlato found time to record her third album.
"I wanted to become a singer," Parlato said, thinking back to her early days. "I did a lot of soul searching and I went with something that to me is so honest and genuine. I love jazz. There's just something about the beauty and the history of jazz. I didn't sing jazz until I was 15 and I found that it was the right (genre) for me."
She turned many ears with her 2009 album, "In A Dream," which deftly combined standards and modern.
"I just went with what felt right," she said. "I enjoyed making that album. I felt like I was taking a good step with it."
Parlato is taking another step with "The Lost and Found," released two weeks ago. She kicks off the disc with a re-arranged version of Simply Red's "Holding Back The Years."
"I always thought that was such a good, pretty song," she said. "I made a go of that and it worked out so well."
Parlato has become a strong writer. She co-wrote two tracks on "In A Dream" and wrote four songs on her own in "The Lost And Found."
"I felt very comfortable writing," Parlato said. "I enjoyed writing the songs and since I did more of it, I feel like this album is more revealing. You can watch or listen to me grow when you listen to the album."
Parlato will sing some of her songs from the new album Saturday night in Wichita, a place she's never visited before.
"I've only ever lived in Los Angeles and New York," she said. "What's great about what I do is that I get to travel to places and see jazz fans in places like Wichita. I'm sure I'm going to enjoy the festival there."
If you go
Wichita jazz festival
What: Featuring vocalist Gretchen Parlato with guitarist Lionel Loueke.
Where: CAC Theater, Wichita State University
When: 8 p.m. Saturday
How much: Tickets $25, $15 for WSU faculty/staff and military, $10 for students by calling 316-978-3233, online at www.wichita.edu/j/?982