Melody Gardot took up music as therapy to recover from a near-fatal accident.
Not because she’s incredibly lazy. Hardly. She was recovering from a near-fatal bicycle accident that at age 19 shattered her pelvis and left her with neurological damage. Her doctors suggested turning to music as therapy: So she took up guitar, learning to play on her back because it was too painful to sit up.
Now 23, Gardot’s jazz-inflected major label debut album “Worrisome Heart” has critics and music fans sitting up all over the place. Some call her the new Norah Jones. Gardot prefers to call herself Superwoman.
“I can see everything, I can hear everything,” she says referring to her post-accident hypersensitivity to light and sound.
She always wears shades. And her ears always ring. She sees the irony, too.
“I picked the most unusual path. I have a hard time with light and a hard time with sound and I sit on the stage almost every night with a lot of noise and a lot of light!”
Gardot talked to CNN about her unexpected career, discovering Buddha and learning the art of patience. Video Watch Gardot talk about her struggle »
CNN: Are you in pain?
Melody Gardot: It’s a relative state. Pain is something I experience on a daily basis, yes. But to what degree depends upon what I’m asked to do, what the nature of the journey is and where my head’s at.
CNN: As you’re getting all this attention and your career is on the up and up, are you worried that people focus too much on the accident and less on the music?
Gardot: Not so much because I’m a musician in the first sense. And in the second sense I’ve come from a very unusual place. But it’s a part of me. It’s not like a tag that you wear. It’s more something that flows through your veins.
I think of it like a bottle of wine. When I buy a bottle of wine I look at the label. I want to know about the vineyard, I want to know about the story behind it. And whether you’re investing in a night at a concert, a CD, or half an hour of your life to listen to something, you want to know a bit about what you’re getting into in advance. So I think that curiosity is just human nature and it doesn’t really bother me.
Besides, I have short-term memory problems. I forget I’ve talked about [the accident] anyway, so it’s all right!
CNN: You were 19 years old when you had the accident. So really you’ve only been a musician for a few years …
Gardot: About two.
CNN: Do you feel like success happened too soon? Like maybe you need more time to hone your skills?
Gardot: No. I feel like I’m 80 on the inside! But it is a surprise. And it certainly is not something I expected. And success is a relative term to me. To me success is happiness. And I’m happy so therefore I’m successful.
CNN: What do you think you might be doing had you not had the accident?
Gardot: I have no idea.
CNN: Why jazz?
Gardot: Why not? It’s just what I feel. There’s no contrived nature to it. And I don’t think what I do is just jazz. There are elements of jazz but it stems from a place that’s more parallel to blues and lyrics and songs that just come from emotions.
CNN: I hear that you’re into Buddhism. Is that something you got interested in before or after your accident?
Gardot: Afterwards. I was given a book by a friend and I opened it up and everything that was in there was what I was thinking. So I read a second book, and a third and I met some people who were Buddhists and I talked to some monks and I practiced and I evolved. Because let’s face it … spirituality is an evolution.
It has taught me the value of presence — and I don’t mean Christmas presents! Just being present in an everyday kind of way helped get me through a lot of the pain I had in the beginning. And it also helped me get through the mental blocks where you start to feel “Why did this happen?” or simple, small concerns. It taught me about greater concerns. So it was a very good thing for me.
CNN: So you’ve had to wrestle with feelings of anger and “why me” over the accident?
Gardot: No, not so much. I’m not someone who understands anger. It’s just not an emotion that I get. To me it’s senseless. It’s sort of like a half-thought. You don’t get all the way through to understanding [something] and you stop at anger. I didn’t really go with that.
CNN: What would you say is the most valuable lesson that you’ve learned in your life so far?
Gardot: I think patience. Because true patience is compassion and grace. Someone once asked me: “What do you think the biggest difference is between you and Norah Jones?” And I said “Well, she shelves Grammys, and I live like one!” Because I go so slow … walking with a cane. It taught me to surrender to what it is that I have been given and go with it. And that was patience, and thereby I was given the opportunity to understand grace. I’m sure I have much more to learn, but that was the biggest one.