What’s in a name? For the vocal supergroup launched at Manhattan’s Cornelia Street Café last January by Rebecca Martin, Gretchen Parlato and Becca Stevens, absolutely everything. While the triumvirate debuted under the gently self-mocking moniker Girls Gone Mild, the seed for a new name, Tillery, had already been planted. The project is still very much in a formative stage, with new original songs and arrangements being integrated into the act at just about every performance. No piece better embodies the trio’s spirit of love, respect and creative ambition than the song that gave the group its new identity.
Before it became the band’s name, “Tillery” was a work-in-progress over which Stevens had spent several years intermittently laboring in memory of Kenya Tillery, a rising film composer and songwriter who died from cancer in 2008 at the age of 36. Determined to honor her late friend’s spirit with a song reflecting her bountiful gift, Stevens hadn’t come close to completing the piece when she picked it up again, looking to bring new material to the first rehearsal with Parlato and Martin. Stevens had written three verses about spring as a season of healing, but was stuck on a lyric evoking winter as a metaphor for loss. Inspiration struck when she opened a volume of poetry by Jane Tyson Clement to a random page and found “February Thaw.” She adapted the poem’s striking final line, “So may we shout, so may we sing, O blessed thaw, O holy spring,” as the song’s rapturous chorus and ending vamp. Turning to another page, she found the poem “Winter.”