Claudia Villela's haunting improvisations and her arresting five-octave range have earned her an enthusiastic and devoted following. Claudia's passionately independent spirit, coupled with a unique gift for evoking her rich musical heritage, have established her as one of jazz' most impressive vocalists. "...Completely natural and unaffected" (Village News), Claudia wows audiences with her ability to create magic from a seemingly limitless well of inspiration.
Growing up in Rio de Janeiro, Claudia Villela would fall asleep at night listening to the sounds of a samba school practicing behind her grandmother's home. "I awoke to the melodies my mother sang while my father played harmonica", she recalls. "I was influenced by a rich musical diet. My music is the sum of all of the sounds I've heard - from Brazilian macumba, to free form jazz, to classical music. It comes from all those memories."
Claudia's musical education began early. Her parents gave her a pianola, an accordion-like instrument, on her first birthday. She was soon composing her first songs. As a teenager, Claudia performed around Rio and picked up studio work. She composed original material and made a name for herself by contributing completely improvised vocals to award-winning movie soundtracks. At the same time, she was strongly drawn to medicine and eventually decided to merge her two passions, graduating with a degree in Music Therapy from the Brazilian Conservatory of Music in 1983.
"I was fascinated by the link between psychology and physiology, the healing aspect of music." Treating patients with music introduced Claudia to the shamanic side of musical sound. "Intuition is so important," she says. "To this day, when I'm singing, I go to the emotion, the power that moves people. I'm looking for real moments of connection."
In 1984 Claudia moved from Rio to California. Initially, she spoke no English, but soon found that music was the language in which she could easily communicate. She began singing with the Stanford University Chorus, and joined the De Anza College Jazz Singers, which won first prize in Down Beat's vocal jazz competition. She won a number of scholarships and was invited to study with jazz vocalist Sheila Jordan at New York's Manhattan School of Music as well as with John Robert Dunlap of the Metropolitan Opera.
Santa Cruz' famed Kuumbwa Jazz Center became a home-away-from-home for Claudia. She deeply absorbed the music she heard there and developed lasting friendships with many leading jazz musicians. Now the club serves as a standing room only nexus for Claudia's own Bay Area following.
Inverse Universe, Claudia's national recording debut with Adventure Music, was recorded with long-time musical partner guitarist Ricardo Peixoto. The Peixoto-Villela collaboration has been hailed as "New millenium Brazilian music."(Latin Beat Magazine). The duo grew up in the same Botafogo neighborhood but did not meet until Claudia arrived in California, on her second day in town. One of the pairs' recent triumphs was to record a live performance at the Santa Fe Jazz Festival that aired on National Public Radio's Jazzset program, hosted by Branford Marsalis.
Inverse Universe was released locally in the Bay Area and was honored as one of the top discs of 2001, winning such accolades as "....Peixoto's gorgeous arrangements provide lithe acoustic settings for Villela's soaring voice....the potent combination makes this an album that draws you in deeper with each listen" (San Francisco Examiner). Michael Brecker raves, "their incredible talents continue to amaze!" The legendary master of the harmonica Toots Thielemans appears on the album.
Claudia first committed her awesome songwriting and vocal talents to record with the 1984 release Asa Verde. An illustrious group of players including Toninho Horta, Danny Gottlieb, Harvie S and Michael Brecker joined Claudia on her 1996 sophomore set Supernova. She has also recorded an improvised live-in-studio album with pianist Kenny Werner titled Dream Tales. Asa Verde and Dream Tales will be re-issued by Adventure Music.
"I don't go for the premeditated, calculated thing when I'm performing...I like an aspect of losing myself, of going into the unknown. I'll just take the conditions of the moment and make something of it. It can be magical and people really get it." So do the critics. In 1997, Claudia was nominated for Jazz Singer of the Year by the National Association of Independent Record Distributors (NAIRD). Mark Holston of Jazziz described Villela as "intelligent and seductive". Helcio Milito, one of the godfathers of bossa nova, declared Claudia "the biggest expression of Brazilian music in the U.S. today."
KENNY WERNER'S BIOGRAPHY:
Born November 19, 1951 in Brooklyn, Kenny Werner's introduction to music and performing came at the age of four when he joined a children's song and dance group. At the age of eleven, he recorded a single with a fifteen-piece orchestra and appeared on television playing stride piano. His love of the classics was nurtured when, while still in high school, he attended the Manhattan School of Music, where he became a concert piano major upon completion of his high school studies. Werner's emotional need to improvise began to take him out of the classical world, and into the world of jazz. So, in 1970, he transferred to the Berklee School of Music. There he began to find his creative direction. In Boston he met his piano teacher and spiritual guide, Madame Chaloff "She was the first person I met who pulled together spiritual and musical aspects," recalls Werner. She ignited in him a concept that was furthered by his next teacher, Juao Assis Brasil, a concert pianist who successfully demonstrated to Werner effortless piano playing with a self-loving attitude. Werner met Mr. Brasil while touring South America with Juao's twin brother, Victor Assis Brasil. This ideology blossomed in Werner and constitutes his approach to music and creativity today.
From the mid-nineties till this time (2002), he most often plays in duet with Toots Thielemans or performs his own music, mostly with his current trio that features Ari Hoenig on drums and Johannes Wiedenmueller on bass. Most recently he is performing his works for Jazz orchestra, orchestra and other ensembles. He has been invited to classical festivals to play his music and write for those various ensembles. In September, 2002 his new trio CD is coming out entitled Beat Degeneration and in January 2003 a new CD of his big band compositions with the Brussels Jazz Orchestra. The title of the CD is Naked In the Cosmos.
To that end, in January of 1997, his book, Effortless Mastery was published and has caused ripples in the music world, changing many musicians conception about how to practice, play, and listen. It is also causing those who have read the book or heard his clinics to grow spiritually and accept the true purpose of musicianship. Werner says, "I am getting responses from people almost daily about the effect the book is having on them, and I am a bit humbled by these responses. It not only challenges those musicians to change, it challenges me to be a worthy vessel for this message."
Of the future, he says, "I want to continue to lose myself more and more in the bliss of music. Not only do I benefit from the intoxication, but the audience resonates with their own bliss. In this way, the music wakes us all to who we really are." In the new millennium, perhaps it is time for musicians to abandon their limited concepts of what music is and who they are. Historically, we have been at the forefront of cultural and spiritual revolutions. It is time for us to drop our petty concerns of what is and isn't jazz and serve allow the music's original purpose to manifest: Music can express the inexpressible. It can bathe us all in light and love, and continues to be God's most potent tool of inducing ecstasy, which is our birthright.
Check out the artist's website:
1. Dream Tales
2. Through the Gates
3. Room 13
4. Deep Sea Angel Blues
6. Tom's Waters
7. All One
8. The Girl From Ponta Negra