Claudia Villela

“Brazilian-born genius with a blistering voice.” — Jazz Times

Recently I had the opportunity to interview vocalist/composer Claudia Villela, born in Rio de Janeiro and based in Calfornia for the past 30 years. She’s preparing for a tribute to the great Elis Regina at SFJAZZ on July 21, as well as performances this coming week with Vitor Concalves at Columbia City Theater in Seattle (July 15) and with the Claudia Villela Group at Don Quixote Music Hall in Felton, CA (July 17).

Ken: I saw your performance with Hermeto Pascoal, it was amazing. How did you get to the point where you were able to be on stage with this great artist and sing with great confidence?

It’s a long story… I’m a  great fan of his. I was attending his show in Rio in the early 80’s , probably ’82, with my boyfriend, and at some point during the performance I just let out this note, very high. I was high with the music, in the middle of it, I just let it out,  and it went over the band. He heard it and stopped the music to ask, “Who was that!?” My God,  I know that if I just came out with “it’s me!” my life would be totally different. But I was shy. Well, years passed and I went to visit him at his house and attended some of his shows in the U.S. (I moved here in October ’84) and, of course, we jammed together. Later, at a party he told me, “You are all the singers in one.” Soon, when I said to his son Fabio I was going to be in town , he invited me to sit in.  I actually have a recording of it that someone sent me. I haven’t heard it yet, I can send it to you if you are interested, as well as pics jamming with him at a friend’s house in the late 90’s. We love each other because we feel this bond with the music. Like he says, “She feels it.” It’s a huge wonderful medal on my chest that I carry for having his respect, can you imagine? I also have a picture of us recently at SFJAZZ on stage, when he was saying all these wonderful things. I couldn’t believe that it was actually happening!

 Ken: What teachers and musicians led you to your own singing style?

Claudia Villela

Everything and everybody, but there are some that I’m more attached to, like Villa Lobos, Milton, Elis, Egberto, Guinga, Toninho Horta, Led Zeppelin, Bach, Satie, Debussy, Pat Metheny, Coltrane, Miles, Corea, Brecker — the list goes on and on. Also, two special piano teachers I had for a short while, one was an older lady who once wrote me a card I saved. It said something like this:” Hve courage , the path is long, so practice every day, every little day counts for a long time.” Your singing style is “like painting on a canvas.” I’m just so thrilled to be able to express and communicate, I think my style comes from everybody, from guitar players to street vendors to Maria Callas to the blind man singing on the corner by my school.

 Ken: How much improvisation do you use in your performances?

Like Hermeto, I don’t premeditate things, I’m at my best when I get out of my own way and just let music speak through me. So it depends on the situation, but if I can choose, I much rather do all improvisation than have everything rehearsed, when I can’t relax and then the music doesn’t really happen!

 Ken: What is a way for American listeners to prepare to hear your tribute concert coming to SFJAZZ?

As a listener, just improvise your response, come with open ears and heart, no preparation needed, and don’t expect anything in particular. Let the music happen.

Ken: What gave you the idea for this tribute?

I love Elis Regina, how could one not? I always learn something from her as a singer and as an artist and woman. She deserves to live on!

Ken: Who is in your band at the SFJAZZ concert, and why are you using them?

Vitor Gonçalves (piano /acordion), Jeff Buenz (guitars), Gary Brown (bass), Celso Alberti (drums/percussion). Because I’m kind of sentimental, they are family to me, besides being great musicians.

 Ken: Brazilian musicians often seem to have an overwhelming joy and sensuality to their music. How would you define this Brazilian spirit?

We are “kid like,” I think, and still keep the curiosity and enthusiasm for doing what we love. We have come to this world to share our joy and freedom, right?

Ken: What is there in the Brazilian community that leads to the development of so many incredible musicians?

Hmmm. Rice and beans and bananas  every day, hahaha. I dont know, but we are sure mutts and mutts are more fun!

 Ken: What is your dream for success here in the U.S.?

 I’ve recorded and produced 4 original material CDs with Toots Thielemans, Michael Brecker, Airto Moreira, Kenny Werner and Toninho Horta, to name a few. Now I’m releasing a double live CD soon, hope to get lots of gigs! I just want to be able to do as much music as I can with the best musicians and to perform for people who appreciate what we do.

Ken: If you could record with anyone in the history of jazz, who would that be?

From the past: Miles, and as far as someone playing now, Pat Metheny.

Ken: Thank you, see you at the show!

For more about Claudia Villela, see her website at www.claudiavillela.com