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Luciana Souza: The Voice of the New Bossa Nova

By Published: October 25, 2007

AAJ: While you were born with deep roots in bossa nova you were also listening to jazz and singers like Joni Mitchell in your youth. What was the door that opened you to this different music?

LS: I think I was very fortunate to have grown up in Brazil during a time where there were less records being released, and there was much less competing for one's attention. Consequently, when an artist like James Taylor, Joni Mitchell, or Steely Dan put a record out, it was an important event in our lives. It was an opportunity to sit down and immerse ourselves in the world of a great poet. Brazil is a country that has its eyes and ears open to the world, while still keeping a strong sense of its own identity. I am also the youngest of many kids, so I was exposed to a lot of different music by my siblings, as well as my parents, who were musicians and songwriters. Our house was a gathering place for many of the great upcoming Brazilian artists of that time.

AAJ: And now you are basically a jazz vocalist. You were awarded Female Jazz Singer of the Year by the Jazz Journalists Association in 2005, named Top Rising Star Female Vocalist in Down Beat's 2004 Critics Poll and three of your seven albums were nominated for Grammy Awards, not to mention that you teach at the Manhattan School of Music. People who are not familiar with your career may think that all this success happened overnight, but it didn't, did it?

LucianaLS: I am a vocalist and a musician. I no longer see the need to categorize music in regard to it being jazz, pop, or classical. The lines have blurred in our world. In order to create vital music, I believe that one has to transcend boundaries. That is what people who are creating exciting music in this time, or any era are doing. Stravinsky wasn't adhering to the rules of fitting into a genre, nor was Miles. Music that is made by category is ready for the reliquary. I have had many opportunities to sing with and learn from different artists. My musical life started in Brazil in my childhood, and continued through the schools I went to, the recordings I have made with different people, the classes I have taught, the many times I stepped onstage with different musicians in different projects. It has been a life full of the generosity of others, and I am so grateful.

AAJ: What advice would you provide to the many aspiring musicians that come from all over the world to the US year-after-year expecting to succeed?

LS: The only thing I can suggest is patience. The music world is full of very talented people who don't get to enjoy the success they deserve. Make the music that you feel inside yourself. Don't make music for critics, for record company attention, or to sell. Make music that speaks to your heart. Try to assimilate the masters, and then learn to speak in your own voice.

AAJ: Talking about success, how did you come to work with [composer/arranger/bandleader] Maria Schneider and how challenging is it?

LS: I have always been a huge admirer of Maria's music. She is an exceptional person, and an extraordinary writer and orchestrator. As complex as her music is, it is also very vocal. She sings each horn line to herself as she is writing them. This is why her music sounds so human and so good.

AAJ: How was it like working with Herbie Hancock in his new CD where, again, you are singing a Joni Mitchell's song?

LS: It was wonderful. I have always loved the song "Amelia," and I'm sure that you can imagine that singing around Wayne Shorter and Herbie Hancock is a dream for any musician. I love the way Wayne and Herbie dialogue with each other and comment on the poetry. The foundation given by Dave Holland and Vinnie Colaiuta is also perfect for the telling of the story. I find Herbie's record sublime. And it was produced by my husband...

AAJ: There's and old saying that says, "No one is a prophet in his own land". How do Brazilians look at your work, specially The New Bossa Nova?

LS: The record has had a wonderful reception in Brazil. The quote that you cited is more of an apt description of the record's reception by some American jazz critics. Some people want you to remain in one place. I've always craved creative challenges, and needed to evolve in my music. I think that if they take the time to listen carefully, anyone who listens to this album will hear the subtle beauty that is present in the poetry, arrangements and playing.

Luciana SouzaAAJ: This is your first album for Universal, a major record label. What expectations do you have for this new partnership and where do you expect it to take you in the near future? Will you go back to poets like Neruda or new ones?

LS: I am very interested in seeing this record through. I am in no hurry to get started on anything else. I want to savor all of the opportunities given to me by this bigger label. I'd like to be able to travel and perform in countries where I have not done so yet—this is my first record to have worldwide distribution.

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