Ithamara Koorax: Celestial Elegance
AAJ: You've performed all over the world. In what locations do you particularly enjoy performing?
IK: Each place, each city, each venue, each country has its own charm and enchantment. And each audience reacts in a very different way. The Japanese are very quiet and take notice of all details. You can listen to the sound of silence in their concert halls (of course, open-air concerts lead to another mood). South Koreans are more enthusiastic. They scream when they recognize an intro. Jazz is a kind of pop music there, not a separate segment of the marketChick Corea, Pat Metheny and Bob James are famous there like Madonna, Lady Gaga and Britney Spears. I know the Korean market very well. My albums have been released there since 1995, and many made the pop charts. I was the first Brazilian artist that ever toured Korea, in 2005Sergio Mendes went there the following month and was secondso I developed a huge following there. I also did memorable concerts in jazz festivals in Serbia, Bulgaria, Switzerland, the UK, the Czech Republic and Finland.
There have been also some great concerts in Paris at the Carreau du Temple. The jazz clubs in Germany are great, too. There was a very moving concert in the USA: In 2008, I sang with Gaudencio Thiago de Mello's Amazon Big Band in a concert at CUNY University in New York, promoted by the United Nations to celebrate the 60th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. I was backed by musicians from all over the world. It was difficult to me to sing that concert because I was crying all the time.
AAJ: Was there music in your home as you grew up? Were either of your parents, or another close family member, musicians?
IK: My parents were Polish Jews who came to Brazil as fugitives from World War II. My father liked jazz. My mother was an operatic singer. We listened to a lot of music: jazz, classical, Brazilian folk music, pop music and singers like Sinatra, Bennett and my favorite, Barbra Streisand. But my father died when I was very young, and things changed. There were very tough times, economically speaking. I used to take a train and travel six hours to Sao Paulo twice a week for classical singing lessons and piano lessons with great teachers who believed in me and didn't charge my mother. Later on, I had to cook and sell cakes on campus to pay for my music course.
My family affairs were always very problematic. To escape from problems in my house, I married at a very early age, and one month later I found out he was an alcoholic, a very sensitive guy that loved music but who, after a single beer, could become very violent. It came to the point I had to run away from my own home, left him living there and rented my own small apartment in Rio. Finally I got a divorce in late 1989, and everything changed for better. In January 1990, I started my professional career, and my first engagement was an eventfrom writer Paulo Coelho to Formula One champion Airton Senna, everybody attended my concerts.
AAJ: There's a nice mix of pop, jazz and Brazilian music on Got to Be Real, which leads one to wonder how you tailor your approach based on the material you're singing. How do you approach all this different type of musicthe same, or differently?
IK: There's just one rule: I sing it my way. And they need to be great tunes, no matter if they are labeled jazz, pop, fusion, samba, spaghetti or lasagna. But after the story of each song touches me, after they choose me, after they touch my heart and soul, I'm allowed to interpret them in my way.
AAJ: What are some of your own favorite songs to sing, and why?
IK: Songs that I feel I can add something very personal to. Some years ago, a Japanese producer tried to convince me to record an album of songs that Flora Purim recorded during her Return to Forever days as well as her solo career. Of course I refused, and the guy became very angry and said I lost a great opportunity. I don't think so. I can occasionally sing "500 Miles High" or "Light As A Feather" in a special concert but never make them an essential part of my own book. That producer wanted to create a "hip competition," but I hate competition. I hate contests. Music is love, not competition.
There are also songs that I love to sing in concerts with symphony orchestras but have never recordedespecially Dave Brubeck's "Strange Meadowlark," Michele Colombier's "Emmanuel" and gems by Michel Legrand such as "How Do You Keep The Music Playing," "What Are You Doing the Rest of Your Life" and "Pieces of Dreams." I must also mention great songs by underrated composers like Rodgers Grant ("Morning Star"), Ross Schneider ("Apple of My Eye") and Chris Conway ("Science Fiction Eyes"). I would love to record them someday.