Ithamara Koorax: Celestial Elegance
AAJ: If we could put aside the considerable repertoire from Brazil, in what other ways has your Brazilian heritage shaped the way you sing?
IK: The main influence was on the rhythmic thing and how that rhythmic impulse affected my phrasing, my vocal attack. When I started to work with drummer Dom Um Romao in 1997, I improved a lot as a singer because I began to listen even more to all the rhythmic nuances and subtle beat changes. Curiously, last week I watched a Ron Carter interview on Brazilian TV, and when asked which bassists influenced him most, he answered, "No bassist, just J.J. Johnson." My main influences were not singers, although I loved many of them, such as Flora, Urszula Dudziak, Elis, Stellinha Egg, Betty Carter and, for ballads, Shirley Horn. I learned how to phrase by mostly listening to trumpeters like Lew SoloffI loved Blood, Sweat, Drum + BassRandy Brecker, Chet, Miles, Freddie Hubbard and, later on, drummers like Dom Um, Billy Cobham and Steve Gadd.
AAJ: We'd like to visit some of the best moments from some of your previous work. What do you like to remember about your Joao Gilberto Songbook with Juarez Moreira?
IK: A historic moment in my career. I'm forever grateful to Juarez, Joao Gilberto, Claus Ogerman and Arnaldo DeSouteiro for that project.
AAJ: You did two very different albums with Peter Scharli. What do you like to remember about the title track to O Grande Amor?
IK: A beautiful Jobim tune, which I learned by listening to the famous Getz/Gilberto album (Verve, 1963). It was a first take, but I could have done a better job. You must be very sad to sing that song. You need to be in real despair, and my only bad feeling when recording it was that I was frozen in the studio in Zurich. But Peter Scharli and the other guys did a great job, and critics all over the world loved it.
AAJ: And two questions about Obrigado Dom Um Romao: First, you and Scharli each previously did your own versions of "I Fall in Love Too Easily" and then did it together on Obrigado. What do you like to remember about the version on this album?
IK: I love both versions I didI mean, the one for Autumn in New York and later on for Obrigado Dom Um Romao. The real story behind it: I have always loved that song, especially the Sinatra version, but it only conquered my heart after I listened to a live recording done by Keith Jarrett and his Standards Trio I had purchased during one of my Japanese tours in the '90s. I became obsessed by Jarrett's interpretation and found a way to copy that recording to a cassette tape and listened to it all the time on my walkman. No matter what I was doingexercising, cooking, reading a bookI was listening to "I Fall in Love Too Easily." That's the difference between love and passion.
Then, during the Autumn in New York sessions, which we recorded in two nights with no overdubs, I asked the great German pianist Jurgen Friedrich to improvise an intro. I turned down all lights in the studio, felt the right moment to start singing, and the magic happened. Some years later, when I found out that Scharli also loved the song, I suggested that we should play it in our first tour together. People liked it, so we recorded it once again.
AAJ: And then, what do you like to remember about Dom Um Romao?
IK: A genius, a master, a mentor and a very special human being. God introduced us. I really believe he was put in my life by a divine touch. I learned so much by playing with him, and I know I was able to make him happy during his last years because he was considering retiring after a big tour he had done with Robert Palmer, and I said, "No wayyou'll play with me!" Arnaldo booked a European tour for us, and we did unforgettable sold-out concerts at London's Jazz Café in 1998, with the audience dancing all the time in a nonstop trance. He then joined my band, and we recorded on each others' albums and made music together until he passed away in 2005.
AAJ: If we could listen closely enough, what instrumentalists could we hear come through your singing?
IK: I think that all the guys mentioned before. I have an extreme respect for them all. Besides the instrumentalists, there are also the arrangers. Claus Ogerman, Don Sebesky and Michel Colombier taught me a lot about space and silence and how to use them as musical elements. These lessons are priceless.
AAJ: What is something you can share with AAJ readers that might surprise them to learn about you?
IK: I'm facing some serious health issues, but I keep performing. It's very important therapy. In 2012, I've already done 77 concerts in Brazil and abroad. I did a great European tour with Peter Scharli in April and May, and I'll do another one with my group that celebrates the release of Got To Be Real. We'll also do our annual Asian tour and perform for the first time in countries like Turkey and Chipre in October. I've also been doing a lot of classical concerts, singing pieces like Rachmaninoff's "Vocalise," Ogerman's "Tagore Lieder" and Henry Purcell's "Music For a While." The audience response is fantastic!
I also would like to develop my activities in electronic music. Some of the world's best DJs, like the Austrian master Parov Stelar and the German wiz Tom Novy, have remixed my recordings, and all the experiments in this dance area have been extremely successful. Nothing excludes anything. Good music is what matters. More than ever, I try to live each day as if it was the last day of my existence.
Finally, I must say that it's a big honor for me to be interviewed for AAJ. For a third-world artist, it's something that I never dreamed of in my wildest dreams. I must also take this opportunity to give my heartfelt thanks to all the great AAJ staff for having supported my work throughout the years. I treasure the AAJ reviews about my albums, and they made me want to honor your generous words and become a better artist each day.
Ithamara Koorax, Got to Be Real (Irma, 2012)
The Peter Schärli Trio featuring Ithamara Koorax: O Grande Amor (TCB, 2011,)
Ithamara Koorax and Juarez Moreira, Bim Bom: The Complete Joao Gilberto Songbook (Motéma, 2009)
Peter Schärli Trio, Obrigado Dom Um Romao (TCB, 2009)
Ithamara Koorax, Autumn in New York (Jazz Station, 2005)
Ithamara Koorax, Love Dance: The Ballad Album (Fantasy, 2003)
Dom Um Romao, Lake of Perseverance (Irma, 2001)
Ithamara Koorax, Serenade in Blue (Milestone, 2000)
Ithamara Koorax, Ithamara Koorax Sings the Luiz Bonfa Songbook (King, 1996)
Page 1: Elcio Paraiso/Bendita
All Other Photos: Courtesy of Ithamara Koorax