From Chile, Claudia Acuña knew early on that she wanted to be a singer but had no idea that she would find her way to jazz, as there were few opportunities for jazz encounters in Chile. She began by singing Chilean folk and pop music and later tried rock, fusion and opera before coming upon her first musical career model--Frank Sinatra--at age 15. After years of always improvising instead of just singing the notes on the page, Acuña finally felt at home when she heard Sinatra, Erroll Garner and then Sara Vaughan. She thought to herself: This is what I needed to find.
So,after finishing high school, Acuña moved to Santiago and headed for the one jazz club in town. She quickly made a name for herself in the small Santiago jazz scene and was featured on the club's live radio broadcast. Musicians told her she was a born jazz singer and she began sitting in with them, including with such foreign jazz stars as Wynton Marsalis, Michel Petrucciani, Joe Lovano and Danilo Perez.
Finally Acuña decided she had to move to New York City if she were to fully explore jazz and make her way in the music. Not knowing much English, her goals were to learn th language, visit the legendary Village Vanguard and join in on jam sessions. She did all three and soon became a fixture at Small's, the influential jazz club in the Village at the time which recently closed.At Small's she jammed regularly and befriended many musicians including Jason Lindner, now her pianist, collaborator and friend. But it was her job as a coat check girl at the Blue Note that provided Acuña with her highest-profile jam opportunity - a chance to sing in front of Betty Carter, one of her idols. Afterwards Carter came up to acuña and proclaimed, Surprise, surprise, the coat check girl can sing.