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Laurie Antonioli

No American jazz singer has traversed a wider array of musical territory over the past five years than the Bay Area’s Laurie Antonioli. Exploring with her vaunted American Dreams Band, she organically transforms any song into a possibility-filled jazz vehicle, a journey that culminated most recently in 2014’s critically hailed Songs of Shadow, Songs of Light (Origin), an album based on the extraordinary music of Joni Mitchell. While named on numerous best-album-of-the-year lists, the album received particularly cherished accolades from Ms. Mitchell herself, who invited Antonioli to perform at SFJAZZ’s May 8 gala celebration in her honor alongside Kris Kristofferson, Kurt Elling, Brian Blade, Joe Jackson, Patti Austin, and Tom Scott, among others.

Antonioli follows up with Varuna (Origin), an album that takes her into very different sonic and emotional spaces. It’s a duo project that reunites her with piano legend Richie Beirach on a collection of utterly reimagined standards, spontaneous inventions, and Beirach originals featuring Antonioli lyrics (German bassist Pepe Berns joins on four of the album’s 13 tracks). In many ways, the album continues an intermittent but always probing musical conversation stretching back nearly three decades, a creatively charged relationship fueled by mutual musical admiration.

“Laurie is the real deal,” Beirach says. “She’s got a rich, elegant, colorful alto voice, great intonation, and amazingly creative and spontaneous phrasing. But most of all, she possesses that unteachable, unexplainable element of humanity deep down in every note she sings.”

Antonioli and Beirach first recorded together in 1992, a startlingly inventive encounter released by Nabel in 2005 as The Duo Session. With Antonioli holding down a professorship at Austria’s KUG University between 2002 and 2006 and Beirach teaching in Leipzig, they performed regularly in top clubs and concert halls around Europe. The prolific Beirach also began giving Antonioli his latest original tunes so that she could write lyrics to them, an activity that has formed the backbone of their creative collaboration. Varuna features three of these songs: the hauntingly cinematic “Inside My Dreams”; the sensuous ballad “My Love”; and the gently flowing title track, which establishes a shimmering feel that pervades the entire album.


A virtuosic player who first gained attention in the early 1970s with Stan Getz and Chet Baker, Beirach is a dauntingly prolific recording artist whose synthesis of Bill Evans and McCoy Tyner is streaked with a darkly romantic classical approach. It’s a sensibility that surfaces most conspicuously on a delectably spacious interpretation of “Haunted Heart,” as well as on an arrangement of Antonioli’s that interpolates Scriabin’s “Prelude in E-Flat Minor” into “My Funny Valentine” in a way that makes the well-worn standard sound utterly new. Their version of Harry Warren’s idyll “Summer Night”—complete with the lovely verse—begs the question of how the song has been so overlooked, while their impromptu version of “Over the Rainbow” throws down a gauntlet for singers who treat it as a chance to soar upward rather than inward.

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Primary Instrument

Voice / vocals

Willing to teach

Intermediate to advanced


Chair, Vocal Jazz Studies, The Jazzschool, Berkeley, California. See jazzschool.com for more information.


Album Discography

Recordings: As Leader | As Sideperson

The Constant Passage...

Origin Records



Origin Records


Songs of Shadow,...

Origin Records


American Dreams

Intrinsic Music


Where Flamingo Fly/Black is the Color

From: Foreign Affair
By Laurie Antonioli



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