Brazilian Jazz Pianist, Singer, And Composer Eliane Elias Is Set To Perform At A Jazz Concert In Mumbai

Brazilian Jazz Pianist, Singer, And Composer Eliane Elias Is Set To Perform At A Jazz Concert In Mumbai

In an interaction with The Free Press Journal, Eliane rewinds to her younger days and her foray into singing

Verus FerreiraUpdated: Sunday, May 26, 2024, 01:36 PM IST
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Photo: Courtesy of the Artist

Eliane Elias who is regarded as one of the top jazz pianist and vocalists in the jazz world is coming to Mumbai for a concert at the Tata Theatre, NCPA, on May 30. In an interaction with The Free Press Journal, Eliane rewinds to her younger days and her foray into singing. She also shares how the piano has become an extension of herself. Get ready to sway with Eliane and her quartet of musicians who have promised an uplifting musical experience for attendees.

Excerpts from the interview:

What is planned for your concert in Mumbai?

At this concert in Mumbai I am bringing my usual quartet of Marc Johnson on bass, Leandro Pellegrino on guitar and Rafael Barata on drums and we’ll be performing some music from my Grammy winning albums ‘Mirror Mirror’ and my most recent album ‘Quietude’. We’ll also  bring on some of my music spanning my entire career. I promise you, it will be a very uplifting musical experience.

What got you interested in music?

I was born in Sao Paulo, Brazil. My mother and maternal grandmother were both very musical, especially my mom who played classical piano and loved jazz pianists. I started studying piano at age 7 and picked it up quickly. My mom acquired a large collection of jazz recordings and I fell in love with the music, especially the pianists. I was transcribing the solos of my favorite pianists by the time I was ten and entered the best school of music in Sao Paulo, C.L.A.M., at age 13. By the time I was fifteen, I was teaching at C.L.A.M.

And what about piano and later jazz?

My mother took me to a private teacher to study the piano as part of my general education. But soon, it was clear that I had a special talent and facility for the instrument and my interest in music accelerated at a rapid pace. Regarding my voice, I grew up in a country where music was primarily vocal music, especially on the radio and television. The Brazilian songs were vocal songs and I learned the lyrics to every song I heard. Jazz for me was instrumental music. I sang vocalese and songs with lyrics even on my first recording in 1984 called Amanda. My focus in the first twenty years of my career was on instrumental music, my compositions and piano playing. The transition from wordless vocals to singing lyrics happened gradually starting in the early nineties and culminated in 1998 with the album “Eliane Elias Sings Jobim”. Since then, my recordings and live shows have blended my pianism with my singing.

Did you find any difference once you made the switch?

I noticed that I reached the audience in a different, quite meaningful way. The added bonus was that singing vocals opened the door to include much more repertoire. So things just kind of happened as an evolution over time with the underlying motivation of truly wanting to give the moscomplete and enriching musical experience that I can.

Do you think jazz can be a business today or someday?

For jazz performers, there will always be an audience for creative music. In a broader sense, I see places in the world where there are like-minded people that have pooled their resources and created some spaces for jazz musicians and for the propagation of the art form. Places like Jazz at Lincoln Center and SFJazz in San Francisco come to mind. There is an abundance of information out there for anyone curious to go deeper into it, from a performance perspective as well as an informed listening perspective.

Tell us about ‘Mirror Mirror’ and your latest work ‘Quietude’.

‘Mirror Mirror’ is an album of piano duets. My partners in this project were Chick Corea and Chucho Valdes. I had known Chick since my earliest days as a professional pianist. Over the years, we stayed in touch and often spoke about recording some duets together. With Chucho, I became enamored of the idea of recording duets with him when I heard him performing with his father, Bebo. In 2019, the stars aligned and we made it happen. The results can be heard on this Grammy and Latin Grammy Award winning recording. ‘Quietude’ is my most recent release and is a total contrast to the all-instrumental piano recording. I would say it’s an album focused on the voice. It’s a bossa nova album of some of my favorite Brazilian songs and featuring some of the best Brazilian guitarists of this genre. It’s a beautiful album and was also nominated for both Grammy and Latin Grammy awards.

What practice routine or exercise you follow to maintain and improve your musical ability especially pertaining to rhythm?

I really just play at home for my own pleasure or when I’m composing or working on a new arrangement for my group. At this point, the piano is such a deeply connected extension of my mind, heart and body that I don’t feel any technical encumbrances interfering with whatever I want to express. All the work I put in during my youth studying classical music and the hours of transcribing music from recordings really prepared me to execute whatever musical ideas I have. Also, there is nothing like constantly performing in front of an audience to sharpen your concentration and hone one’s skills. Sometimes when I hear myself back on a live recording, I can’t believe what I’m doing, it’s like having a split brain or hearing two different people performing.

What’s your current piano musical setup?

I’m a Steinway artist. I own four Steinway pianos; a model B, a model Z, an upright and a model L I also have a Brazilian piano by Fritz Dobbert that I keep in an apartment in Sao Paulo for when I visit there. For live vocals I use either a Sennheiser 935 or a Telefunken M81.

Many aspiring musicians are always looking for advice when navigating the music business. Is there any piece of advice you can offer to aspiring students?

It is challenging to be in the business of music from just about any perspective whether you are in journalism, record production, concert promotion, or music performance. That said, if a person feels that they have a calling to be in the world of music, like anything else in life, pursue it with all your heart and mind. I have always believed in following your heart and being true to yourself. Only you can know if the effort you are making is worth it. Ultimately, you have to love what you are doing or you won’t fully invest yourself in it.

Anything new you are working on?

My listening attention these days is usually on research for my own projects which can take me into many directions. My own work the past 8 years has found me collaborating with Mark Kibble from the vocal group, Take 6. I love their music and enjoy listening to them. Mark’s background vocals are featured on six of the eight pieces on my new album ‘Time and Again’ which is scheduled to be released on 28th June. Each song touches a different emotional place from exuberance and elation to reflective contemplation and light- hearted humor. I think it’s some of my best work to date.

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