Villela actually dances with her voice on top of Brazilian beats." - San Francisco Examiner
Claudia Villela's haunting improvisations and her arresting five-octave range have earned her an enthusiastic and devoted following. Claudia's passionately independent spirit, coupled with a unique gift for evoking her rich musical heritage, have established her as one of jazz' most impressive vocalists. "...Completely natural and unaffected" (Village News), Claudia wows audiences with her ability to create magic from a seemingly limitless well of inspiration.
Growing up in Rio de Janeiro, Claudia Villela would fall asleep at night listening to the sounds of a samba school practicing behind her grandmother's home. "I awoke to the melodies my mother sang while my father played harmonica", she recalls. "I was influenced by a rich musical diet. My music is the sum of all of the sounds I've heard - from Brazilian macumba, to free form jazz, to classical music. It comes from all those memories."
Claudia's musical education began early. Her parents gave her a pianola, an accordion-like instrument, on her first birthday. She was soon composing her first songs. As a teenager, Claudia performed around Rio and picked up studio work. She composed original material and made a name for herself by contributing completely improvised vocals to award-winning movie soundtracks. At the same time, she was strongly drawn to medicine and eventually decided to merge her two passions, graduating with a degree in Music Therapy from the Brazilian Conservatory of Music in 1983.
"I was fascinated by the link between psychology and physiology, the healing aspect of music." Treating patients with music introduced Claudia to the shamanic side of musical sound. "Intuition is so important," she says. "To this day, when I'm singing, I go to the emotion, the power that moves people. I'm looking for real moments of connection."
In 1984 Claudia moved from Rio to California. Initially, she spoke no English, but soon found that music was the language in which she could easily communicate. She began singing with the Stanford University Chorus, and joined the De Anza College Jazz Singers, which won first prize in Down Beat's vocal jazz competition. She won a number of scholarships and was invited to study with jazz vocalist Sheila Jordan at New York's Manhattan School of Music as well as with John Robert Dunlap of the Metropolitan Opera.
Santa Cruz' famed Kuumbwa Jazz Center became a home-away-from-home for Claudia. She deeply absorbed the music she heard there and developed lasting friendships with many leading jazz musicians. Now the club serves as a standing room only nexus for Claudia's own Bay Area following.
Inverse Universe, Claudia's national recording debut with Adventure Music, was recorded with long-time musical partner guitarist Ricardo Peixoto. The Peixoto-Villela collaboration has been hailed as "New millenium Brazilian music."(Latin Beat Magazine). The duo grew up in the same Botafogo neighborhood but did not meet until Claudia arrived in California, on her second day in town. One of the pairs' recent triumphs was to record a live performance at the Santa Fe Jazz Festival that aired on National Public Radio's Jazzset program, hosted by Branford Marsalis.
Inverse Universe was released locally in the Bay Area and was honored as one of the top discs of 2001, winning such accolades as "....Peixoto's gorgeous arrangements provide lithe acoustic settings for Villela's soaring voice....the potent combination makes this an album that draws you in deeper with each listen" (San Francisco Examiner). Michael Brecker raves, "their incredible talents continue to amaze!" The legendary master of the harmonica Toots Thielemans appears on the album.
Claudia first committed her awesome songwriting and vocal talents to record with the 1984 release Asa Verde. An illustrious group of players including Toninho Horta, Danny Gottlieb, Harvie S and Michael Brecker joined Claudia on her 1996 sophomore set Supernova. She has also recorded an improvised live-in-studio album with pianist Kenny Werner titled Dream Tales. Asa Verde and Dream Tales will be re-issued by Adventure Music.
"I don't go for the premeditated, calculated thing when I'm performing...I like an aspect of losing myself, of going into the unknown. I'll just take the conditions of the moment and make something of it. It can be magical and people really get it." So do the critics. In 1997, Claudia was nominated for Jazz Singer of the Year by the National Association of Independent Record Distributors (NAIRD). Mark Holston of Jazziz described Villela as "intelligent and seductive". Helcio Milito, one of the godfathers of bossa nova, declared Claudia "the biggest expression of Brazilian music in the U.S. today."
RICARDO PEIXOTO'S BIOGRAPHY:
Ricardo Peixoto's fluid melodic sense and original harmonic approach place him as one of the foremost Brazilian guitarists in the world today. An inspired improviser with a keen compositional sense, Ricardo's unique and eloquent style evokes images far beyond Brazilian boundaries.
Whether in the role of guitarist, composer or arranger, Ricardo draws from a broad range of instruments in a wide variety of musical dialects. "I like to explore the use of many types of guitars, using each one's unique voice", says Ricardo. "I often prefer to create textures with acoustic instruments, in lieu of synthesizers." Although the classical 7-string guitar is his instrument of choice, Ricardo also relies on a 12 string guitar, octave guitar, cavaquinho and tenor banjo as well as electric guitars to produce his rich sonoral landscape.
Ricardo was raised in the Botafogo neighborhood of Rio de Janeiro but spent most of his early life shuttling back and forth between Brazil and the U.S. As a child, his first instrument was the piano. Later, influenced by the pop music of the Beatles, Jimi Hendrix, and Cream, the teen-age Ricardo switched to guitar. He was soon an in-demand player, working with a number of jazz and rock groups and accompanying various popular singers. By the time he was awarded a scholarship to Boston's Berklee College of Music in 1973, Ricardo had already become proficient in classical as well as contemporary guitar-playing. At Berklee, he perfected his jazz skills gigging in and around the Boston area. Soon after graduation, Ricardo moved to San Francisco to continue his study of the classical guitar. In the fertile musical climate of the Bay Area, his involvement with his own Brazilian music also bloomed.
Inverse Universe, a collaboration with vocalist/composer Claudia Villela, will be Ricardo's Adventure Music debut. Although the two artists hail from the same Rio neighborhood, they were not to meet until the early 1980's in San Francisco. Ricardo says it was the experience of co-writing with Claudia that was the genesis of their highly satisfying and prolific creative relationship. The Monterey Herald comments that,"...their musical ideas are so attuned that it's almost as if they were performing with one voice."
In addition to working with Claudia, Ricardo has recorded and toured with Flora Purim and Airto, alto saxophonist Bud Shank, percussionist Dom Um Romão, keyboardist Marcos Silva as well as with his popular ensemble, Terra Sul. He is also a well-respected teacher and lecturer on Brazilian music.
Hotmosphere - Dom Um Romão, 1976
The Magicians - Flora Purim/Airto Moreira, 1986
Here We Go - Marcos Silva & Intersection, 1987
Black and White - Marcos Silva & Intersection, 1989
Tomorrow's Rainbow - Bud Shank, 1989
Kindness of Strangers - Terra Sul, 1994
(featuring Claudia Villela, Paul McCandless)
Pastiche - Pastiche, 2001