Eliana Elias


A Brazilian jazz star.

By Cristiana Moretzsohn

Nominated many times for the most important music awards in the world, the GRAMMY Awards, and with over 20 albums and awards in her fantastic career, Eliane Elias mixes elements from Bossa Nova, jazz, classical music and pop, creating music that exceeds a style definition and pleases the most demanding listeners. A pianist, singer and composer, Elias began her career at a young age, at just 17 years old, playing with the icons of Bossa Nova, Vinícius de Moraes, Tom Jobim and Toquinho.

This Brazilian who has lived in New York since 1981, was one of the attractions at the Toronto Jazz Festival this summer and she recently released a new album, “Light My Fire”, with a special performances by Gilberto Gil, the acclaimed American trumpeter Randy Brecker and his daughter, Amanda Brecker, also a singer and composer who sings with Elias and Gil.

Wave interviewed the talented singer and confirmed why she has been called by Jazziz magazine, “A citizen of the world” and “an artist beyond category”.

You began your career as a child, as a classic pianist. Where did you get this love of music from?
Elias – I began my career when I was young. My mother was a classical pianist, she had a collection of jazz albums so, since I was 10 years old, I was already in love with jazz, to the point where I made transcripts of great pianists and developed a jazz language. At the age of 13 I studied at Zimbo Trio, one of the best music schools in Brazil and, at 15 I began teaching at this school. I gave piano lessons, improvisation and taught other instruments.

From 17 to 20 years of age you worked with the marvellous poet and composer Vinícius de Moraes, with Toquinho and Antônio Carlos Jobim, how did this influence your career?
Elias – I began working with Vinícius de Moraes and Toquinho when I was 17 and I had the opportunity to be with them when they were in their creation phase. I then met Tom Jobim and it was fantastic, because I was exposed to, “bebendo na fonte”/ “the source”, which became the expression to say that I was there, with the originals, the ones who created this musical language, the Bossa Nova. I was with to them, I lived this music in a different way then people my age did.

What is Bossa Nova to Eliane Elias?
Elias – Bossa Nova is something that is very strong inside me. I grew up studying Bossa Nova, I had the opportunity to work with its creators and to continue this musical language. It is part of my DNA, part of who I am.

You have lived in New York since 1981, what made you leave Brazil?
Elias – Since I was small I always said I wanted to go to New York. I was already in love with jazz. The albums I had said they were recorded in NY, so I thought that that was the place to be. So I prepared myself musically and only went when I thought the time was right, that I was ready for an international career and to be received on the jazz circuit, which has always been predominantly American, black and masculine. It was 1981.

How did you begin your international career?
Elias – I first began with Vinícius and Toquinho, when we travelled through South America, doing shows. My solo career began when I went to New York and began to work with a group called Steps Ahead, with great names in the jazz industry and soon after I was hired by Blue Note recording, a record company that has been a big jazz label. I stayed there for many years and released 15 albums.

You have a singular sound, which combines many musical aspects, making your music pleasing to the most distinct tastes. Which style is closest to your heart?
Elias – It’s hard to say. What I love is good music. I love harmony, rhythm – I love jazz, I like the improvisational aspects of jazz, of creativity and liberty. Brazilian music is unique in terms of rhythms, melodies; it is a romantic and sexy music. All these musical sides touch me, they are the ones I grew together with, and their aspects touch my heart.

Tell us a little bit about your new album, “Light My Fire”.
Elias – “Light my Fire” is a very special album. It was my intention to take aspects that go beyond Bossa Nova; other rhythms, other elements of our music. On the album there are three duets with Gilberto Gil, my compositions and also iconic songs, such as Stevie Wonder’s romantic song, My Cherie Amour and the jazz classic by saxophonist Paul Desmond, Take Five, internationally done with a cool aspect, with sensuality, and elements from Bossa Nova and Brazilian rhythms. I was very pleased with the result.

How does it feel to sing with your daughter?
Elias – The feeling is marvellous. Besides, being with her is marvellous. She is a great artist, has a lot of talent and a beautiful voice. I was very pleased that she participated in the CD and especially happy for the fact that she is making her musical career, following a path totally different than my own. She is a composer, sings beautifully and is on her third album, touring in Asia and Brazil.

Wave is a bilingual magazine, geared towards the Brazilian community that lives in Canada. Would you like to send a message to those who live outside of Brazil?
Elias – I hope that my new album, Light My Fire, brings moments of joy, moments that mata a saudade; that you feel at home, in our Brazil, with our music, our language. Enjoy the CD.