When people think of Brazilian music, the Samba and its daughter, the Bossa Nova, automatically come to mind. But in fact, Brazil is a land of an extraordinary variety and depth of musical styles, music with a range that speaks from the heart to the gamut of human emotions.
As a child in Rio de Janiero, Claudia Villela would fall asleep lulled by the music from a samba school that practiced nightly behind her grandparents’ home. “I woke up to the sound of my mother singing while my father played the harmonica,” she recalls. “My singing is the sum of all the music I’ve heard, from Brazilian baroque to bossa nova to free jazz, the nostalgic and modern. It comes from all those memories.”
Villela’s haunting improvisations and her surprising five-octave range has earned her a consistent following at such venues as the Monterey Jazz Festival, San Francisco Jazz Festival, Jazz at Filoli, Yoshi’s Nitespot, Kimball’s, and other clubs and festival dates in the San Francisco Bay Area and across the country. Audiences are drawn to the dimension and playfulness of her jazz singing, which has its own memorable character. As San Francisco Examiner jazz critic Phil Elwood put it, “Villela actually dances with her voice on top of Brazilian beats.”
She arrived in California in 1984. A year later she began singing with the Stanford University Chorus, and in 1986 joined the De Anza College Jazz Singers – which won First Prize in Downbeat’s vocal jazz competition that year. She won a scholarship to study with Sheila Jordan at Manhattan School of Music; her knack for fluid be-bop improvisation won her a Jay Shore jazz scholarship to study with Ray Brown at Cabrillo College. “I rely on intuition, I don’t go for the premeditated, calculated thing when I’m performing,” she says. “I like an aspect of losing myself, of going into the unknown. I’ll just take the conditions of this moment and make something of it. It can turn out to be magical. I’ll hit a moment that has a mysterious, nurturing, confessional feeling. People really get it.