Simply Bel Canto
By PAUL WEIDEMAN
Chiara Civello is a woman of the world. The Italian-born singer, who performs at Vanessie on Friday, Oct. 3, by arrangement with the Friends of Santa Fe Jazz, studied jazz in her native Rome and began her career performing with Mario Raja Big Bang and Roberto Gatto and the Noisemakers
(a time she describes as “like before I was born —
a very long time ago”). In the early 1990s, she moved to Boston on a scholarship to the Berklee College of Music; two years after graduating, she took up residence in New York City, where she focused her attention on the study of Latin and Brazilian music while exploring her love of jazz, rock, and pop music. She has performed as a backup vocalist for singer-songwriter James Taylor and jazz singer John Pizzarelli and has contributed to albums by Basya Schechter (leader of the Jewish folk group Pharaoh’s Daughter) and Latin pop guitarist Juan Luis Guerra as well as to a Marvin Gaye tribute disc by keyboardist Jason Miles.
In 2005, Verve released Civello’s first solo album, Last Quarter Moon — music that is unapologetically romantic and filled with lush, athletic vocals. Her second album, The Space Between, is, in her own words, about the “space between the notes, the silence between words, the space between me and you, me and my past, me and my future, and all the spaces between that nowadays are so difficult to stop and think about.” She adds, “Songs are like trains; they take you from one place to another. This collection of songs, I think, is my train home.”
Civello spoke with Pasatiempo from her current home, Brooklyn.
Pasatiempo: You’ve composed most of the songs on your two albums. What is your songwriting process? Do you compose on the guitar or
Chiara Civello: I compose on both. Sometimes I embrace the guitar; sometimes I go straight to the piano. It just depends. It’s a casual process.
Pasa: Your voice is so beautiful — your tone and your inflections. Is it natural?
Civello: Yeah, it’s definitely natural. It started with
a little bit of training and it continued with a lot
Pasa: Taking it where you wanted to?
Civello: Exactly. Forgetting a lot of academic stuff.
Pasa: Did you sing when you were a little kid growing up in Rome?
Civello: I always sang, yes, ’cause I like it. But I never thought of becoming a singer until music chose me, you know?
Pasa: Who are your heroes? Who have you loved listening to over the years?
Civello: I’ve gone through really very different phases: the Nat King Cole phase, the Chet Baker phase, the Shirley Horn phase, the Julie London and Peggy Lee phase. Now I’m a little bit into the Dusty Springfield phase.
Pasa: And Astrud Gilberto?
Civello: I love Astrud. What I adore is the
sonic world they built around her in the ’60s.
She wasn’t such a good singer, you know, but she was unbelievable at providing the right inspiration for that era, when bossa nova became more known in the United States. I just got back from Brazil, and if you ask them, they don’t feel very represented by Astrud Gilberto. They feel more represented by a vocalist like Elis Regina, for example.
Pasa: Your songs are strongly romantic in feeling. We can think about what’s old-fashioned and what’s modern, but some things, perhaps like this kind of music and singing, are timeless.
Civello: Yeah, I agree. I’m not particularly into fashion or musical fashion either. I like everything that’s good and real. A song that stands just with a guitar is a miracle to me, rather than one that needs so many tracks. The timeless music that I love is music that people can never get tired of listening to because it’s four or five human beings interacting on the stage or in the studio, and it’s real.
Pasa: Can you describe your own evolution as a singer and as an artist?
Civello: It’s hard to describe something when you’re in it. I definitely am going to better places every day. Lately I have discovered the beauty of collaborating, co-writing with great people that I meet on my travels, so I feel very inspired being able to find the common ground and develop an idea together. Where I’m going is, I want to become a better singer and a better pianist and a better guitar player and write better songs.
Pasa: It’s been two years, I think, since you recorded The Space Between. Are you working on a new project?
Civello: It’s only been exactly a year ago, and unfortunately it hasn’t come out in the States yet. I am working on a new project and writing new songs. I love doing that.
Pasa: Your interests also include Latin and Brazilian music, but do you have any fondness for more abstract or experimental work, such as the things Laurie Anderson and Meredith Monk and even Luciana Souza have done?
Civello: I did it in the past. I experimented with it a little bit. But I like the power of a simple melody, and I like the power of a melody that could be obvious, but for some reason it’s not. It’s beautiful to do something that people really tune into very quickly without having to do an intellectual stretch. Music is delightful, and it’s something that takes you away.
Pasa: Who are you bringing with you to Santa Fe?
Civello: Three of my dearest musicians. Yusuke Yamamoto from Japan plays the drums and vibraphone and flute. Then a Brazilian guitar player — his name is Guilherme Monteiro. Then I’m bringing a great bass player whose name is Alan Hampton.
Pasa: Will you have your guitar, too?
Civello: Of course. My guitar is like my arm. >>
>> Chiara Civello Quartet
>> 8 p.m. Friday, October 3
>> Vanessie, 434 W. San Francisco St.
>> $50, tickets available from the
Lensic Performing Arts Center
(211 W. San
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