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World Music Features

Luciana Souza

By Lissette Corsa
Published January 9, 2008

Generally regarded as one of the most skilled vocalists working within the Brazilian and jazz idioms, the Grammy-nominated Luciana Souza is a fearless artist who has added a bossa nova lilt to the poems of Pablo Neruda and regularly performs in duos that match her with a long list of incomparable guitarists. Now she returns with a full band, putting her stamp on pop and rock classics.

Somewhere between the northern and southern currents of the vast Atlantic Ocean, creating music within a Brazilian-American diaspora, blurring the lines between songwriting and poetry and distinct musical genres from jazz to Brazilian and classical to pop, Luciana Souza inhabits a space that knows no boundaries. Her seventh album, The New Bossa Nova, culls from the classic American song-book, embellishing timeless songs in the familiar lilt of bossa nova.

“I’ve lived here the majority of my adult life, and I feel like a real hybrid,” says Souza, a three-time Grammy nominee and native of São Paulo, by phone from her home in L.A. “I know there are divisions, but they’re not clearly compartmentalized anymore for me it’s blurry, it’s  completely integrated. Musically speaking, the same applies. I know there are different styles and specific characteristics to each music, but to me it’s all language now.”

Encouraged by her older brother Eduardo, who was finishing a degree in film scoring, Souza left Brazil for Boston at age 18 and was awarded a Fulbright scholarship to study jazz composition at Berklee College Of Music in Boston. Later she earned a master’s degree in jazz studies from the New England Conservatory Of Music.

“He knew I thought about music in a serious way,” says Souza of her brother’s support. “Brazil is beautiful, and it’s great and very festive, but if you want to study something seriously it can be distracting. And I wanted to be in academia, I wanted to learn to read music and write music, and understand music in a way that was challenging for me as a woman.”

Souza was born in 1966 in São Paolo, the daughter of poet Tereza Souza and composer-guitarist Walter Santos. The youngest of five siblings, she began her own career in music at three, recording the jingles composed by her parents for commercials. At home and in the studio, Souza was completely immersed in music. “There was a lot of music, a lot of instruments lying around the house and we didn’t have a television until I was twelve, so we played with music,” Souza recalls.

As a child, she was also surrounded by the top players of the day. One of them, Brazil’s genius multi-intrumentalist Hermeto Pascual, happened to be Souza’s godfather and someone with whom she would eventually have the privilege of sharing the stage.

Further creative energy came from the many touring musicians who would gravitate to the Souza home. Located in São Paulo’s bohemian Bixiga neighborhood, it was a place where they could eat, hang out, load and unload, or even hold jam sessions. “Because my parents had five kids, there was always food in the house, and in Brazil when you say food you mean beans,” Souza explains matter-of-factly. “So struggling musicians of the day knew they could stop by and actually get a meal. Our house was a place where people stopped and left bags if they were on tour, or picked up an instrument, or ate, or stayed. So there was always this sort of flow of these beautiful, creative people who passed through leaving their music or instruments. That enviornment is the seed for how I feel about music and how I live my life in music."

Not surprisingly, a revolving door of creative energy during her formative years and diverse musical influences contributed to Souza’s openness and adaptability in her own musical endeavors. By the time she heard the music of pianist Bill Evans at the age of 10, again at her older brother’s insistense, Souza was sure of her future. “I remember listening to Portrait In Jazz with my brother and just thinking, wow, this is something really special,” Souza says. “I realized that I wanted to make this music, that this was the kind of stuf