Claudia Villela’s voice gets all the attention, and it’s easy to understand why. Her glorious five-octave instrument is one of the wonders of jazz, lithe and startlingly beautiful in every register.
Born and raised in Rio de Janeiro, she sings mostly in Portuguese, interpreting lyrics with keen emotional insight and supple rhythmic command. A supremely inventive scat singer, she has honed a vivid vocabulary of sounds that can evoke the hollow thump of a tabla drum, the muted trumpet ofMiles Davis, the insistent twang of a berimbau, the ethereal call of a flute, or the distortion-laden Stratocaster licks of Jimi Hendrix.
Based in the Santa Cruz area since the mid-1980s, Villela has evolved into an expressive pianist and percussionist and an ingenious composer and lyricist with an astonishing body of original material, as well as a repertoire of jewels from the Brazilian songbook.
Inspired by Brazilian songwriters, composers and multi-instrumentalists such as Egberto Gismonti, Hermeto Pascoal and Milton Nascimento, Villela draws on a vast range of Brazilian traditions, from samba and bossa nova to the carnival groove partido alto, and baião, a highly syncopated northeastern song form popularized by Luiz Gonzaga in the mid-1940s.
While growing up in Rio, Villela literally soaked up music from the air, falling asleep at night to the sounds wafting over from the samba school behind her grandmother’s house. Singing professionally as a teenager, she performed at college festivals and worked as a back-up singer. 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.