Jazz Singer

Brazilian Chanteuse/Pianist Eliane Elias Plays the Lobero

Eliane Elias’s latest release, Dreamer, is so in demand that
even her management company can’t get copies. It’s gone through a
second pressing and her label still can’t keep up with the orders.
Luckily, the artist herself is a little more available than her
disc. I recently spoke with the Brazilian pianist and singer by
phone at her home in New York City.

Elias’s childhood and youth could serve as a working definition
of the term “child prodigy.” Born in São Paolo, Brazil, she began
formal classical piano lessons at the age of 7. Her parents
recognized that, after studying for two months, Eliane had reached
the same level of performance her older sister had spent two years
attaining. It quickly became obvious that she played differently
from typical students. And gradually her mother’s devotion to
American jazz, which filled the house every day, began to soak into
Eliane’s consciousness, and, as time would tell, her very soul.

“By the time I was 10 and 11,” she explained, “I was really in
love with jazz. I had learned how to write music and I had such a
facility with numbers and intervals that it was like writing my
native Portuguese for me.” At this point she began transcribing the
piano solos of Art Tatum, Bud Powell, Oscar Peterson, and Bill
Evans, among others. “I was very young and was then concentrating
on bebop that I loved so much. I remember listening to the music
and writing the note-for-note transcriptions of the magic I was
hearing while intense tears of joy streamed down my face. I’m sure
my parents were wondering, ‘What’s with her?’ but nothing had ever
moved me so. At 11, I already knew the whole book of American Jazz

At the age of 13, Elias was accepted into Brazil’s top music
school, which taught both classical music and jazz at a
conservatory level. She continued her classical studies in tandem
with jazz and graduated in two years, an unheard-of feat. The
school’s administration asked her to stay on as a teacher, and, at
15, she became the director of the piano department. Two years
later she was chosen by Antonio Carlos Jobim and Vinicius de Moraes
to be music director of their three-year concert series. When I
asked whether she regretted foregoing her adolescence, she
responded that she actually felt very fortunate to have had her
life delineated so clearly at such a young age. “It was all driven
by my passion for the music, and I never felt that I missed
anything at all.”

Elias brings her well-known bebop piano tunes to the Lobero on
Saturday, where she will be backed by guitarist Freddie Bryant—who
is known for his comprehension of Brazilian music—and bassist Mark
Johnson, who has played with Elias for many years and whom she
describes as a virtuosic master of his instrument. Rounding out the
quartet is drummer Satoshi Takeshi, born in Japan and part-time
resident of Colombia and Miami, where he became a powerful
interpreter of straight-ahead and Latin jazz, and with whom Elias
has worked for 12 years. The ensemble should make for a fine
evening of soulful crooning. When an 11-year-old Elias was asked
what she wanted to do in life, she said that she was going to move
to New York and be a jazz pianist. Now, she’d have to add, “and
vocalist.” This promises to be a delightful, lyrical concert.


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