Interview with Eliane Elias

Eliane Elias has been making music since the mid-80s. This year she released Light My Fire, an album of originals and covers, as well as collaborations with Gilberto Gil, that has been getting rave reviews all summer. Eduardo Pagnoncelli sat down with Eliane to talk about her career and her latest release.

A lot of people know you as a Brazilian jazz singer that is based in New York. However, only a few people might know that you were something of a child prodigy. Tell us a bit about your story and how music has been part of your life since you were young.

I grew up in a very musical family. My mother played classical piano but had a great connection with jazz. Being from Brazil, I also grew up listening to lots of Brazilian music, especially bossa nova, which was huge at the time. I started studying piano at the age of seven, and when I turned 13 I was accepted by one of the best – if not the best – Brazilian music schools. I devoted myself a lot to developing my piano skills and at the age of 15 I was already teaching. I even learnt classical piano but I was in love with jazz since a very early age, always transcribing songs from different pianists such as Bill Evans and Herbie Hancock.

When did your love for music become professional? What was the starting point for your career?

My love for music was always there. By having great feedback from teachers since an early age, I was naturally convinced that I was good. So becoming a professional was a clear consequence of being a child prodigy. The kick start for my career came after I was already playing in some jazz clubs in Sao Paulo. I was invited to join the bossa nova legends Toquinho and Vinicius de Moraes in their upcoming tour. I ended up touring and working with both for three years, which was a magnificent experience as I was learning bossa nova straight from the creators of the rhythm. But my dream to move to New York and the desire to become a jazz pianist were very strong and I wanted my career to follow that path.

You worked a lot with important and famous people, such as Oscar Castro Neves and Michael Brecker. Who else did you work with and what did these partners represent to the growth of your career?

When I moved to New York I ended up working with lots of great people like Michael Brecker, Eddie Gomez, Mingus Dynasty, Buster Williams, Randy Brecker, Herbie Hancock… so many good people. And also I have worked with some top Brazilian musicians as well as jazz players, which all contributed to the growth of my career and to shape my music style. Every person you play with tends to bring a new or different element that can be incorporated to your own music, so it was definitely a good move to have gone to New York and played with all those great names.

Who plays with you at the moment? Talk about the members of your band and how you all ended up playing together.

For the past 24 years I’ve been playing with one of the best bass players in the world, Mark Johnson. We work together, he is also my co-producer. When I’m doing Brazilian music, I play with a drummer called Rafael Barata. There are also two guitarists involved with the Brazilian projects: Rubens de la Corte and Ricardo Volpe. But when I’m playing jazz I use different drummers because it depends on what time of music project we are doing at the time.

What are your biggest musical influences and why?

As I was born in Brazil and exposed to a great variety of music when I was young, I used to love anything from R&B, Rock, Pop, Bossa Nova to my beloved Jazz. I believe a good tune is a good tune, no matter what style of music that is. My main influences were definitely the jazz pianist I mentioned before, such as Oscar Petersen and Herbie Hancock. But the singing influence comes from Brazilian music.

What kind of feedback have you been getting from people about the album? And what are your personal expectations with Light My Fire?

I am very happy with the response for Light My Fire. Even the record label called me to say how glad they were that this CD was actually winning everyone over, from the jazz critics to the pop critics. The album has been receiving glowing reviews from everywhere and had a great debut, at number three on both iTunes and Billboard. It is wonderful to see the acceptance to your work.

Gilberto Gil appears on three tracks on Light My Fire. Have you guys been collaborating for a long time? What is you relationship with other Brazilian artists and musicians?

Gil and I have known each other for a long time. We’ve been playing together in many concerts and working together on the backstage as well. It was wonderful to have Gil in the studio with me as he is one of the most beautiful voices and most talented musicians in Brazil. I have also worked with a number of other Brazilians artists, but listing them here would take too long.

How long have you been living outside Brazil and why did you decide to live abroad in the first place? Did that change your relationship with the country, the people and Brazilian music itself?

I moved out of Brazil more than 30 years ago but my relationship with the country and the people still exists quite strongly, as I go there every year and my family lives in Brazil. But it is the music what keeps me more attached to Brazil, as I keep playing bossa nova and presenting authentic Brazilian music to the rest of the world.

Can the European public expect to see you performing live at any time soon? Any plans for a world tour?

I am on tour on the West Coast of the U.S. right now [this interview happened in September]. I just came back from France and Colombia as well. Earlier this year I was in Europe actually. I am constantly on tour to be honest. Late October I will be in Asia, then America agin, maybe Europe… anyway, my life is that, it is devoted to music!

Interview by Eduardo Pagnoncelli

Light My Fire is available to buy at Amazon and iTunes.

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