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Luciana Souza: From Bossa Nova To Chet Baker

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Luciana Souza: From Bossa Nova To Chet Baker

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Luciana Souza: From Bossa Nova To Chet Baker

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MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:

This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Melissa Block.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "TIM TIM POR TIM TIM")

BLOCK: Now, a conversation with the Brazilian-born jazz singer Luciana Souza, who has the rhythms of bossa nova in her blood.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "TIM TIM POR TIM TIM")

BLOCK: This song is from Souza's new album "Duos III." Actually, she's released two very different albums at the same time.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "THE THRILL IS GONE")

LUCIANA SOUZA: (Singing) The thrill is gone. The thrill is gone.

BLOCK: Luciana Souza's second album is "The Book of Chet." That's her tribute to the music of trumpeter and singer Chet Baker.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "THE THRILL IS GONE")

SOUZA: (Singing) I can hear it in your sighs, feel your touch and realize the thrill is gone.

There's a deep connection between Chet Baker and bossa nova. It's known and it's well-documented that musicians in the bossa nova era, so mid to late '50s and early '60s, were listening to Chet Baker, who had the height of his popularity in the mid '50s. And so this music was coming to Brazil. These players were listening to that music. People getting closer to the mic and being able to sing more subtly and not belting out with a lot of bravado. Then the music I grew up listening to is primarily bossa nova, which is quiet, straight-toned, very still and subtle. So there is definitely an obvious connection there.

BLOCK: I keep coming back to one of the songs on this Brazilian album, "Duos III, the song "Dona Lu" where you're scatting. You're in full scat mode here.

SOUZA: Yes. And it's completely wordless and doesn't mean anything. The title is - Dona means senora, means miss or missus. Lu is me, Luciana. So it was written for me.

BLOCK: Ha.

SOUZA: It was a commission for Marco.

BLOCK: This is Marco Pereira, the composer.

SOUZA: Yeah. And it's just, you know, it's kind of traditional in a way because it's a samba surdo, but it's a modern one.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "DONA LU")

BLOCK: When you're singing like this, where there's no words to give it meaning, it's patterns of sound and, I guess, the shape of your voice, do you come up with a story behind these sounds?

SOUZA: Oh, yeah. This is like a real chase. I'm just sitting in my porch, looking out at what's going on, and he's looking for me. He's chasing me.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "DONA LU")

BLOCK: It sounds like he's chasing you on guitar here.

SOUZA: Yeah. Just trying to get me to a corner. I'm like, no way. No, I'm here. I'm fine. All is good. And at the end, obviously, it is.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "DONA LU")

BLOCK: I'm talking with Luciana Souza about her two new albums. The one we've just listened to called "Duos III," the other "The Book of Chet." Luciana Souza, when you're doing a song, a Chet Baker song, a song that he played and sang, what's the difference, say, when you're singing a song like "The Very Thought of You"?

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "THE VERY THOUGHT OF YOU")

SOUZA: (Singing) The very thought of you, and I forget to do...

I really dissected his sound. I've been listening to him for many, many years. Because he's a trumpet player, Melissa, his sound is very focused. But what comes across with Chet is a vulnerability, a brokenness of his soul. You know, we know his tragic life, his involvement with drugs and, you know, his tragic death as well. But then in the moment of the recording - because we do all these records live - what I'm looking for is the experience of listening to the other players, listening to the tempo of the song and on purpose we chose tempos that were really, really, really slow to allow for me to really let silence play a part.

BLOCK: It's interesting you say that because I was thinking there's so much restraint and holding back in how you sing these songs.

SOUZA: It was quite deliberate on our part. You know, we took away everything that was - we thought was unnecessary to really see that if we strip this down to the core of it, what are we left with? What was the composer really saying with these lines? You know, when I think of a song like "Forgetful," for example, you know, it's got a very sweet melody, almost like a lullaby if you sing it without the words, you know?

(SOUNDBITE OF SCATTING)

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "FORGETFUL")

SOUZA: (Singing) Lately, you've been so forgetful.

When you listen to the words, it really is a song of complaint, complaining about this love that's not the same as it used to be - all the romance, all the kissing. So what we put underneath the melody was a sort of a rocking chair, kind of coming and going, lullaby-like.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "FORGETFUL")

SOUZA: (Singing) Kisses, I once had a knack for.

It's quite detached, as it would be in bossa nova. It's quite, you know, I'm not screaming. I'm not crying. I'm not begging. I'm just stating it.

BLOCK: And that rocking motion underneath you. (Unintelligible)...

SOUZA: Yeah. With the guitar creating - exactly. And the single notes that appear here and there as if I'm poking, gently poking you.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "FORGETFUL")

SOUZA: (Singing) And someday when you are regretful, you wish you had tried much less forgetfulness. You...

BLOCK: Can we take a listen to one of my favorite songs, the Hoagy Carmichael song, "I Get Along Without You Very Well"?

SOUZA: Absolutely.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "I GET ALONG WITHOUT YOU VERY WELL")

SOUZA: (Singing) I get along without you very well. Of course, I do.

This one was the hardest one to record. It's interesting that you said it's one of your favorites. It became one of my favorites too, but because we doubled up the slowness of it, like we really took it apart and just kind of broke it down and stretched it until we couldn't anymore. It was hard for me to sing it because I felt, is this too much? Am I really trying the listener here? And we did it one take, and we went back in the studio and listened, and then we realized that it was magical.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "I GET ALONG WITHOUT YOU VERY WELL")

SOUZA: (Singing) The thrill of being sheltered in your arms. Of course, I do.

BLOCK: When the pacing is so stretched out like this, is it hard to keep the momentum of the song in you, to keep it going that way?

SOUZA: Yes. But also to trust that silence is a part of sound. Once you enter a song, there's enormous trust. It's almost like a leap of faith that you're doing a song this slow, and you just have to trust that the listener will continue and hold that thought and carry it through with you.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "I GET ALONG WITHOUT YOU VERY WELL")

SOUZA: (Singing) But I've forgotten you just like I should.

BLOCK: Luciana Souza, it's been a pleasure to talk to you. Thank you so much.

SOUZA: Thank you.

BLOCK: Luciana Souza's new albums are "The Book of Chet" and "Duos III."

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "I GET ALONG WITHOUT YOU VERY WELL")

SOUZA: (Singing) What a fool am I?

BLOCK: This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News.

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