- - Thursday, June 5, 2014

Strathmore has devoted this week to “The Jazz Samba Project,” live concerts and special events to mark the influence of Brazilian music on the world since the release of “Jazz Samba” in 1962.

Recorded at Washington’s All Souls Unitarian Church by saxophonist Stan Getz and guitarist Charlie Byrd, “Jazz Samba” is the only jazz album to hit No. 1 on the Billboard pop chart and remain there for 70 weeks.

Friday evening’s spotlight is on Sergio Mendes, the Grammy-winning keyboardist, vocalist, composer and producer, and Eliane Elias, jazz pianist, arranger, vocalist and songwriter, in an exuberant tribute to bossa nova.

Since the release of his “Brasil ‘66,” Mr. Mendes has spent nearly 50 years reaping awards for his compositions and more than 35 albums — most of them gold and platinum — that deftly mate Brazilian rhythms with jazz, pop, soul and funk. His Oscar nomination for Best Song in 2012 for “Real in Rio” from the animated feature film “Rio” joins his array of honors, among them a Grammy Award in 1992 for Best World Music and Latin Grammy Awards in 2006 and 2010 for Best Brazilian Record.

Eliane Elias shares his Brazilian roots and versatility. Trained in piano and improvisation, she began performing at age 17 before heading to New York. After releasing her first album, “Amanda,” in 1984, she launched a solo career and in 1988 was named Best New Talent in the Critics Poll of Jazziz Magazine. The recipient of multiple awards, she has devoted her nonstop career to spreading her love of Brazilian music throughout the world.

“Sergio and I have played a few other dates together to share the music of Brazil that we love, and the one at Strathmore will be similar,” Ms. Elias told The Washington Times, speaking from New York fresh from a European tour. “I’ll do the first part of the show and he does the second, both with our own bands. Mine consists of my husband Marc Johnson on bass, Graham Dechter on guitar, and Rafael Barata on drums.”

Her impressive discography boasts more than two dozen recordings that have dominated the top of Billboard and jazz radio charts. With Herbie Hancock, she recorded “Solos and Duets” in 1995, earning a Grammy nomination for Best Jazz Solo Performance. This was followed in 1997 by “The Three Americas,” winner of Best Jazz Album in the Downbeat Readers Poll, along with recognition in five categories: Beyond Musician, Best Composer, Jazz Pianist, Female Vocalist, and Musician of the Year.

Her 1998 interpretation of Antonio Jobim’s music, “Eliane Elias Sings Jobim,” won Best Vocal Album in Japan. Earlier, she accompanied opera singer Denyce Graves in works by Bach, Ravel, and Villa Lobos, along with her own original composition, “Haabia Tupi,” and her arrangement of two Brazilian classical pieces. To celebrate the 50th anniversary in 2008 of the birth of Bossa Nova, Ms. Elias recorded “Bossa Nova Stories,” a collection of Brazilian, American classic and pop standards.

Two of her recordings honor musicians she admires. “Something for You,” a tribute to jazz pianist and composer Bill Evans, won Best Vocal Album of the Year in 2007 and the Gold Disc Award in Japan. Her most recent album, “I Thought About You,” remembers jazz trumpeter and vocalist Chet Baker, who gave distinctive flair to standards.

“I’ll play one piece from ‘I Thought About You’ because Chet was a very lyrical player and singer,” she said. “Like him, I gravitate to songs about the various aspects of love. Most people remember him for the melancholy final days, but I remember him when he was singing up tempo standards in an unaffected voice without vibrato.

“Except for that selection, the program features the music of Jobim, Gilberto and Brazil in general. Because I like variety, I enjoy alternating between slow and jazzy numbers. The whole band has moments of shining in solos. At one point I get up from the piano and dance. Such fun!

“Even though I’m constantly busy and am on the road 220 days a year, I’m inspired by life and always find time to compose. Right now I’m working on an album that will be out this time next year.

“At Strathmore and wherever we play, we try to present a concert that will help people get out of their everyday concerns as they listen to the beautiful melodies, exotic rhythms, and the soothing sound of the Portuguese language,” Ms. Elias said. “Many enjoy singing along. I always have a wonderful time performing and watching our audiences discover the beauty and joy of Brazilian music.”

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