Thursday, August 7, 2008
Brazilian songs have spiced up the jazz repertoire ever since bossa nova recordings topped the pop charts in the early 1960s. But few American jazz singers have immersed themselves in Brazilian music as deeply as Sandy Cressman.
Born in the Bronx but raised from childhood in San Jose, Cressman spent years working as a jazz vocalist before she put together Homenagem Brasileira, which translates from Portuguese as “homage to brazil.” She’s honed a gorgeous jazz-tinged book featuring songs by Brazil’s greatest contemporary composers, from Milton Nascimento and Dori Caymmi to Gilberto Gil and Ivan Lins.
For Cressman, the transition from straight ahead swing to Brazilian jazz meant an entirely different approach to the music. It’s not that Cressman avoids improvisation with Homenagem Brasileira. She takes liberties around the edges of a tune, but always within the spirit of the original composition.
“In the American jazz repertoire, the art of jazz singing is about turning a song inside out,” says Cressman, who performs Saturday at The Jazz and Blues Company with her superlative band featuring reed master Harvey Wainapel, bassist David Belove, drummer Ceslo Alberti and pianist Weber Iago. “These compositions are so rich in their original nature. Why change a beautiful melody by Ivan Lins?”
Cressman began studying jazz while attending UC Berkeley in the early ’80s as a French major. After spending a year in France she returned to the Bay Area and helped assemble the four-woman vocal group Pastiche. Already intrigued by the music of Flora Purim and Airto, Milton Nascimento and Tania Maria, Cressman was captivated by the funky Brazilian singer/songwriter Djavan. By the mid-’80s she was studying Portuguese and Brazilian percussion at San Jose State, where she received a degree in vocal jazz.
A long-running duo gig with pianist Marcos Silva at San Francisco’s Cafe Bastille enabled Cressman to expand her Brazilian repertoire. The idea for Homenagem Brasileira grew out of the duo, and she debuted the band in 1998 to a packed Monday night house at Yoshi’s. For Cressman, the band’s success is a sweet affirmation of her evolving musical identity.
“People find things in other cultures they identify with for unexplainable reasons,” Cressman says. “Maybe I was Brazilian in another life.”
Homenegen Brasiliera performs 7:30pm Saturday, Aug. 10, at The Jazz and Blues Company on San Carlos and Eighth, Carmel. $35. 624-6432, www.thejazzandbluescompany.com.