Marcelle, Ahmad Jamal
January 1, 1970A slow week this week: The Brazilian singer-songwriter Marcele was this week's Jazz Notes profile, and Ahmad Jamal got the Calendar jazz pick writeup. A brief bit about Eric Jackson's displeasure at having his WGHB show "Eric in the Evening" start an hour later each night starting in late May, to accommodate Christopher Lydon's new talk show, didn't make it into the Globe. I'm not sure why. (Could have just been for lack of space. The paper ran two nice photos of Marcele.)
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With Brazilian roots, she grows once again
By Bill Beuttler, Globe Correspondent | March 18, 2005
She's only 30, but Brazilian singer-songwriter Marcele is embarking on her second career in music.
Marcele (who for now is dispensing with her married name professionally) has kept busy singing Brazilian jazz and dance music around the city while finishing her final semester at Berklee College of Music. Once a month, she fronts the dance-oriented Brazilian Jungle Band, which supplies live music for couples learning to dance to a Latin beat at Ryles Jazz Club. She's also performed there with her jazz group the Brazilian Beat, which joins her at Scullers on Tuesday.
The jazz gigs are Marcele's first in the United States leading her own band, but she's already tasted fame in Brazil as part of her family's pop band, the Chocolate Group, with whom she spent years singing songs aimed at children, eventually cohosting radio and television shows.
It started when Marcele (pronounced Mar-cell-ee) was 10. Her father, the singer-songwriter Claudio Fontana, known for such tunes as "O Homem de Nazareth" and "Mi Amor es Mas Joven Que You" (the latter became a hit for Julio Iglesias in the early 1970s), had written some children's songs, and he asked Marcele and her 5-year-old brother to sing vocals behind him on a demo. It went over so well that he was asked to have Marcele and her brother sing on the record itself. Their mother joined the family act a little later, and they toured regularly throughout Brazil. Soon the family had their own radio show.
"I would give some news about the music industry," Marcele says, "my brother would talk about soccer, my mom would give some tips for the housewives, and my father would interview personalities: singers, artists. And that became a TV show later."
The family recorded six albums together before disbanding.
"At a certain point," Marcele says, "we weren't performing too much, because we grew up, my brother and I. We weren't little kids anymore. So we started to have our own careers. My father started to go back to his solo career, my brother started to have his own band, and I started doing backing vocals for a Brazilian singer, Luciana Mello."
Marcele was also getting work singing jingles and beginning to write her own songs. But just as she was focusing on her solo career, she met Matthew Berger, a Pittsburgh native then living in Brazil. A romance led to marriage, and eventually Berger wanted to return to the States to be near his ailing father.
"For me, it was hard," Marcele recalls. "Because I was fine, I was working, but then this change. You really have to breathe and say, 'OK, I'll accept the challenge. Let's go.' And we came, and I got a scholarship to Berklee. That was 2001."
Berklee provided Marcele her first chance to pause and define herself as an artist. "I started too early," she says. "So I thought, OK, now I'll have time just to study and find my sound and my voice and my style."
Marcele began getting work with some of her professors. Dan Moretti hired her to transcribe English lyrics to his tune "The Moment" into Portuguese, then had her sing them on his album "Stories." George Garzone and John Lockwood backed her for a gig of her own at Ryles.
Meanwhile, Marcele assembled her current band: pianist Nando Michelin, bassist Jose Pienasola, drummer Pedro Ito, percussionist Marcus Santos, and saxophonist David Black.
"I'm really focused on Brazilian music and trying to get this mixture of rhythms and the jazz," says Marcele, who plans to record a CD of her own compositions after graduation.
For now, she's mixing Brazilian rhythms and jazz via her arrangements of music by famous Brazilian composers: Milton Nascimento, Gilberto Gil, Djavan, Lenine, and Joao Bosco, among others.
The only original in the band's repertoire is Nando's "Iemanja," named for an Afro-Brazilian god. Michelin has recorded the tune twice before on his own CDs. Marcele, he says, "has a big voice compared to other singers I've done it with. She has more of a jazz vocalist's approach than an intimate, Gil Gilberto approach."
Marcele has been keeping her own compositions under wraps until she feels ready to record them, but she is considering debuting a samba at Scullers.
"They're funny, interesting words," Marcele says of her lyrics. "It's a story about this girl. She's pretty and she's nice, and whenever she comes to the samba school, everybody falls in love when she starts dancing. But they don't realize that her boyfriend is always around."
In samba, Marcele says, a lot of composers are trying to tell a story that has some funny twist at the end. But she says she also has other songs "with more poetry."
What links everything is Marcele's attempt to bridge her Brazilian background with her experiences in the United States and to do so using the full range of Brazilian musical styles.
"I'm trying to create a balance," she says, "having my Brazilian roots but also understanding the American culture. Hopefully, I'll be able to put that in my music, this whole experience."
Marcele and the Brazilian Beat will perform at Scullers on Tuesday at 8 and 10 p.m. $15. Call 617-562-4111.
© Copyright 2005 The New York Times Company
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Calendar Jazz Picks
Ahmad Jamal Regattabar, Charles Hotel, One Bennett St., Cambridge. 617-395-7757. 7:30 and 10 p.m. $25. Also Fri & Sat.
Ahmad Jamal burst on the national consciousness with the million-selling 1958 album, "But Not for Me," recorded live at Chicago's Pershing Hotel. That same recording caught a second wind in 1995 when jazz buff Clint Eastwood tapped two tunes from it for "The Bridges of Madison County," including the Jamal signature piece "Poinciana." Jamal hadn't been resting on his laurels in those intervening years. His playing has grown richer, freer, and more muscular over time, to the point where at least one admirer, the critic Stanley Crouch, considers him the reigning king of jazz piano. "Many piano players play essentially one octave, like horn players," Crouch notes. "But Ahmad Jamal plays the piano like a piano - delicately executed high notes and extraordinarily powerful low notes. Or the reverse. He's developed his own harmonic language."
Wed 3-23 Kurt Rosenwinkel Group Guitarist Kurt Rosenwinkel celebrates the release of his star-studded CD, "Deep Song," where the sidemen include Joshua Redman and Brad Mehldau. His stellar backing band for his Regattabar dates will include Mark Turner on sax, Aaron Goldberg on piano, Joe Martin on bass, and Jeff Ballard on drums. Regattabar, Charles Hotel, One Bennett St., Cambridge. 617-395-7757. 7:30 p.m. $18.