Berklee Today

Careers Spotlight

Diva Dreams

Italy's Chiara Civello '95, Poland's Grazyna Auguscik '92, and Brazil's Luciana Souza '88 are leaving their imprint on American music

Chiara Civello: "I only had a one-song demo, and I gave it to him."

Jazz, America's gift to the music world, is a universal language (as the cliché goes), understood around the world. Since Berklee opened its doors in 1945, international students have flocked here to explore this highly individual musical idiom. Historically, a majority of those international students seeking to learn about jazz have been instrumentalists. Today, in ever-increasing numbers, vocalists—domestic and international—are coming to Berklee. Three international alumae singers, each from a different country, have been making their mark in the United States by mixing influences from their homelands with those of contemporary American music. Jazz is the scrim on the stage upon which each artist's musical dramas is unfolding. While English is not their primary language, they are all adept at singing in English and other tongues.

Chiara Civello '95 [pronounced Kee-ah-rah Chee-vel-oh], of Rome, Italy (now residing in New York), recently signed with Verve Records. Famed producer Russ Titelman oversaw the production of her debut disc Last Quarter Moon. Grazyna Auguscik '92 [pronounced Gra-je-na Aw-goose-chick] of Slupsk, Poland, now settled in Chicago, was hailed by a critic as "one of the most unique and charismatic figures to emerge from the Chicago jazz scene in years." Auguscik is a hands-on, entrepreneurial musician who produces her own CDs and successfully handles all aspects of her career in the United States and Poland. Luciana Souza '92 of São Paulo, Brazil (also residing in New York), who received a Grammy nomination for her 2002 Brazilian Duos CD, moves effortlessly from duo gigs with a guitarist to concerts with symphony orchestras to nightclub and festival dates with a large roster of renowned jazz artists. Each of these rising singers paused for a moment last summer to speak about their careers.


Chiara Civello

Growing up in Italy, Chiara Civello was the first musician to appear in her family in generations. "Nobody was musical in my family, I am the only one," she says. Civello studied classical guitar briefly when she was 12, but after she sat on the instrument and broke it, her mother told her to try singing instead. Upon hearing her voice, a family friend encouraged young Chiara to study formally. "I told her that I didn't want to study opera or classical music," recalls Civello. "So she started listing all of the other styles of music I could try. I didn't know much about it, but I liked the idea of singing jazz. There was a music school near my house that taught jazz, and I began studying there at 14." Civello began listening to Ella Fitzgerald, Carmen McRae, and Sarah Vaughan and became enamored with jazz. After attending the Berklee in Umbria jazz clinics in 1993, she won a scholarship to the college. For a high school graduation present, Civello's parents gave her airline tickets to Boston to see what Berklee was like. She ended up staying and ultimately majored in professional music.

"At Berklee, I really focused on an instrumental concept for my singing," she says. "I didn't only want to learn to deliver a song well, I wanted to understand everything that an instrumentalist would about a song. Professors Hal Crook, George Garzone, and Ed Tomassi really taught me music. Hal taught me as he would a horn player. I didn't sing any lyrics with him; he had me approach my voice as if it was a saxophone and really focus on improvisation."

"I Don't Need to Hear Any More"
In 2000, Civello moved to New York. While at a Paul Simon rehearsal to hear Berklee friends Alain Mallet and Jamey Haddad, members of Simon's band, she met Russ Titelman, the producer for Paul Simon, James Taylor, Eric Clapton, and many others. "Jamey introduced me to Russ," Civello recalls. "Russ asked if he could hear some of my music. I only had a one-song demo, and I gave it to him. He called me back immediately and said he wanted to hear what else I was doing. I played him a few more ideas I had. He told me that I was doing something musically that he hadn't heard anyone else doing. Next, he told me to quit all of my gigs and just write songs."

Civello worked on her songs for a year and a half and recorded three of them on a new demo that Titelman produced. "It was a very interesting process," she says. "I had never thought of myself as a songwriter, so I had to build my confidence. Since English is not my first language, I had to work at the lyrics. Russ was very encouraging and gave me some really precious comments. He really liked my harmonic and melodic approach in the songs. He said it would be hard to put me together with anyone as a cowriter, but he did get me together with Burt Bacharach. We wrote a song together called 'Trouble' that will be on my album."

Titelman presented Civello's three-song demo to Ron Goldstein, president and CEO of Verve Music Group. According to Titelman, Goldstein heard 30 seconds of the first song and said, "I don't need to hear any more. Let's do it." The next day, Civello, Titelman, and Goldstein had lunch and Goldstein told Civello that he wanted to sign her. Negotiations and legal work took about six months, and Civello signed with Verve in September 2002.

Among the studio musicians Titelman hired for the sessions were bassist Ben Street, drummers Steve Gadd and Dan Rieser '90, guitarist Adam Rogers, and keyboardists Larry Goldings and Alain Mallet '89. Another benefit of working with Titelman was that he hired Civello to sing backgrounds on James Taylor's October Road CD. "I am speechless when I think of how Russ has helped me," says Civello. "I'll never forget it. I came to this country at 19 and didn't know anyone here. I see where I'm at now and feel so grateful that I was in the right place at the right time."

While neither Titelman nor Civello finds it easy to describe the music, she says it is not really jazz. "I don't define myself as a jazz singer anymore," she says. "I couldn't have made this record if I was strictly a jazz singer." Chronicling the development of her style, Civello says, "After being into jazz exclusively for a while, I got into Latin and Brazilian music. Being Italian, I have a very strong melodic concept. Italy is known more for melodic rather than rhythmic music. When I began writing songs, I thought of what I had to offer musically with my interests in jazz, Latin, and Brazilian music, and my background as an Italian."

Verve envisions Civello as a singer/songwriter with potential in the American adult contemporary market, in Europe, and elsewhere. Fluent in four languages (Italian, English, Spanish, and Portuguese), and having some facility with French, Verve sees potential for developing Civello's career internationally. Her recording has three songs in Italian, two in Portuguese, and seven in English.

The most important thing Civello got from her Verve experience was finding her own musical voice. "Go to the musical place where you get moved," she advises. "If I wanted to sound like Joni Mitchell or Norah Jones, or if my motivation was to write a hit, I wouldn't have gotten this opportunity. I am here because I wanted to sound like me. I've found that when I go to what moves me, other people will be moved by it too. Civello's Last Quarter Moon CD will be released worldwide in January 2004.


Grazyna Auguscik

Grazyna Auguscik: artistic freedom is "priceless to me."
Viola Spiechowicz

Before coming to Berklee in 1988, Grazyna Auguscik had already established herself as a singer in Poland. Living under communist rule at the time made furthering of her career a challenge. Nevertheless, she set her sights on coming to America, the cradle of jazz.

"Before coming to the U.S., I had been singing for several years with some of the best musicians in Poland," she recalls. "As it was for many musicians I knew, coming to Berklee was my dream. The college had a reputation as the best jazz school in the world, and the thought of studying jazz in America—the home of jazz—was a great motivation for me. In the 1980s, it wasn't that easy for someone to get to America from Poland, though."

Auguscik had learned about jazz as a teenager listening to what recordings she could find by Ella Fitzgerald, Billie Holiday, Sarah Vaughan, Al Jarreau, and others. "Back then in Poland, we didn't get many opportunities to hear the newest albums from the States," she says. "We were far away, couldn't travel, and we weren't free. It was even difficult to send or receive a letter from abroad. Some of my friends had played on cruise ships, and they brought back music and books about jazz and shared them with me. It's hard to believe how much everything has changed there now."

To Berklee via Finland
As well, the cost of coming to study at Berklee was a formidable obstacle. A summer gig in Finland singing top-40 songs in a restaurant lounge paved the way for Auguscik. "I hated the job, but the pay was good, and I saved some money to come to Berklee," she says. "The next problem was getting an American visa. I knew many people who were refused permission to travel to the U.S., but I was able to get a visa. I paid a lot of money for an airplane ticket and then felt my dream coming a little closer."

After completing her first year at Berklee in 1989, Auguscik went to Chicago for the summer. She went to a jam session at the Green Mill jazz club and met some of the local jazz musicians with whom she stayed in touch during subsequent visits to the Windy City. The Green Mill jazz club later became a home base for Auguscik (she still plays at the club, some 14 years later).

After receiving her diploma from Berklee in 1992, Auguscik stayed in Boston for two years and then relocated to Chicago. "A lot of my friends were going to New York, but it's so expensive there, and I was tired of working and playing at the same time," she says. "I had connections in Chicago and knew I'd be able to make my living through music there."

With a Little Help from My Friends
In Chicago, Auguscik's entrepreneurial instincts came to the fore. Instead of trying to get signed with a big label, she launched her own in 1996 to release her debut CD. She enlisted her fans in the venture. "I decided to organize a big fundraising concert in Chicago," she says. "The Polish community and the media gave me a lot of support and we raised enough money for me to start the project." Her first release, Don't Let Me Go, was an impressive debut showcasing challenging material and Auguscik's mature vocal style.

Since then, she has released six additional CDs and her career has steadily gained momentum. Auguscik has a ream of positive reviews from the press and has gained staunch allies among jazz radio hosts locally and around the country. Operating her own label (GMA Records) has given Auguscik the artistic freedom to produce whatever she wants.

Auguscik's openness to inspiration from jazz, classical, ethnic, rock, world, and techno music has resulted in a lot of variety among her recordings. For example, her 2002 release River features music by Jimmy Webb, Kenny Garrett, Egberto Gismonti, and Heitor Villa Lobos, as well as her own original songs. Far from being a potpourri, though, the disc's high production values and thoughtful musical arrangements that spotlight her pure vocal tones and uninhibited scatting make the album a compelling recording. Her latest CD, Past Forward, finds her revisiting her Polish roots with songs sung in her native tongue with the backing of accordion, woodwinds, guitar (featuring John McLean '87), bass, and percussion.

As it is for many independent artists, obtaining adequate distribution has been a bit of work, but last year Auguscik signed with a distributor. "Previously I sold my CDs mainly at concerts and through my website []. It works and it's powerful. In the future, we won't need distributors." Auguscik is poised to harness the power of the Internet, especially for promotion of her work. She plans to make a video this year that she will run on her site, among other places.

As an independent artist, Auguscik shoulders the work that several would at bigger labels. She manages all aspects of her career from writing and arranging her material and producing her CDs to booking the gigs, handling publicity, and much more. She is realistic about the dynamics of the business, though. "Being a jazz musician is like being a nonprofit organization," she says. "The big record labels don't invest in this music because there isn't much money in it for them. But if I started my career over again, I would still choose to sing the same kind of music. I really love what I do." As one who grew up under communism, there is a sincere ring in her voice when she speaks of the artistic and economic freedom she's attained. "It's priceless to me," says Auguscik.


Luciana Souza

Luciana Souza: "I don't see a difference in musical styles anymore."

Luciana Souza '88 has a voice that easily transcends stylistic boundaries, and consequently her career is flourishing on three fronts. She has worked with top jazz players such as Danilo Pérez, Hermeto Pascoal, Kenny Werner, Donald Brown, Kenny Wheeler, and others. She is also gaining a reputation as a soloist with orchestras in the classical arena. Additionally, she performs the music she grew up hearing in São Paulo, Brazil. In fact, her Brazilian Duos album of 2002, one of three CDs Souza has released, earned a Grammy nomination. (Visit on the Web.)

Last year was a banner year for Souza with her playing gigs of all types all over the place. In May she spent part of the month on the road as a member of bassist John Patitucci's group, completed a week-long residency at New York's City College singing her original music with various ensembles, and was also the featured soloist on a major new classical work by contemporary composer Osvaldo Golijov with the Seattle Symphony. Sandwiched in between July performances with the New York Philharmonic and a concert at the Hollywood Bowl, Souza sat for an interview after a Boston performance of her Brazilian Duos show with Brazilian guitarist Romero Lubambo.

Souza grew up as one of five children raised by parents who were successful songwriters in São Paulo. When Souza was young, her father worked at a radio station that received all the new releases from the States. He would bring records home for everyone to hear. Recordings by Ella Fitzgerald, Sarah Vaughan, and Carmen McRae were on the turntable, as were discs by Bill Evans, McCoy Tyner, and Herbie Hancock. Early on, Souza developed a love for jazz and Brazilian music, and she started writing her own songs during her teenage years.

"Most of what I learned about music in Brazil was by ear," Souza says. "I studied piano and guitar, but did not have any formal training as a singer I until I came to Berklee. I majored in jazz composition because I wanted to really understand music and know how to write it." After graduating, Souza spent four years in Brazil before returning to Boston to earn a master's degree at New England Conservatory of Music. She was part of Berkee's ear training faculty for three years before moving to New York.

Ironically, a guest appearance on WGBH-FM with jazz host Eric Jackson led to her break in the classical world. "Eric used to invite me to cohost his show and play CDs of Brazilian music, including some of my own," she says. "Composer Osvaldo Golijov was listening and liked my voice. He called me, saying he had been commissioned to write an orchestral piece and asked if I'd like to sing it. I told him, 'No, I don't want to do anything like that, and how did you get my number?' Later, an agent from International Music Network called and told me Golijov was a legitimate, up-and-coming composer and that I should reconsider my decision—which I did. Golijov wrote this amazing piece that we did in Eugene, Oregon, and again at Jordan Hall in Boston. In 2000 he wrote La Pasión Según San Marcos with Dawn Upshaw and me in mind as soloists. The piece has since been played all over the world. Through Osvaldo's music, I've gotten to perform with different orchestras, and the conductors or music directors have asked me back to sing other music. I sang Manuel de Falla's El Amour Brujo Suite a few times this summer."

Outstanding musical abilities as well as linguistic talents make Souza a great choice for classical work. In addition to her fluency in English and Portuguese, she sings in Spanish, Italian, and French. She has sung with many notable orchestras, including the Los Angeles Philharmonic, Boston Symphony, Seattle Symphony, New York Philharmonic, Atlanta Symphony, and the Brooklyn Philharmonic.

"It's All Just Music to Me"
"I never studied classical vocal style, but I read music well," she says. "I don't think I would have gotten called to sing with orchestras 10 or 15 years ago. There is a need to make this repertoire that we have heard so much feel alive. The audience members see me and think, here is someone who grew up in South America who is not classically trained, but she can sing this music beautifully. I think that brings people closer to the music. Orchestra directors are looking for ways to attract young listeners so the music will survive. As in jazz, you can still perform a classical piece that has been done a lot if you bring something new to it. The music is calling for new ideas—maybe it is calling me."

Souza's Brazilian roots have affected all the music she sings. "Brazilian rhythms have informed my style and are at the core of who I am," she says. "That music is very rhythmic, very diverse, and swings in a certain way, but not like American jazz. I used to be very specific about what I wanted to sing, but I don't see a difference between musical styles anymore. It's all just music to me. Music is like a universe that I'm flying around in, visiting different nations and planets. It's been an incredible journey. I never expected to be doing what I'm doing now. Vocally, I want to continue studying and finding other sounds. I feel I will still be able to offer something to music when I am 60 or 70. I won't need to stop. If things can go like this every year, all the time until I can't sing anymore, that would be great."