The songs of Ithamara Koorax’s life

Singer releases her American album in Brazil

Marco Antonio Barbosa
The world - and the huge music market in America - is small for Ithamara Koorax. Last year, the singer first stepped in the U.S., releasing the album Serenade in Blue - My Favourite Songs 30'' excerpts on the label JSR/Milestone, specialized in jazz. It was a collection of standards, made specifically to exhibit the vocal talents of Ithamara, framed by the arrangements of a team formed with MPB and jazz specialists (Eumir Deodato, Laudir de Oliveira, Marcos Valle, Dom Um Romão, Alex Malheiros and Ivan Conti - the last two from the band Azimuth).

"Although it came out in Japan first, the album was conceived specifically for the American market - the hardest to penetrate outside of the diversified world music genre, which I did not want to be thrown into. I was aiming at the jazz market, and fortunately it has worked out", says Ithamara. "It was my first solo CD released in the U.S., although I had already participated in a couple of albums there, such as House of Bossa (a best of in the Casa da Bossa project, on Universal), Street Angels, and on Arnaldo’s (DeSouteiro, the singer’s producer and husband) compilations, the series A Trip To Brazil.

The receptivity was good, indeed. On the album, Ithamara sings classic American songs (Moon River, by Mancini/Mercer, The Shadow of Your Smile and the title track), Brazilian standards (Mas que Nada, Samba de Verão, Bonita, Aquarela do Brasil) and tries a French (Um Homme et Une Femme) and an Italian (Dio Come Ti Amo) song. This musical panorama has captivated the critics of various jazz publications - whose comments are reproduced on the CD booklet - and ranked high in last year’s Down Beat magazine poll.

"The choice of songs came naturally. Arnaldo told me to make a list of the songs I liked to sing at home and had never recorded", Ithamara recalls. "But to get into the American market, I had to make a few concessions - to sing most of the songs in English, for example. Because if you don’t sing in English, you won’t be aired neither on pop nor on jazz radio stations. I want to be known as just a singer, who happens to be Brazilian, but sings Brazilian, American, French and other types of music."

Although the singer went for well-known songs, she doesn’t fear being labeled a conservative. "On the opposite, I thought I was very bold on some of the songs", says Ithamara, "I was afraid people would find a couple of the grooves I recorded with Azimuth (like the one for The Shadow of Your Smile) to be too funky. I had to find the right shape for each song, without changing them too much. It would be easy to take Moon River and rap over it, on a mangue-beat arrangement - and they would find it genius, very modern in Brazil. But to record such a famous song without innovating, it wouldn’t make any sense for the American market."

Tailored to the American market, Serenade in Blue ended up also conquering Europe (it was released in all of its countries), made it to the Japanese charts, was granted 10 international awards, and is doing well even in China (with the single Un Homme et Une Femme).