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5 things you should know about
Eliane Elias

September 15, 2023 | by Rusty Aceves

Eliane Elias

The masterful Brazilian pianist, composer, and bandleader brings music from her latest releases and an evening of solo piano and duets for her week of residency in October (10/19-22). Here are five things to keep in mind to get you ready for her performances.

  1. She began her musical journey as a piano prodigy. Born in São Paulo, Elias fell under the musical influence of her composer grandmother and jazz-loving pianist mother, taking up the piano at age seven. She was transcribing jazz solos by 12 and teaching master classes at 15, and had made the step to professional at 17, performing with the legend Antônio Carlos Jobim, singer/songwriter Toquinho, and poet Vinicius de Moraes. At 21, she moved to New York and studied at The Julliard School with concert piano virtuoso Olegna Fuschi.
  2. She was a member of the iconic fusion band Steps Ahead. In 1982, Elias joined Steps Ahead, a band that evolved from loose sessions at the Greenwich Village club Seventh Avenue South — the venue co-owned by saxophonist Michael Brecker and his trumpet playing brother Randy, who would become Elias’ first husband. After releasing three albums as “Steps” on Japan’s Nippon Columbia label with a revolving cast of musicians including pianist Don Grolnick, the band signed to Elektra/Musician for their eponymous breakthrough 1983 release featuring Elias along with vibraphonist Mike Mainieri, saxophonist Michael Brecker, bassist Eddie Gómez, and drummer Peter Erskine. With Gómez on upright bass and Elias on acoustic piano, the album has a warmer, more organic sound than subsequent releases, and gives the pianist a chance to shine on several tracks, notably Mainieri’s “Islands” and Gómez’s “Loxodrome.”
    After launching her solo career, Elias would work with several members on other projects and return to the band for the 2005 live release Holding Together (recorded in 1999).
  3. She has released 30 superb albums. Elias’ gift was in evidence from her time with Steps Ahead and couldn’t be contained as part of a band. She departed after one album to begin her solo career, co-leading 1985’s Amanda with trumpeter Randy Brecker, followed up by her first proper album as leader, 1986’s Denon date Illusions. Featuring an all-star cast including Summer Sessions 2023 artist and 2022 NEA Jazz Master Stanley Clarke, the album hit #1 on the Contemporary Jazz chart and was described by the All Music Guide as “a fine start to a significant solo career.”
    Since then, the pianist and vocalist has released 30 albums, primarily for the Blue Note, Concord Jazz, and Candid labels. Nominated 11 times, she’s received two GRAMMYs and two Latin GRAMMYs, including one of each for her 2021 Candid session Mirror Mirror made in collaboration with pianists Chucho Valdés and the late Chick Corea.
  4. She has collaborated with many jazz greats and paid tribute to masterful composers of Brazilian music, jazz, and Broadway. Though she is rightly known as a solo artist and bandleader, Elias has amassed a lengthy list of collaborators including Joe Henderson, Toots Thielemans, Jack DeJohnette, Astrud Gilberto, Toninho Horta, and Bob Brookmeyer, and recorded Solos and Duets for Blue Note in 1995, featuring duo performances with Herbie Hancock. She has recorded tribute albums to legends including Antônio Carlos Jobim, Bill Evans, and Chet Baker, and devoted her acclaimed 2018 Concord release Music from Man of La Mancha to interpretations of the score from the 1964 Broadway adaptation of Miguel de Cervantes' Don Quixote by composer Mitch Leigh, who co-produced the album.
  5. Her four nights of performances showcase Brazilian classics and her latest albums. Elias kicks off her week on the Miner stage with a night of solo piano and duets with her husband, bass master and former Bill Evans Trio member Marc Johnson. They will showcase their shared affinities for the music of Evans and Antônio Carlos Jobim, the harmonies and rhythms of Brazil, and Brazilian and American jazz classics from romantic ballads to up-tempo swinging standards.
    Friday through Sunday, Elias performs music from her GRAMMY-winning all-piano album Mirror Mirror — a landmark release featuring Cuban piano genius Chucho Valdés and the late master Chick Corea in what would be his final recording — and Quietude, her 2022 Candid release devoted to sun-splashed Brazilian classics. The music from Quietude has a decidedly relaxed vibe that the leader describes this way: "I like to make music that I personally would like to hear. This album makes me feel good, at peace, and relaxed, and I hope that listeners feel the same.”

For more information about Eliane Elias and her career, please read Richard Scheinin’s 2018 interview: Eliane Elias: The Soul of Brazil.

Eliane Elias performs 10/19-22. Solo piano and duo with Marc Johnson on 10/19, and music from Mirror Mirror and Quietude 10/20-22. Tickets are available here.

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