Celebration of Love Songs

Romancing Japan with Chiara Civello

16 MARCH 2015,
Chiara Civello © Fabio Lovino
Chiara Civello © Fabio Lovino

“I call myself a crossover—I am the result of my travels.”

The chilly winter night began with the opening of the song “Fortissimo,” (Loudly) written by the renowned Italian composer Bruno Canfora—a gentle and romantic melody interpreted by various artists - Rita Pavone, Claudio Baglione, Letizia Mongelli, and Mina - that Chiara Civello, one of Italy’s undeniably soulful and talented female singer-songwriters, rendered into a soft and wavy Brazilian rhythm.

Anjin, an exclusive music bar and lounge restaurant inside Tsutaya bookshop in Daikanyama Tokyo, has been one of Tokyo’s most frequented venues for music concerts. Here, Chiara Civello, fresh from her beloved Rome, lit up a delightful nocturne of Italian love songs and favorite tunes specially taken from her newest album, “Canzoni.” Beautiful and striking, as her aura besprinkled throughout the room, the captivating songstress amazingly shifted roles from pianist to guitarist, back and forth, so effortlessly while versatile alto saxophone, flute, percussion and keyboard player Alfonso Deidda showcased his one-man full band accompaniment with such impressive precision.

Two nights of stirring performances also took place at the Gala Dinner and Concert hosted by the Italian Chamber of Commerce, and at the Italian Cultural Center.

Following Chiara’s fourth successful studio album, “Canzoni” gathers together a powerful cast of music heroes and heroines, from Gilberto Gil (duet in “Io Che Non Vivo Senza Te”), Chico Buarque (duet in “Io Che Amo Solo Te”), Ana Carolina (duet in “E Penso a Te”), and Esperanza Spalding (duet in “I Mulini dei Ricordi”), with tender renditions of the most treasured Italian love ballads popularized by Paolo Conte, Vasco Rossi, Gino Paoli, Umberto Bindi, Ennio Morricone, Michel Legrand and more. DJ producer and jazz musician Nicola Conte provided excellent production arrangements with equally unmatched accompaniments by Luca Alemanno (bass), Teppo Makynen (drums), Guilherme Monteiro (guitar), Magnus Lindgren (sax), Pietro Lussu (piano), and Gaetano Partipilo (alto sax).

For Chiara, it was a sweet and much-awaited return to Japan after seven years—this time, delving more profoundly into the intricacy of Japanese culture and the growing international music scene.

Connecting with Japan

I think my return to Japan this time impresses me more deeply than before—in 2000, my first time here with Mark Whitfield and Robert Glasper on tour; then, 2005 for my “Last Quarter Moon” album promotion and the Cartier jewelry fair with Blue Note, and then, 2008 at the Cotton Club. It’s a different experience and curiosity, I think, after having read Haruki Marukami. I read his trilogy “IQ84,” “Norwegian Wood,” and “After Dark.” Many Italians are allured to Murakami because the themes of his books are culturally different, and anything very different from our culture is appealing. But, just as during the first time in Japan, I had always been impressed by the politeness in the culture, a trait which I appreciate especially these days, after living in Rome, New York, Brazil… The politeness, keenness, and civic sense of the Japanese culture are very appealing to me. Today, there was a Japanese lady who stepped out of the train just to ask me if I needed help in directions. The Japanese people are very generous and pleasant, and I am always impressed by their delicate manners. The last time I was in Japan I was too busy and didn’t have time for sightseeing or for other things except the shows. So, this time I am hoping to see some good friends, like Makoto Ozone, Chihiro Yamanaka, and others. I also know several other Japanese musicians, like Masako Hamamura, a talented pianist from Kobe and Yusuke Yamamoto based in the U.S. I think that Japanese musicians’ work ethics are very precise, serious and civilized, and at the same time, very beautiful…quite different from Italy. Italian musicians are more hot-tempered, coming from the Mediterranean.

Defining one’s self-identity

I was born in Rome, and grew up in New York; my grandmother is from Bari, and I have a family in Sicily; thus, you can say I am Roman with a Southern blood (smiles). I live in Rome now, because I have to be there due to the recordings I especially did for the “Canzoni” album. But, I also lived in Rio de Janeiro in Brazil. I don’t think I define myself as a singer of jazz or Brazilian or any other music genre. I am a singer who ultimately sings what she wants to sing, and can sing anything regardless of the style. In this way, I have found the heart of music interpretation that is mine, and which characterizes myself.

Encountering Jazz

Because of my music education (both in Italy and at Berklee College of Music), you can definitely sense my background in jazz, though. There is freedom, improvisation of skills, and a lot of risk-taking in jazz. And, if you live through jazz, you would know how to deal with that freedom. I didn’t decide to be in jazz; it just happened. I was exposed to jazz at an early stage, and I learned the repertoire of the standards since I was very young. I started to sing standards at 16 or 17, publicly in Italy and in the U.S.

A pen for songwriting

Gradually, as I was turning 20 to 22, I started to write my own songs. My first composition was “Parole Incerte.” While in the U.S., I met the producer of my first album, Russ Titelman, who opened my eyes to songwriting. He said, “Chiara, you have to write because what you write is really beautiful.” So, I started to become a songwriter.

Teaming with foreign artists

Towards the middle stage of my career in the U.S., I continued to meet many great music artists, like Tony Bennett, Burt Bacharach, and others. These were really random encounters since Russ introduced me to them for collaboration. But, with Tony Bennett… I actually met him while I was still at Berklee. I was very good friends with his daughter, and one day he called me to sing with him.

Traveling with passion

I can’t see myself not having left Italy. I am the result of my travels. If I didn’t leave Italy, I don’t know what I would have done! Maybe, I would have gotten really fat! (laughs). Because of the music I make, I couldn’t have possibly not gone to explore the world. The music I make has roots in American music, for example, and some absorb the Brazilian style as well, so I had to go there—to the U.S. and to Brazil, to fully grasp those music styles with complete awareness. I cannot really understand how some musicians can sing or perform jazz or Brazilian music without encountering those cultures. It would have been truly impossible for me. Some local musicians in Italy have done so, but that is a choice. The way I am made as a person compels me to experience many things in life. It just happened that I got a scholarship to study at Berklee College of Music in Boston, and everything moved on from there.

Loving Brazil

I had always loved Brazil, both as a country and for its music. I went there to sing when I was in my 20s and I fell madly in love with the Brazilian music. And, especially after Tom Jobim died, I really got into the music more deeply. I told myself that I cannot sing Brazilian music without going there, and so I went. Then, I started to do important collaborations with geniuses, like Chico Buarque, Gilberto Gil, Ana Carolina, Maria Gadú, and others. Bebel Gilberto and I are also good friends. I call myself a crossover—I don’t see myself exactly as a jazz or Brazilian singer, but you can see those influences in my roots.

Dreaming beyond

Doing the “Canzoni” album was a real dream for me, and I have never been so excited to be able to put together all the most beautiful Italian love songs. I cannot think of big projects for now…something like collaborations with Johnny Mandel or Paolo Conte maybe would be fantastic, and definitely working with many more different artists.

With special numbers, “Moon River,” a Chiara Civello favorite, and Ennio Morricone’s theme song from the 1969 Italian film, “Metti Una Sera Cena,” from which the “Canzoni” album cover derived its inspiration, Chiara’s zestful three-night Japan repertoire fulfilled the enchanting songstress’ homage to generations of classic Italian melodies and to a celebration of the most endearing love songs enough to fill a sea of romantic memories.

With special gratitude to Anjin Tsutaya Daikanyama, Istituto Italiano di Cultura di Tokyo, Italian Chamber of Commerce, and New Age Productions.