Sherie Julianne's path to singing Brazilian music took many unexpected turns -- from a musical childhood in Miami to studying and teaching dance in San Francisco to working over the last decade with her mentor Marcos Silva at the Jazzschool in Berkeley. Silva, a native of Rio de Janeiro, is also Julianne's collaborator on the singer's ravishing debut, 10 Degrees South. The CD will be released by her Azul do Mar label on July 29.
"I can't explain exactly what it was but I fell completely, totally, and utterly in love with Brazilian music and started listening to it all the time," Julianne says. "I'm American, not Brazilian, and I wanted to find music that fits my personality, that speaks to my American roots, while being immersed in Brazilian rhythms."
Julianne possesses a translucent honey-amber voice ideally suited for the lithe and flowing melodies that distinguish so many Brazilian standards. Her supple sense of time and her facility at brisk tempos makes her a double threat, emotionally incisive on ballads and fearless on breakneck arrangements. She's joined by a superlative cast of musicians, including master pianist/arranger Marcos Silva, who's worked extensively with a long list of Brazilian and American jazz musicians, Leny Andrade and Flora Purim and Airto among them; veteran saxophonist/flutist Mary Fettig; and the dynamic rhythm section tandem of drummer Phil Thompson and bassist Scott Thompson (no relation). Ace guitarist Jeff Buenz, who has performed and recorded with the great Brazilian jazz vocalist Claudia Villela, rounds out the ensemble.
Beyond introducing a fresh and vital new voice, 10 Degrees South stands out as an unusually well informed program. Julianne's exquisite taste and persistent curiosity has led her to captivating material that has eluded other American singers of a similar bent. The album opens with João Donato and Gilberto Gil's surging "Bananeira," from Donato's 1975 album Lugar Comum. She puts her stamp on Jobim's ballad "Bonita" as well as the bossa classics "O Pato" and "O Barquinho."
At the center of the album Julianne ventures far off the beaten path, starting with "Brasil Nativo," a startlingly beautiful song by Paulo César Pinheiro and Danilo Caymmi that appears on Jobim's 1987 masterpiece Passarim. Digging into the circular melody of "Encontro," she's possibly the first American vocalist to record a piece by guitarist Chico Pinheiro, one of the most inventive composers on the Brazilian scene. Marcos Silva contributes one of his own superbly crafted songs, the deliciously aching ballad "Painting" (with a lyric translated from the Portuguese by Heather Davis).
Born and raised in Miami, Sherie Julianne grew up in a close-knit family where her father's experiences soaking up jazz and Latin music in New York City reverberated through the years. She studied violin and played in various ensembles through college, and sang in her middle school and high school choruses. But by high school her primary creative outlet was modern dance. Julianne led a dance company while earning a fine arts degree from the University of Florida, and moved to the Bay Area in the late 1980s to pursue her love of dance.
While studying at the Oberlin Dance Collective Julianne often found herself in classes accompanied by percussionists, an experience that forged her powerful rhythmic sensibility. "It helped so much with Brazilian music," she says. "In dance, feeling the music inside yourself is essential. Your body is the art form, and the rhythm moves in you and through you."
Julianne continued to study and teach dance for many years but eventually decided that she wasn't going to attain the level she sought. Her focus turned back to singing, and she began taking lessons with the respected Bay Area jazz singer Daria. Before long she discovered Berkeley's Jazzschool (now the California Jazz Conservatory), where her studies with vocalist Stephanie Bruce soon led to Marcos Silva.
Sherie Julianne While she had less singing experience than most of the people in Silva's class, he immediately noticed that Julianne possessed excellent time and intonation. Performing regularly in class with the class band (Silva, Phil Thompson, and Scott Thompson), she gradually built up a repertoire. Attending Dennis Broughton's Brazil Camp in Cazadero, she deepened her knowledge and experience, while befriending celebrated artists like Guinga and Chico Pinheiro.
"One great thing about the Jazzschool program is that it forces you to be a performer," says Julianne, who started gigging around San Francisco with Silva and the Thompsons in Sol do Brasil. (Scott Thompson is Chico Pinheiro's touring bassist.)
Lately she's been working under her own name, and is looking forward to performing with Silva, Mary Fettig, and the Thompsons at her CD release show 11/15, at the California Jazz Conservatory.
"It's been an honor and privilege to work with these musicians, and a joy for me to share this beautiful music," says Julianne. "Through the work in developing the material for this album, I had the chance to dive deep into the music. It's a rare opportunity for many artists to devote themselves to a vision and see it through. I am extremely inspired now and am already working on another performance concept delving into the music of one Brazilian composer. I want to try something a little more unplugged with soft percussion, cello perhaps, and Marcos on piano, of course. That's what happens, I believe. You go down the path and, through the act of doing, all kinds of creative ideas and inspiration start to flow. It's exciting!"