Home is where the Spanish is

Chilean jazz singer Claudia Acuña runs the gamut with the Avi Lebovich Orchestra.

The Avi Lebovich Orchestra (photo credit: Roee Fainburg)
The Avi Lebovich Orchestra
(photo credit: Roee Fainburg)
It is perfectly natural for Claudia Acuña to be performing here. Despite the fact that she hails from Chile and is a longtime resident of New York, there has been an Israeli strand to her professional and personal life for some time.
The 41-year-old jazz singer, who will play here together with trombonist Avi Lebovich and his Orchestra between May 2-4, has enjoyed quite a few fruitful musical confluences with Israelis over the last 15 years. She sang on stellar Israeli bassist Avishai Cohen’s debut release Adama in 1998, as well as on Lebovich’s first offering – while he was still a New Yorker before he returned to Israel and got his orchestra troupe together – Constant Chase , which came out 12 years ago, and he and Acuña gigged together on a frequent basis in the Big Apple.
It was around the time of the Lebovich recording synergy that Acuña performed here for the first time.
“I can’t believe it’s been 12 years since I came to Israel to perform,” says the Chilean. “I have been waiting for this opportunity for so long.”
Acuña is not only happy to be heading back this way, but she is also delighted to be hooking up with her trombonist pal.
“Avi is not only an amazing musician and composer and arranger, but I have missed him since he moved back to Israel. He was a dear friend and the first trombonist I used in my band.”
The singer is also looking forward to checking out the jazz scene while she is here.
Acuña put out her first album, Wind from the South , in 1999, which was soon followed by Rhythm of Life , with Lebovich playing trombone and flute. She has released four more albums as leader since then.
“I have been following Avi’s work with the Avi Lebovich Orchestra closely for quite a while. It is very special. I love the voice, and it sounds really amazing, and I am really happy with the material we are doing in Israel,” she says.
The repertoire of the three gigs will be rich and varied.
“We’re going to be doing music from South America to George Gershwin and Duke Ellington, as well as originals by Avi and mine too,” says Acuña, adding that the confluence with the Avi Lebovich Orchestra offers her extra room to maneuver.
“Some of my scores I have only performed with a small group, so I’m really excited about the arrangement they’re going to present and how we’re going to take that journey and the music to a different space.”
And we’re not just talking a numerical increment here.
“It is not just about the bigger sound you get from an orchestra,” says Acuña. “It’s also all the voices and the harmonies and how everything becomes a bigger painting, and there is more tension. That can be so beautiful. I have begun to study some of the recordings and the arrangements I have heard, and I am really excited about the concerts in Israel.”
Acuña displayed a keen interest in music from an early age. There was always a guitar within arm’s reach, and the youngster fed off an eclectic range of sounds, including songs by Chilean folk composer, instrumentalist and vocalist Violetta Parra and disco superstar Michael Jackson.
American popular music and jazz was also in the mix, and she was turned on by numbers by crooner Frank Sinatra, as well as jazz greats pianist Erroll Garner and diva Sarah Vaughan, as well as anything from Mozart to musicals.
Despite her lack of grounding in the genre, the jazz bug began to bite deeper. “When I finally heard people like Erroll Garner and Thelonious Monk, I was drawn to the music’s freedom without knowing that what they played was called jazz,” recalls Acuña.
The youngster made the most of every opportunity to hone her musical skills, including participating in a college choir, even though she wasn’t enrolled at the institution, to sitting in with rock and jazz bands. In 1995 she mustered the confidence and the cash to make the move to New York. One of the jobs she took on was at the feted Blue Note club, where she heard many of the leading jazz artists of the time.
“I had heard Dizzy Gillespie’s United Nation Orchestra in Chile and felt that if he could embrace Latin music, then I could bring my own background to jazz,” she notes.
While her initial musical offerings were of the jazz variety, she began to gravitate back to her cultural roots. “I have always wanted to sing in Spanish. As time has progressed, I think I have become more confident and have been trying to be more loyal to my own process. Two of my last CDs – Luna and En Este Momento – have more songs in Spanish. That just comes with the territory, feeling more comfortable in my own skin and having the confidence to say that my native language is Spanish and to put my own things out there and to pay tribute to some South American composers like Victor Jara, who are not only important for Chile but also very important to my musical history and journey. It is wonderful to perform the music that means so much to me.”
Claudia Acuña and the Avi Lebovich Orchestra will perform on May 2 at the Zappa Club in Tel Aviv; doors open at 8:30 p.m. and the show starts at 10 p.m. On May 3 at 9:40 p.m. at the Tel Aviv Museum of Art. On May 4 at the Zappa Club in Jerusalem. Doors open at 8:30 p.m.
The show is part of the Felicja Blumental Festival www.blumentalfestival.com/en/
For tickets and more information: (03) 762-666 and *9080 and www.zappa-club.co.il, and (03) 607-7020 (Tel Aviv Museum of Art)