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Luciana Souza

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Photo by Kim Fox

Grammy-winner Luciana Souza ’94 M.M. is one of jazz’s leading singers and interpreters. Born in São Paulo, Brazil, Ms. Souza’s work transcends traditional boundaries around musical styles. Entertainment Weekly writes, "Her voice traces a landscape of emotion that knows no boundaries."

Ms. Souza has been releasing acclaimed recordings since 2002 - including her six Grammy-nominated records Brazilian Duos, North and South, Duos II, Tide, Duos III, and The Book of Chet. Her latest offering, Speaking in Tongues, is a brilliant collaboration with Lionel Loueke, Gregoire Maret, Massimo Biolcati and Kendrick Scott.

Ms. Souza has performed and recorded with Herbie Hancock, Paul Simon, James Taylor, Bobby McFerrin, and many others. She has been a prominent soloist in important works by composers Osvaldo Golijov, Derek Bermel and Patrick Zimmeri, performing with the New York Philharmonic, the Atlanta Symphony, the Los Angeles Philharmonic, the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra and the American Composers Orchestra.

Ms. Souza began her recording career at age three with a radio commercial. She spent four years on faculty at Berklee College of Music, where she received a Bachelor's in Jazz Composition. Ms. Souza earned a Master's degree in Jazz Studies from New England Conservatory of Music and taught for four years at Manhattan School of Music. She has twice been named Best Female Jazz Singer by the Jazz Journalists Association, in 2005 and 2013.

You just released Speaking in Tongues, which you’ve said is really about language. Interestingly, only two tracks have lyrics (both Leonard Cohen poems set to music), and the rest feature wordless singing. Could you talk about the limitations and/or freedoms you experienced by setting this guideline for yourself? For this recording and this specific ensemble, I wanted to communicate language and story in an experiential way - what if we remove a specific language and try something non-linguistic? Are we still able to arrive at some cohesive idea? Are we still creating language? This is something I discussed with my husband and producer, Larry Klein - he brought in a lot of sonic ideas to help us shape the music and tell the stories without words.

What recording are you most proud of? I have a lot of affection for all of my recordings. They are all important to me as they register my trajectory and reflect my curiosity. I am very, very proud of Speaking in Tongues as I feel we have set out to create something completely new.  

What is something that you are personally working on in your current music-making? I have been interested in writing simpler, more immediate music - something that allows the musicians and myself many pathways and that perhaps arrives at the listener directly, without the need for translation or explanation.

What was it like to return to NEC in 2013 to coach and work with young NEC jazz students? It was quite lovely to be back hosted by Ken and being able to connect with Dominique and some of the other wonderful teachers. The students blew me away - the level is so high and they are curious and willing…  I met Michael Mayo, Henrique Eisenmann, Caio Afune, Liz Tobias… such a beautiful harvest of talent present that year. I feel NEC continues to attract the more adventurous and creative students who are willing to look for and travel the road less taken.

What’s next on your schedule of projects? At this moment I am enjoying the release of Speaking in Tongues. It is such an endeavor to make a large recording with a band, I want to make sure I explore all possibilities with these musicians and this music before I move forward. I feel this project is very fruitful because I am working with such an amazing group of improvisors and contributors. We have concerts in Boston, NY, LA, San Francisco… I can’t wait to make this music live again with Lionel Loueke, Gregoire Maret, Massimo Biolcati and Kendrick Scott.

If I make even one person feel something with what I've contributed, I've made that person more human. At least for a period of time, I have helped them feel their strength, their sorrow, and hopefully their heart.
Luciana Souza2016 Alumni Association Commencement Address