Having a Brazilian jazz album that ranks top twenty with music charts worldwide is rare. Having a top-charting Brazilian Jazz album that features Ivan Lins, Miles Davis, Al Jarreau and Oscar Castro-Neves adds even more layers of ‘special’. But when said album is a debut recording, then it’s time to really take notice. Let’s get to know Alexandra Jackson and her album Legacy & Alchemy.
by Scott Adams
SA – Welcome to Connectbrazil! We are so excited to have you with us as a Celebrity Contributor. How did you get started with music and who or what sparked your interest to record Legacy & Alchemy – specifically in Brazilian music?
AJ – Thank you! My first introduction to music in general was through my parents. They both came from families who loved music and either played it personally or had it playing at all times. My great aunt was an incredible opera singer.
Both my parents have lovely voices, and both of my grandmothers played the piano so that was a nonnegotiable for my sister and me growing up. I started classical piano when I was four years old. Then as I started getting older and developing my voice, I really got interested in singing.
As far as Legacy & Alchemy goes, my interest in Brazilian music really started before I even understood what Brazilian music was. I remember hearing ‘The Girl from Ipanema’ (‘Garota de Ipanema’) everywhere in the U.S. In malls, grocery stores, restaurants, etc. from since I was maybe five years old.
I remember singing along to Frank Sinatra’s ‘Quiet Nights of Quiet Stars’, which I found out years later was actually, ‘Corcovado’. It was fascinating to me when I found out, through studying and researching music, that these beloved songs originated in Brazil and were written in Portuguese decades ago.
I’d have to say a big part of what I love about Brazilian music is its energy… and soul. And by soul, I don’t necessarily mean the foundations of Soul music, but rather an essence of the writer and his or her experiences within their culture.
The culture, I feel, is embodied in the music. I was listening to Brazilian music (mostly Bossa Nova at the time) as a child on American jazz/lounge compilations that my older sister would buy; and she loved Tribalistas! So that was my first introduction to Carlinhos Brown.
Later, when I went away to college in Miami, I was immersed in the Latin culture. I sang in the Brazilian ensemble at my school and made friends from Brazil. They gave me CDs of many of the legendary artists who appear on the album. How amazing is that?
Long before I even understood a word of Portuguese, I felt as though I could follow along with the energy of the song by just how the instruments were playing, or how the lyrics were interpreted, or the tone of vocalist. Brazilian music is truly a reflection of the country, its emotion, and its people. And it just brings a lot of happiness to me. 🙂
SA – I had to smile when I saw that you thanked your High School Band director in the liner notes for Legacy & Alchemy: I’m sure he must be very proud of you! What has been the most impactful moment in your musical career?
AJ – Well, thank you! I would guess that it made you smile because you, too, can relate to the impact an adult can have on a young person when they take a true interest in their development as a human and an artist.
I told him years ago that I would always credit him where credit was due, because he was the one who opened my eyes to approaching vocal jazz. In high school, I was in all the choirs and musicals and such.
Then one day, when I was 14 years old, he approached me at school and asked me if I had ever considered singing jazz. After I gave him a puzzled look, he laughed and said that he wanted to enter the jazz band into a national high school competition called Essentially Ellington, hosted by Wynton Marsalis, and that they needed a singer.
He said that there was no pressure behind it and that he knew we’d be going up against very prominent fine arts schools, so it was really just for us to have the experience and to step out of our comfort zones.
In hindsight, I think he really knew that we could go far but didn’t want to psych me out about my first-time singing jazz being for a national competition. He played it very smart!
Well, we ended up making it to the finals two years in a row, with us placing 3rd the second year. That allowed me to perform with Wynton on stage, for a sold-out crowd, at Lincoln Center, singing ‘Rocks In My Bed’.
I say all of this because that was the turning point in my life, where I decided to go to college for jazz studies. So that would have to be considered a very important moment in my musical career. Which leads me to what I’d say is the most impactful moment: which would be recording my debut album, Legacy & Alchemy.
I often refer to Legacy & Alchemy as a project, because it has indeed been a long, meticulous, soul-searching process. I never could have imagined having collaborations with these legends on my first major release.
I’ve been impacted by them all; I grew up studying to the music of Tom Jobim, Ivan Lins and Miles Davis. I would clean my room to Al Jarreau and Heatwave (Rod Temperton). When I started learning more about Brazilian music outside of Bossa Nova, I was listening to Dona Ivone Lara and Carlinhos Brown. I am incredibly humbled and honored to have been blessed to go through the process of bringing Legacy & Alchemy to life while learning from the best of the best.
SA – I get the impression that your lifestyle resonates with Brazil. As we get to know Alexandra Jackson, how would you describe it and what is a typical day in your life like?
AJ – Well I definitely love music, family, and food and I’d venture to say that those three items are very important to a lot of Brazilians. I also love the ocean and, seeing as a lot of my time in Brazil has been in Rio, the beaches have been much appreciated.
Unfortunately, Atlanta doesn’t have a body of water, so that’s not in a typical day in my life. But I do get out and get fresh air every day; I meditate and do some form of physical activity and I need fresh fruits and veggies every day.
I work on music and the music business side, I create new material and practice the old, I always read/listen to/watch something that makes me laugh, and I make sure I spend quality time with my husband.
SA – Everyone has a hobby… what’s yours?
AJ – Outside of music related activities, I’d have to say driving around the city and spending time with my husband are my favorite things to do. My husband and I both work long hours so we really value our time together.
As for the driving, before my father passed, he and I would spend a lot of our Sunday evenings just driving around, and he would give me history lessons on different buildings, people and neighborhoods. It was such a fond memory that I had with him, that I still do it and feel that he’s with me. It’s also very calming for me. I have certain streets that I know like the back of my hand that allow me to sort of go on auto-pilot, so I can just relax.
So, when I’m able to go for a drive WITH my husband, it’s the best of both worlds!
SA – What words of wisdom guide your life?
AJ – One of my favorite quotes that I discovered in the 6th grade is, “If you want to feel rich, just count the things you have that money can’t buy.” I always wake up with gratitude in my heart for my family, my angels, my blessings, and to live another day.
These are all things that money can’t buy. My other favorite quote is from my father. Every morning that he dropped me off for school, he’d say, “Rock ‘em!” And he meant it.
SA – So many people have commented on your beautiful delivery of Legacy & Alchemy’s Portuguese lyrics, so as we get to know Alexandra Jackson, I have to ask: How much of a “second language” is Portuguese for you at his stage of your career?
AJ – Thank you! I appreciate that because a lot of time and effort was put into my delivery of the Portuguese lyrics on Legacy & Alchemy.
Since I didn’t understand the language when we started Legacy & Alchemy, I had to have all of the songs translated for me so I could understand what I was singing. But I also knew that I needed to work heavily on my accent, because, as you know, a mispronunciation can change the meaning of a word very easily!
So, I worked heavily with a Portuguese language coach. But when Brazilians started hearing me sing in Portuguese, they thought that I could speak it and I had a lot of people wanting to interview me in Portuguese, which I wasn’t able to do.
Now, I’ve started working backwards and have been trying to learn how to speak it. I’d say at this point, I can understand it much more than in the beginning, and I’m actually hearing the different regional accents now, but I still work every day on speaking it. It’s something that I want to improve upon greatly.
SA – The scope of Legacy & Alchemy covers a lot of musical territory, styles and perspective. how is Brazilian music perceived in the international music scene and what’s the future of Brazilian Jazz?
AJ – Ah, so something that I found to be incredibly interesting during the recording of Legacy & Alchemy was to learn that Bossa Nova is mostly bigger outside of Brazil, and that most people think Brazilian music equals Bossa Nova.
I’m guilty of that too, since that’s what I was introduced to growing up on American jazz albums. And it reminded me of how jazz is viewed in America versus many other parts of the world.
Jazz is revered as the best and purest style of music in many countries, but it’s following diminishes greatly every decade in the United States. I have heard that the same holds true for Brazil and Bossa Nova, samba, and other traditional Brazilian music.
In terms of Legacy & Alchemy and Brazilian jazz, I always felt like they go together. It’s rare now to go to the jazz show or hear a jazz album of the great songbook, and there not be a Brazilian song or even a non-Brazilian song played to a Brazilian style.
And with more artists contemporizing and fusing classic styles with Brazilian music, I think more and more people around the world will be hearing Brazilian jazz without even knowing it.
Is that necessarily a good thing? Well, if it allows them to become curious about why they are drawn to this music, hopefully it will lead them to look up the artist, read their stories, and seek out others to listen to and appreciate. Which will then, eventually, lead them to brazil… just like it did for me.
SA – As we get to know Alexandra Jackson, we should mention that Legacy & Alchemy finds you singing in three languages with dozens of the world’s best musicians from Brazil, the US and elsewhere and was produced on three continents over a period of three years. Whew! I know this might be an impossible question, but could you share a story or two that really stands out?
AJ – Of course! This is one of my favorite stories from Legacy & Alchemy: When Miles Davis’s nephew, Vince Wilburn, who’s a friend of the producers of the project, heard about the concept of the album, he said we could have any of Miles’s recordings.
So, we jumped at Miles’ 1963 Quiet Nights album, and the producers did an arrangement around his horn for our ‘Corcovado’. Later, Daniel Jobim suggested adding his grandfather, Tom’s, voice to it. And Paulo, Tom’s son, explained that “Bossa Nova comes from Samba – synergized with American jazz.”
Another beautiful part of this story was the fact that Miles had spoken with Ivan Lins and Larry Williams (producer for the project) about doing an album together before Miles unexpectedly passed away. So, Legacy & Alchemy found a way for Ivan and Miles to finally be on a song together. It’s really very special.
SA – Many Connectbrazil.com fans will be traveling to Rio for the very first time. If you were their personal tour guide, what restaurants, clubs and landmarks would you take them to?
AJ – Oh, my goodness, this is a real test now of my Carioca-ness! First off, for Americans, there are actually Fogo de Chão restaurants there! But, because there are so many wonderful churrascarias in Rio, I’ve only gone to the non-American chains.
Carretão is one that we frequent, and if you want to visit the place where Tom Jobim and Vinicius de Moraes wrote ‘Garota de Ipanema’, there’s a famous restaurant by that name.
If you drink, the phrase I learned early on is, “Uma caipirinha com muuuito pouco açúcar por favor.” Which means, “One caipirinha with veeery little sugar please.”
Fresh juice is big in Rio and there are stores on almost every corner (but again, sugar can be added so be sure to ask!) I’m not a club person, but for music, Beco das Garrafas is a small, intimate, and long-standing live music club where you can hear great performers and bask in the place where nearly every legendary Brazilian musician has played.
As for landmarks, definitely Corcovado. It is surreal and gorgeous. I’d recommend not going on a weekend, as it can get painfully crowded with very long waits. My favorite beach is anywhere outside of Copacabana… hah hah. It’s extremely crowded but can be good for tourists because you can get a lot of your souvenirs there (don’t forget to haggle!).
SA – You’ve joined Connectbrazil.com as a Celebrity Contributor to share your interest in Brazilian culture plus stories about Legacy & Alchemy with us. If you had one final suggestion to help us get to know Alexandra Jackson, and to expand our appreciation of Brazil, what would it be?
AJ – Well, I’d say the two things that can help anyone learn and appreciate a different culture is the food and the music. You can read my posts on the Connectbrazil.com homepage and you are more than welcome to get my e-letter, too!
So, if you can find a local Brazilian bakery/restaurant, or go listen to live Brazilian music, you will that easily have tapped into some of Brazil’s greatest attributes! And feel open to ask questions, because the Brazilian people are very warm and welcoming!