Born on March 16, 1960, in Sao Paulo, Brazil; married Randy Brecker, 1980s (divorced, 1990); children: Amanda. Education: Attended Centro Livre de Aprentysagem Musical. Addresses: Management--Impact Artists, 121 West 27th St., Ste. 1001, New York, NY 10001, phone: (212) 645-3627, fax: (212) 367-8315, website: http://www.impactartist.com.

Eliane Elias was born in Sao Paulo, Brazil, in 1960, into a musical family. Her quick rise to prominence and success as an American jazz artist has been the result of decades of hard work and a lifetime of exposure to music. While Elias's father was a wealthy industrialist, her mother played classical piano professionally, and her grandmother played guitar and wrote chorinhos, a musical form developed around the turn of the century and sometimes likened to American ragtime. Elias demonstrated a talent for the piano at an early age and began studying the instrument formally at age seven. By age 12 she had begun transcribing songs by jazz masters such as Art Tatum and Bud Powell, gleaned from albums her mother brought home. The music was deeply affecting to the young Elias.

Elias told Down Beat in 2001, "When I was 11, I asked for a little portable record player, and I would play things like Red Garland with Paul Chambers, Art Tatum, Erroll Garner and Bud Powell. My mother would walk in and catch me crying; it would get to my heart." Elias was admitted into the prestigious Centro Livre de Aprentysagem Musical (Free Center of Music Apprenticeship), a school established by well-known musicians in Sao Paulo, where she remained for six years. By age 15 she was named a master piano teacher at the school and, still immersed in jazz traditions, she began performing in nightclubs. When she was 17 the popular guitarist Toquinho and the poet Vinicius de Moraes invited her to join their new ensemble.

Elias continued to make her mark on the Brazilian music scene until 1981, when she left to travel and perform in Europe. In Paris she met bassist Eddie Gomez, who encouraged her to move to New York. In 1990 she recalled to Down Beat, "That was the last drop I needed. I went back to Brazil, and in two weeks I came to New York."

Upon arriving in New York, Elias studied privately with classical pianist Olegna Fuschi at the Juilliard School of Music. She also sought work as a solo artist while gigging with Gomez, drummer Bob Moses, saxophonist Ronnie Cuber, among others. When her manager suggested she make a demo tape, Elias asked Gomez to contribute, along with drummer Peter Erskine and saxophonist Michael Brecker, who had formed a group called Steps Ahead, which shared Elias's manager. The trio ended up inviting Elias to join their ensemble. Elias stayed with the group through their 1983 self-titled debut. During that time she also married Brecker's brother, trumpeter Randy Brecker. Following the release of Steps Ahead, Randy Brecker and Elias struck out on their own, recording 1985's Amanda on the Passport label, an album named for their newborn daughter.

Still desiring a solo career, and noting that she seemed to be regarded more as Brecker's spouse than as a musician in her own right, Elias staked her claim as a bandleader following the release of Amanda. "We really worked hard together and really shared, but when we rehearsed the musicians always talked to him," Elias remarked of her husband in a 1990 Down Beat interview. "I was his wife." Being a woman in the largely male-dominated jazz world meant that Elias had to play even better than her colleagues. She told the Associated Press, "I had to work three times harder than any man [in order] to be looked at," she said. "I had to sit down and play and do more than the guys can do because if I did just as well as they did, I would be out."

Elias's first solo effort, Illusions, was released in 1986, followed by Cross Currents in 1987. Illusions marked the pianist's debut on the newly resurrected Blue Note label, once a jazz mainstay. Following the label's reemergence, Elias would go on to become their longest-retained artist. Following these releases, the buzz that already surrounded Elias grew louder. In 1988 critics voted her their Best New Talent in Jazziz magazine's annual poll. "It went great. I was able to attend a few jam sessions. Soon my name was going around. People were talking about me," Elias recalled in an interview on the All About Jazz website, "Things happened well and fast and I'm very happy with the way everything turned out."

So Far So Close, released in 1988, featured a more synthesized sound, although Elias acknowledged that she preferred straightahead jazz. "I'd done two straightahead albums, so why not this other side," she remarked to Down Beat in 1990. "I'm not playing many solos. It's the arrangements, the colors. But in general what I like is playing straight ahead." So Far So Close was followed by a tribute to Brazilian songmaster Antonio Carlos Jobim, Eliane Elias Plays Jobim. "I believe that he is Brazil's best composer, like the father of our standards," Elias told Brazzil magazine.

Elias and Brecker separated in 1990, although they continued to work together on occasion. Elias released a steady string of albums during the late 1980s and 1990s and into the new millennium. In 1994 she collaborated with her idol, keyboardist Herbie Hancock, on Solos and Duets. The pair met when Elias was still with Steps Ahead. "I used to tell him, 'I study your music. I love your playing,' and all that. He was always one of my idols," Elias recalled in Brazzil. "I was just a young girl, and I was playing on the same bill as Herbie Hancock, working together! He was so kind. We started doing more and more concerts together, and over time we became more like friends, like musicians, less like the idol and the young girl." The album netted Elias a Grammy nomination in the Best Jazz Solo Performance category.

Two subsequent albums that also garnered accolades were Three Americas (Blue Note, 1996) and Impulsive!, a collaboration with trombonist/arranger Bob Brookmeyer and the Danish Radio Jazz Orchestra and released on the Stunt label in 1997. Three Americas was voted Best Jazz Album in Down Beat's 1997 Readers Poll, while Impulsive! received a Grammy nomination for Best Large Jazz Ensemble Album when it was re-released as a CD in 2001.

Elias shifted gears yet again with her 1998 Blue Note release Sings Jobim, on which she revisited the Brazilian master's works, this time adding her own vocals. The project was a natural extension of her work, she told Brazzil. "I'm known to be very diverse. My CDs are very different, one from the other," she remarked. "And why? Because all those sides are genuine sides, they are true sides of me. You know, I am Brazilian. There are some recordings that are Brazilian. I'm a jazz player. Yes, I'm a classical player. I have a classical CD. So I felt that I wanted to do an album singing. Not a statement of 'Here's a singer,' but here's how I'm thinking, okay?."

Elias released only one more album on Blue Note after Sings Jobim, 2000's Everything I Love. She debuted with RCA/Bluebird in 2002 with Kissed by Nature and explored her vocal talents again on the 2004 release Dreamer, an album of primarily English-language standards. Elias's talents as a composer and multidimensional instrumentalist have been recognized by many of her peers, including her former husband. "Eliane, much more than me, is truly an artist," Randy Brecker told Down Beat in 1990, before the couple separated. "She plays like nobody else and her compositions are like no one else's. It's due to the many influences this country and Brazil have had on her."

by Kristin Palm

Eliane Elias's Career

Member, Steps Ahead, 1983-84; formed ensemble with Randy Brecker, 1984; launched solo career, 1985; recorded for Blue Note, 1986-2001; instructor, Manhattan School of Music, 1995-98; signed to RCA/Bluebird, 2002.

Famous Works

Further Reading

Sources

PeriodicalsOnline

Visitor Comments Add a comment…

over 8 years ago

I had the pleasure of attending two sets during Elias's run at The Jazz Bakery in Culver City (Los Angeles), California, at about the time her "Something For You" album was released, and it was sublime. Her prowess at the keyboard, and her wonderfully innovative and fresh musicology held me and my friends in thrall. She's simply the real thing: a master, a cut above the pack.