With an octopus-like grasp into the performing arts world, Bianca Rossini has done so much already: acting in films and TV dramas, and hosting her own TV talk show; writing, composing and performing music heavily influenced by her Brazilian roots; publishing a romance novel and poetry books; dancing; and even puppetry. The creative flow is unstoppable and her energy is infectious. In July, she released the new CD “Vento do Norte” and this north wind is about to bring the jazz world much more hot music.
What’s your primary love: acting, poetry, or music?
I love expressing my creativity, I could not live without it. I feel I’m a conduit; it’s something natural, intuitive and often beyond my control. As a singer/songwriter I’m able to incorporate all the different facets of my artistic life including writing, performing, songwriting, poetry, dancing, choreographing and acting.
Why did you come to LA?
I moved to LA some years ago to pursue my career as an actress and realize my dream of becoming a professional singer/songwriter.
Explain the title of the CD?
It means “Wind of the North” and is a song I wrote with Peter Roberts. The album celebrates the joy of love and romance, and the chance to dance and dream.
What inspired “Vento do Norte”?
It has a pop influence. It makes me want to dance. The song “Ipanema Paraiso” features tenor Jimmy Roberts. Jon Gilutin’s arrangement of “Tic Tac,” is a classic. “Doce Amor,” co-written with Patrick Lockwood, features Mark Nilan on piano. It feels timeless. “Meu Sonho” is a bit erotic, one of more than a dozen songs I co-wrote with my other fabulous songwriting partner Marilyn Berglas. “Que Cor,” a poem from my book Love in Black and White (with art by Michael Kenna), is intimate, with just a grand piano played by my co-writer Steven Rawlins.
I’m fortunate to have an extraordinary producer and very talented/accomplished music partners. Peter Roberts produced my first album “Kiss of Brasil” and we’ve been working together ever since. My co-writers in this album include Peter Roberts, Grammy-winning songwriter Jon Gilutin, Patrick Lockwood, Steve Rawlins, Marilyn Berglas and Harvey Mason.
It’s hard for me to pick one song over another; I love them all. All my co-writers are accomplished performers themselves, and are featured in the rhythm section, including Mark Nilan on keyboards, and Roberto Montero and Mitchell Long on guitar.
How did you become interested in jazz?
I grew up listening to bossa nova and all kinds of Brazilian music, and music from all over the world. Some of my early influences were Dorival Caymmi, Vinicius de Moraes, João Gilberto, Pinxinguinha, Tom Jobim, Maysa and Elis Regina. I love Louis Armstrong, Nat King Cole, Ray Charles, Burt Bacharach, Simon & Garfunkel, Édith Piaf, Carly Simon and Dionne Warwick. Later on, I fell in love with Coltrane, Cole Porter, Dinah Washington and Sarah Vaughan.
I grew up dreaming of being in musicals. I saw musicals as the perfect outlet to perform as an actress, singer and dancer. I was in love with all the classic musicals including American in Paris, Singin’ in the Rain, Shall We Dance, West Side Story, The Sound of Music and more.
My mother’s musical taste introduced me to music from every part of the globe: from Trio Los Panchos to Ray Charles, to Arabic, Italian, French, Spanish, Cuban and Mexican music.
I also love opera. I feel very fortunate that we have The LA Opera in our backyard. Their productions are some of the best I’ve seen of Madame Butterfly, Carmen, Tosca and La Bohème. The Recovered Voices Project and II Postino were also extraordinary and unforgettable. There is one opera called La Sonnambula I saw at Convent Garden [in London] that is on my top list as well. I love Luciano Pavarotti, Plácido Domingo, José Carreras, Victoria de Los Angeles, Maria Callas and Jessye Norman.
As an actress, I’ve worked in films and TV shows with some of my idols. I was thrilled to co-starr with Dick Van Dyke on “Diagnosis Murder.” He was as humble as he was talented.
I used to write an arts column covering the performing arts scene in LA. I got to see up close many of the artists whose music I admire and who inspire me. They include Pat Metheny, Quincy Jones, George Benson, John Pizzarelli, Herbie Hancock, Bobby McFerrin, Branford Marsalis, Césaria Évora, Gilberto Gil, Jimmy Webb and more.
What prompted this quote by Jimmy Webb: “Bianca, you will be forever in the book of my luminaries”?
I met Jimmy Webb at the ASCAP Pop Music Awards. When he found out that I was a Brazilian singer/songwriter he said he might be doing a project that could include Brazilian lyrics. I didn’t have my first CD out yet, but he asked me to send him my poetry book A Brazilian Heart.
One day he called me and said he gave my book to a famous singer he was producing for. She loved the poems! In fact, he said she was reading them aloud to him at her country home. He invited me to write lyrics in Portuguese and also compose for him. I went into my producer’s studio, recorded several new compositions, and sent them to him right away. When we spoke on the phone he said he was stunned at how fast and versatile I was and that he loved my work. This was Jimmy Webb, a genius songwriter I grew up listening to. I was moved.
Which do you write first, lyrics or melody?
They often come simultaneously. Most of the time words are music to my ears; it immediately evokes a sound. If a word inspires me, I sing it, and a melody just follows.
Any relation to the Rossini opera family?
The only relationship is our love of music.
Grammy nominations or awards?
Not yet. I hope “Vento do Norte” will win a Grammy.
Talk about your training and early musical performances.
I’ve loved performing since I was 3. Early on I started taking dance classes, music lessons and did acting and storytelling through puppetry. Every night I used to put my little brother to sleep by telling him stories. I would ask him what he liked to hear and he would choose a main character. I would create the story and improvise songs on the spot.
Later on, I would compose melodies whenever inspiration struck me. I was always looking for a writing partner, someone who could play out my music. Anytime I was with a musician who could improvise, I would make up songs.
I started recording myself, which was the best thing for my career as a songwriter. I also did some shows in the late ’90s in LA. At the time, I was too busy with my acting work, and even though there were some good moments, my music career never really blossomed.
Then I met music journalist Don Heckman, who after hearing a composition that I had created spontaneously, said, “Bianca, you’ve got to work with the best musicians and co-write with the best composers.” Even though I was always writing, I wrote like a poet and my songs lacked structure; the words and melodies went on forever. Don offered to become my mentor and in three days I was writing songs with proper structure.
I couldn’t stop. I wrote something like five a day, and began working with other composers around the world. Sometimes because of the time difference I would be rolling out of bed at 4 in the morning to finish a song or listen to a track that my co-writer would send for review and I couldn’t wait, I couldn’t stop writing. It was extraordinary and exhilarating. All my life, I had been waiting for that moment, and a year later I was launching my first album, “Kiss of Brasil.”
What did you enjoy most about your TV talk show?
The Bianca Rossini Show aired [in the Los Angeles market] for ten years, until 2007. I always loved learning about people, their struggle, joy and success. People in general feel comfortable with me. Without asking, they share their intimate stories and journey.
How do you set the mood to compose and arrange?
I usually don’t set anything up. Walking on the beach is a sure way to inspire new melodies and lyrics. It’s instant. I would say the ocean is a very powerful source of inspiration for me.
But inspiration is everywhere: a word, someone’s energy, art, life. My creativity is intuitive, in the moment, and it’s a connection that bypasses my head and goes straight for the heart.
The words come bathed in sounds and like a string of pearls it keeps on going until the necklace is completed. I don’t dictate anything. It tells me where it wants to go, what story to tell and when it’s completed.
What themes inspire you?
Love, which can be interpreted with another or with oneself; death, life, nature, romance and hope.
Are you in love now and how does that inform your music?
I’m madly in love with my husband and with life. I get bursts of inspiration often. It’s a delicious and nurturing experience, and that’s why writing poetry and songs is an immediate creative outlet for me. It often requires nothing more than a pen and paper, or just the iPhone.
What is in the heart and soul of Brazilian music that sets it apart from American jazz?
I was speaking with music critic Steve Hochman, and his take was that what sets Brazilian music apart is that it didn’t develop from American blues, but rather from combinations of Portuguese (and other European traditions) and indigenous culture and music, and African rhythms and influences.
The sounds of the language are very much a part of the music there. I think Brazilian music is freer, as Steve mentions, in that it plays with different sounds from all different aspects of Brazilian culture. It mixes it all up.
Is it a good time for the music industry — especially for jazz artists?
In the past, you could not have much of an audience without a powerful record label behind you. If you were lucky and got signed, then yes, you’d have made more money with royalties, but how many could land a major record label contract or afford to produce a complete album? Very few.
Today we independent artists are connecting with the world’s audience through our music. There are no more boundaries. The access is limitless. You don’t have to wait for a label to produce your album or for someone to publicize your work. You can create your own podcast, blog, YouTube channel, or whatever you want.
Some of my songs have been streamed a million times on Spotify. My albums are playing non-stop on Pandora radio as well. We still have great music writers, journalists, critics and reviewers like yourself who are dedicated and passionate about music and sharing with their audiences the new artists and reminding us of the great classic sounds.
We artists need to get paid for what we do, and all these outlets that play our music need to pay more fairly. We need to continue to advocate for fair pay for fair play.
What’s the newest overall trend in jazz music?
There’s so much amazing talent coming out of every place around the globe. The internet, social media, YouTube, etc. are making music more accessible than ever.
I think it’s inevitable we’ll hear more influence of different cultures in one song than ever before. Even though there have been musicians like Miles Davis, Pat Metheny, John Scofield, and artists’ collaborations like Wayne Shorter with Milton Nascimento, Herbie Hancock and Airto Moreira have introduced plenty of Brazilian elements to their sound.
I wondered why mainstream jazz musicians weren’t incorporating samba, bossa or Arabic sounds into their repertoire. But that is no longer true; it just keeps on expanding, with the sounds of Robert Glasper, Kamasi Washington, Billy Childs and Otmaro Ruiz.
The fusion of sounds is ongoing, celebrated and becoming more and more part of the fabric of jazz.
To continue to collaborate with great musicians and compose, perform and record more albums. I want to have my songs sung by other singers.
It was a thrill to listen to my song “Estrela Azul,” co-written with my partner Sergio Santos, performed by the beautiful voice of Catina deLuna in her debut album “Lado B Brazilian Project.”
I have written an extraordinary number of songs and I would like to continue to work with my music partners as well collaborate with new ones. I want to expand my sound while reaching every corner of the globe with my music.
I would like to thank you, Debbie, for connecting me with your audience, and to give special thanks to my producer and music partners. I hope each member of your audience will give “Vento do Norte” a listen and that it will become their new favorite!
For more information visit www.biancarossini.com.
Photos courtesy of the musician.
© Debbie Burke 2017