Music's the air she breathes -- a visit with singer Tania Maria on PBS; Brazilian jazz artist reveals how a long 'z' can mean 'I love you'

In a field heavily dominated by men, Brazilian jazz pianist and singer Tania Maria effectively shatters any preconceptions one may have about female musicians. She sings and plays with an energy level and concentration enviable in any musician, male or female, and she does both with a vengeance.

In a half-hour television documentary, produced by Ledith P. Lugo for WGBH/Boston, Maria plays selections from her latest album (she now has three recorded in the US in addition to the seven released in Europe) and talks about her music while at home with her husband and young child.

"Music is for me 24 hours a day," says Maria on the show. "It is my life, my breath, my air. There is no moment in my life I don't think about music. Even when I cook I am thinking rhythms."

This is transparently obvious when she performs. She plays and sings music that has a clear melody and musical form, but what ignites the performance is her almost frenetic absorption in each moment. It's as if she can't wring enough rhythm from each note before she lets it go. The result is a performance so packed with vocalise, rhythm, and melody that it almost overwhelms the listener.

On the show, she discusses her particular vocal style, something of a melange of Portuguese, English, and pure nonsense vowels. "My onomatopoeia is my feelings about something I would like to say in your language. When I say," and she makes a long drawn out z sound, "I mean I love you."

Her music is contemporary jazz combined with a rhythmic Latin influence. Most of her songs are original, although she does include standards in her repertoire.

While at home with her daughter and husband, she discusses the relationship between her life and her music.

"It is my progression through life. I'm very curious, open to all kinds of information. So music is to me a question of life. In music you can share your happiness, your sadness, all the things you feel."

After watching her coax the song "Embrace Me" out of her young daughter (shyly conscious of the television cameras), her next comment is no surprise: "My life is when I play."

She studied classical piano for only five years before deciding to explore her own style of music. At the age of 12 she formed her own band and began playing in her native Brazil. At 17 she married and took a break from her life as a musician to devote herself to her family. She resumed her career at 22.

From Rio de Janeiro she moved to Paris, where her international career began in earnest. Her second husband, whom she met in France, has managed her career since that time. In 1977 she came to the United States at the invitation of jazz great Stan Getz.

Since then, she has played in jazz festivals across the US, from Newport to Monterey, impressing crisics with every performance. In 1981 she was named "Jazz Woman of the Year" by the Los Angeles Times -- the same year Miles Davis was named in the male category.

The studio performance on the documentary tape is a calmer portrait than she is in person, but it still captures her absorbing musicality, with the added dimension of being able to see the emotional dimension of the music in her face and body close-ups.

Comments producer Lugo, "She is hot. It won't be long before she'll be known across the US. It's just a matter of time."

She is continuing her international schedule with appearances in Helsinki, South Africa, and Mexico in early 1984. She will have her own show," An Evening with Tania Maria," at Avery Fisher Hall in New York and will play in the Boston Globe Jazz Festival, both in March. She will tour the West Coast in April and appear in the June Kool Jazz Festival in New York. She will play in various jazz festivals throughout the summer after that.

Her next album, "Love Explosion," will be released this January on Concord Records.

The documentary will be broadcast nationally Thursday, Dec. 29 (check local listings for the time). It is a gemlike picture of everything that makes up this talented musician's life -- her music, her family, her country. Put it on your calendar.

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