Chiara Civello will be performing at Scullers Jazz Club on Oct. 14, as part of the Sounds of Italy Festival.
Chiara Civello doesn’t know how to stay still. The young Italian singer-songwriter has been traveling the world ever since the age of 18, when she took her bags and left her native Rome to attend Berklee College of Music in Boston. “It’s a place that has given me so much,” she tells us in an exclusive interview. “I used to sing in all the North End restaurants with my ‘sister’ Antonia Bennett.”
That’s right. Civello and Bennett — the daughter of legendary crooner Tony Bennett — shared an apartment during their Boston days, staying up late singing new tunes and melodies to one another. “She’s my sister!” says Civello enthusiastically. “We still talk to each other a lot.” Tony himself was impressed by young Civello’s talent, and decided one day to walk into the recording studio with her. “It was 2002,” she recalls. “It was one of the most incredible experiences. Too bad I don’t have that recording!”
More than a decade later, Civello has made a name for herself and is recognized around the world for her singing talent, as well as for her composing skills. “That’s a combination you don’t always get,” she says. In fact, Civello stands out for her willingness to continually evolve and put to a test her music and herself. “We are creatures in constant movement, this is what makes us unique. We grow, we evolve. We are channels of energy, but we must always measure ourselves with other cultures, with different audiences.”
For Civello, that meant she needed to prove her music was appreciated beyond the comfortable confines of Berklee or even her native Italy. After moving to New York, she became the first Italian woman to sign for the legendary Verve Records, which launched her debut album “Last Quarter Moon” in 2005. Featuring “Trouble,” a song written by Burt Bacharach, the album launched her on the world stage, drawing attention especially in Japan and Italy. At the time, Billboard Magazine noted that, “the beauty, charm and allure of singer/pianist/songwriter Chiara Civello’s debut…makes for an auspicious beginning.” The International Herald Tribune declared “her combination of personality, soulfulness and sophistication…striking.” From that moment, Civello never stopped.
Her second album, “The Space Between,” was released in 2007, and featured a more intimate side of Civello. “It’s a record about the space between,” she says. “The notes, the silence between the words, the space between you and I and all those spaces we have a hard time to relate to nowadays. The space that doesn’t make you say everything at once, but little by little, as the need of saying it gets stronger.”
As Civello winded down the promotional tour of her second album, she was once again in need of a challenge, and once again she crossed the Atlantic Ocean. Only this time, the singer landed in Brazil, where she spent a considerable amount of time singing and playing with some of the country’s biggest stars. She became good friends with Ana Carolina, a prominent singer in Brazil, and the two collaborated on Civello’s third album, “7752.” Produced by Latin pop producer Andres Levin, the album featured a great cast of musicians such as Jaques Morelenbaum on the cello and strings arrangement (Tom Jobim, Caetano Veloso, Gilberto Gil, Ruichi Sakamoto), Mark Ribot on guitar, Mauro Refosco as a percussionist (Thom Yorke, David Byrne, Red Hot Chili Peppers) and Anat Cohen on sax and clarinet. Featuring a touch of pop, the more accessible character to the songs gave wings to a happy alchemy between ’60s rock, Italian melody, Brazilian harmony and R&B.
In 2012, after so much traveling and experimenting with new cultures, Civello finally took what is considered as any Italian singer’s ultimate challenge: the Sanremo Festival. The country’s largest TV musical event saw Civello participate with “Al Posto del Mondo,” a song written with Italian/Spanish songwriter Diana Tejera. The song also gave the title to her fourth studio album. “Al Posto del Mondo” received great critical acclaim and that same year the song “Problemi/Problemas,” interpreted by Ana Carolina, won the Multishow prize for best song of 2012 in Brazil.
The following year, Civello consolidated her presence in Brazil, where she returned for a long series of performances in the intimate live show called Solo+ (Solo Ma Non Troppo). Accompanied by her loyal friend Guilherme Monteiro on guitar and alternating between the piano and the guitar herself, Civello crafted a repertoire that mixed her successful original songs with well-known Italian songs that had found success in Brazil, and vice versa. At every concert a great Brazilian star was invited to perform in a duet.
The Solo+ format gave Civello the basic idea for her latest album, “Canzoni,” which she will be promoting in the Unites States during the month of October. In Boston, she will be performing at Scullers Jazz Club on Oct. 14 as part of the Sounds of Italy Festival. “I am so happy to release this album,” she says. “It was important for me to make a record that reflected the music that has formed me throughout the years.” In “Canzoni,” Civello takes 17 Italian standards from the ’60s to now and interprets them in a contemporary key. Thanks to contributions by stellar artists like Gilberto Gil and Esperanza Spalding, as well as the work of DJ/producer Nicola Conte, the album blends irresistible influences of northern soul, bossa nova, blue-eyed soul, and jazz with international pop, all tied together by Civello’s vibrant and velvety vocals. “It’s a tribute to our popular Italian songbook,” says Civello. “I couldn’t ask for more. It’s the album of my dreams, the songs I wish I had written and a sound that winks to the past but strongly looks to the future, to the Italy of now, full of promises. I felt the need to give these important songs a more contemporary touch, my personal touch. It’s a way to move them forward, because anything that stands still ends up calcifying itself.” Civello knows that well, and that’s why she never stops, exploring uncharted musical and geographical terrains to find new inspiration for her creative spirit.
Chiara Civello will be touring the United States in October: New York (Oct. 11), Boston (Scullers, Oct. 14), Miami (Oct. 18) and Washington D.C. (Oct. 19).