Her father, saxophonist Jorge Anders, played jazz, but also listened to tango, Cuban and other music around the house.
All of these different influences converge on Anders’ "Last Tango in Rio," an album that is uniquely nostalgic and contemporary. Anders covers classics associated with Billie Holiday, but also gives us six originals. Weaving throughout the album is the distinctive sound of the bandoneon, an instrument often used in tango music.
Anders recently spoke to JazzReview.com about what inspired her latest CD.
JazzReview: Where did the idea for "Last Tango in Rio" come from?
Gabriela Anders: "I’m originally from Argentina, but I had not gone there for a while. Last November, I went there. I already had the idea to do a couple of my favorite songs from Billie Holiday. I was thinking about how I could do them differently when I went to Argentina. My brother took me to a couple of tango bars. I fell in love with the bandoneon sound. I thought I have to be able to use this. It’s such an instrument for tango. I was afraid it would be too absurd. I was working already on some of the tracks. I was able to get my friend to send me the tracks. I worked on it with a bandoneon player. I loved the sound of it, then I kept going on with that same concept"
JazzReview: The instrument has such a unique sound.
Gabriela Anders: "It’s very nostalgic, and the music from Billie Holiday is so nostalgic and melancholic. The bandoneon has the same air. Mixed with the Brazilian thing, my voice and the funky thing from New York, I thought it was an interesting mix."
JazzReview: So the CD really blends many of your different influences.
Gabriela Anders: "I think so."
JazzReview: You live in the United States now. Do you go back to Argentina very often?
Gabriela Anders: "I’ve got to say that is why it made such an impression on me on this last trip. I don’t go there that often. It was exotic. When I heard the bandoneon, it inspired me to do this project."
JazzReview: Your father, Jorge Anders, is a musician. What music played in your house when you were growing up?
Gabriela Anders: "My father loved tango. He was a jazz musician, but he really liked instrumental tango, so there was a lot of tango in the house. I like tango, but I’m not really that good at it. It’s a specific language that I don’t really know. If you are from Buenos Aires, it’s difficult for you not to like tango, you know?
Basically, the music we played more than anything else was jazz. Stan Getz. My father was a sax player so he played a lot of sax players like Dexter Gordon. He was very much into the instrumentalists. That was the majority of the music we heard, but there was some tango and some Cuban music all mixed with a lot of jazz in it."
JazzReview: That’s probably not what your classmates were listening to.
Gabriela Anders: "My classmates liked pop music like early Madonna. Everybody was kind of laughing at me. I thought there was so much more available."
JazzReview: Why is tango such a hard form of music?
Gabriela Anders: "First of all, when you sing the lyrics, they are very dramatic lyrics. It is very sad content. I’m not a very sad person. I think that’s why I connected so fast with Brazilian music. Of course, I can sing a song that is sad. All of the tango songs that I have heard have a very complex poetry from very old. It’s very dark, really very sad, but very well written. A lot of the poetry in tango is some of the best poetry, it’s like literature."
JazzReview: You captured all the best influences of tango, jazz, pop.
Gabriela Anders: "I think the influence of tango is more from the instrumental side than the singing side."
JazzReview: One of the songs on the new CD is a creative rendition of "God Bless The Child." Tell us about that song.
Gabriela Anders: "I’ve always loved that song. I was thinking how could I do it differently. I didn’t want to do it the same old way. It was recorded by Billie Holiday. I tried different types of arrangements, different Brazilian rhythms. I found that and then tried to make a marriage with the tango thing. From that came ‘God Bless The Child.’"
JazzReview: People will be surprised by your version. It’s hard to imagine how it would sound with the twist that you give it.
Gabriela Anders: "Some people will be, ‘What the hell is this?’ Then slowly they get it and say, ‘Oh, wow. That’s nice.’"
JazzReview: What was it about Billie Holiday that resonated with you?
Gabriela Anders: " I love the American jazz singers. I think they are absolutely fantastic. Nat King Cole. Ella Fitzgerald. I grew up listening to Frank Sinatra, so I love them all. For some reason, two particular songs ‘You Go To My Head’ and ‘God Bless The Child’ were always in my head. I usually like to write my own material, but I wanted to do covers and do them in a very different way so that I can add something to them."
JazzReview: You do a perfect version of "You Go To My Head."
Gabriela Anders: "Thank you. I love that song. I have always loved that song."
JazzReview: Was it hard finding the arrangements? Was that the biggest challenge?
Gabriela Anders: "Things went very smoothly with this CD. The arrangements that worked were the ones that were almost like the arrangement and the song got married. They liked each other. It was like a little love affair. If I tried another arrangement, it didn’t work. It was like love at first sight. I have to go with it."
JazzReview: You also wrote several of the songs on the CD. Were they written specifically for the CD or did you adapt them to fit this project?
Gabriela Anders: "Both. ‘The Buenos Aires Mix’ is a new song. ‘Embrace Me’ is a new song. ‘Till The End Of Time’ I had the lyrics, but I wanted to so something that felt like I was in Rio de Janeiro. I wanted to end with a very loose track. I have memories of Rio and people playing percussion in the background."
JazzReview: You recorded in both Buenos Aires and New York. Why two different locations?
Gabriela Anders: "I experimented with the bandoneon, and I had to go there. Bandoneon is very exotic here, and people have a hard time recording it correctly.
JazzReview: Why is it so hard to record?
Gabriela Anders: "It’s an instrument that when you want to get the sound out of it, it makes all these noises. There is a lot of noise that comes from playing it. The person who records it has to be very experienced to know how to get the sound without all those noises. That’s the challenge."
JazzReview: How many of the songs feature the bandoneon?
Gabriela Anders: "Basically, they all do. That was the concept."
JazzReview: When you finished making the CD, did anything surprise you?
Gabriela Anders: "I have to say some songs surprised me by how good they came out. On others, it was ‘Oh, I could have done this.’ There’s always room for improvement, but, in general, I’m very happy with this project. I’m very proud of it."
JazzReview: What other projects are you working on?
Gabriela Anders: "I was touring in Germany because Mercedes-Benz picked up one of the songs on the CD and used it in one of its little movies, promoting the new cars."
JazzReview: That’s great. Which song was featured?
Gabriela Anders: "’Abracadabra.’ That was pretty cool."
JazzReview: Is this a CD that you will tour with?
Gabriela Anders: "I haven’t done it, yet, the way I want to do it, but it will be the music that I will be touring with. We will be starting in March. I’ll have all the upcoming events on my Web site."