Vocalist Chiara Izzi gives jazz weekend an international touch

Chiara izzi

LEE — It was the kind of award, and meeting, that can change a life's trajectory.

In 2011, Chiara Izzi won the Shure Montreux Jazz Voice Competition for singers under 35 at the Montreux Jazz Festival in Switzerland. Quincy Jones was the head judge that year, so Izzi had an opportunity to speak with the legendary musician. He offered the young Italian vocalist words of encouragement.

"From that moment on, my career really started to take a different direction," Izzi told The Eagle during a recent phone interview.

The honor allowed the Campobasso native to record her debut album, "Motifs," an 11-track record that includes vocals in English, Italian, Spanish and Portuguese. It also inspired Izzi to move, in 2014, to New York City, where she eventually met Brazilian jazz guitarist Diego Figueiredo. On Saturday night, the collaborators will team up with acclaimed clarinetist and saxophonist Ken Peplowski for the second headlining concert at Berkshire Gateway Jazz Weekend.

Sponsored by Berkshire Gateway Preservation Inc. in partnership with Berkshires Jazz, the weekend-long festival will kick off on Friday night with a more local flavor. Regional favorites Samirah Evans and Wanda Houston will sing "Classic Duets and More" at the Lee Meeting House, also known as the Lee Congregational Church. Jazz brunches will be held at Starving Artist Cafe and Creperie on Saturday and Sunday with Release the Penguins and Rich Vinette Quintet, respectively. Al fresco performances by the aforementioned quintet, Mary Ann Palermo and First Take, and Kyle Murray Group will precede Izzi and company's show at Lee Meeting House on Saturday. Izzi said that the audience can expect to hear plenty of bossa nova and samba during the concert.

"It's going to be a very interesting meeting between Ken Peplowski, who is a master of the jazz tradition — he really is one of the greatest jazz clarinet players and saxophone players, and he really matches the Brazilian sound — ... [and] Diego is a master of Brazilian music," Izzi said.

Izzi came to Brazilian music early on in life. After studying classical piano for a decade, she began attending a jazz school named after Thelonious Monk in Campobasso during her late teens. She focused on piano and singing. She can still recall her first meeting with a teacher there.

"She introduced me to a jazz record and then, right after, to a Brazilian record," Izzi said.

Brazilian singers such as Joao Gilberto became some of her earliest vocal influences, which also included Ella Fitzgerald, Anita O'Day, James Taylor and Joni Mitchell.

Upon moving to New York City, Izzi met a host of Brazilian musicians. Her ability to speak Portuguese has helped her impart the nation's range of sounds to audiences. In Lee, she will also demonstrate its connection to her homeland.

"I'm going to sing Brazilian music and also give to the audience a taste of the Italian music," said Izzi, who just released her second album, "Across the Sea," "and how Brazil and Italy have things in common that can meet through music."

Benjamin Cassidy can be reached at bcassidy@berkshireeagle.com, at @bybencassidy on Twitter and 413-496-6251.