June 29, 2017 by Helen Borgers


Her voice is warm, her diction crisp, her pitch perfect, and her joy is palpable as she engages with her band, which is called “Jazz Bliss.” Not only does she have abundant talent and an exuberant spirit, but Carol has found musicians who are right there with her, whether she’s singing straight ahead bebop, authentic Brazilian music, or a blend of the two.


“Jazz guys love bossa nova,” she says, “so when they play, the Brazilian music often goes there.  But Brazil was colonized by different cultures in different regions, with different musical traditions -- with African roots, too -- so that makes so many different rhythms. I need musicians with that authentic Brazilian experience.”


“Trust.”  This is an original by Carol Bach-y-Rita and Mike Shapiro. They based it on a Maracatu rhythm -- an old African rhythm -- a kind of marching rhythm.


Bill Cantos, her keyboard player, for instance, has worked extensively with Sergio Mendes, Dori Caymmi, Flora Purim, Airto Moreira, Gal Costa, Herb Alpert and Lani Hall.  Bassist John Leftwich also has experience with Dori Caymmi and Ricardo Silveira.  And her new drummer/percussionist, Ana Barreiro, was born and studied music in Brazil, before coming to the U.S. to attend The Berklee School of Music and then on to U.S.C. for her Master’s degree.  Ana is also a member of the Otmaro Ruiz Quartet, and has played in a variety of settings with an impressive array of artists.  

“The Dry Cleaner from Des Moines,” written by Joni Mitchell and Charles Mingus, arranged by Carol Bach-y-Rita and Robert Kyle as a Samba Reggae from the Bahia region of Brazil.


Guitarist Larry Koonse also has a diverse range of experience from Basie charts with the Frank Capp Juggernaut to performing with Romanian pan flute and Nai virtuoso, Damian Draghici (“Nai” is an Arabian flute), to trio settings with Tierney Sutton and Hubert Laws or John Patitucci and Brian Blade.  He’s ready for anything! It’s clear why Carol feels free to go anywhere the spirit moves her during a gig, and spontaneity is a big part of the joy of her performance.


Conceived in Paris, born in Germany to American parents, Carol moved around a lot as a young person, due to her father’s work. He was a neurophysiologist (specializing in how the brain functions, how people heal themselves from head injuries), and had projects all over the world.  She speaks five languages, all learned of necessity.  When she was in second grade, the family was living in Italy and Carol was placed in a public, very formal, all-Italian-speaking school.  So, she had to pick up the language quickly. She learned Spanish when they lived in Spain. Portuguese she learned through singing at California Brazil Camp. Later, she learned French while living in Paris after college, when she embarked on singing as a career.


Eventually, in the ‘60s, the family settled in northern California, in Marin County. She describes her home life as a “dance-frolic family.” Carol’s mother and maternal grandmother grew up dancing, and Carol did, too! Self taught, she was a natural! Dancing is still a large part of her life. She performs both Brazilian and Afro-Cuban dance, and owns and runs a small dance studio in Hollywood.


She never formally studied music.  She grew up listening to her mother’s record collection, over which she used to struggle with her sister. It was an eclectic assortment, and her sister preferred the rock music, while Carol gravitated toward the jazz, especially bebop and Ella Fitzgerald. (Family peace was maintained by a rule being passed that the girls would alternate half-hours with the record player.) So, as with the languages, Carol learned singing by listening and doing!


Eddie Jefferson was another huge influence. He was current, making commentary, was funny, and he swung! Listening to Eddie helped her learn the language of bebop. Carol says, “You don’t have to even sing the words; just follow his [melodic] lines.”


Carol sings Eddie Jefferson’s lyrics to Dizzy Gillespie’s classic, “Night in Tunisia.”


It never occurred to her that she would sing for a living.  After all, she thought, she didn’t even read music, who would take her seriously? But before entering UC Berkeley -- where she chose an interdisciplinary studies major, combining history, political science, and religious studies into a degree in “PEIS,” Political Economy of Industrial Societies – she auditioned for the jazz choir at a nearby junior college, and to her surprise, was accepted!  Nevertheless, Carol explains, “everyone tends to think less of skills that come easily,” so she went on to UC Berkeley and her PEIS degree.


However, after college, she just wanted to sing bebop. That’s when she moved to Paris, because there were so many jazz clubs there. But, after three years, the grind of the business end of music took its toll. Constantly hustling work, living abroad with no support system, wore her out. So she stopped singing for a long time. She “fell” into radio, then voice-over work, and was not only having fun, but there was a good pay check in it!  And a union!  And there were managers who helped build the work… freed her up to live, instead of working herself to the bone to get hired.


So, now she’s in a good place. She’s back to singing, although she continues all her other delights, including voice work and dancing. She has enjoyed performing with a diverse group of musicians, including Jacky Terrason, John Clayton, Dado Moroni, Harry Allen, Bruce Forman, and Joshua Redman.  She’ll be reuniting with her old friend, Bill Cunliffe (whom she met in her Berkeley days), and performing with his Imaginacion in a free outdoor concert at LACMA for their Latin Sounds series on August 5th, from 5 to 7pm.  She maintains a current schedule of her activities on her website:  Her latest CD, Minha Casa/My House, is doing very well, getting great reviews and lots of airplay around the country. It’s fair to say, Carol has found Jazz Bliss.


 "Morning Coffee" was written and arranged by Bill Cantos, who plays keyboards in Jazz Bliss, and solos on this recording.



On-air personality, Helen Borgers, can be heard on KJazz 88.1 FM from 2:00 pm - 6:00 pm, Monday through Friday. As a jazz broadcaster, Helen has been invited to give pre-concert lectures at various performing arts centers, served on panels in jazz conventions all over the world, and lectured about the history of jazz in middle schools, high schools, and colleges. She has also written articles for international jazz publications and regularly emcees concerts, festivals, and club dates throughout southern California.

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