By Coty Dolores Miranda
Ruth Vichules is first and foremost a musician and multifaceted entertainer, but she is also a great storyteller.
Any conversation about her music and her newest CD that features American jazz classics sung in Spanish, inevitably leads to fascinating anecdotes: stories of her childhood spent listening to and then singing American, Hebrew and German folksongs; her first of many subsequent journeys to the heartland of Mexico; her spontaneous jam sessions with older Mexican musicians in an out-of-the-way cantina in Mérida, Yucatán.
And then there’s the one about how, during the 1980s, she taught herself Spanish in three months so she could be considered as an exchange student to Guadalajara.
She was accepted, and in many ways that experience set the tone for her life and her music.
Her newest CD (as yet untitled), is a melding of her U.S.-European roots and her love of Spanish languages and Mexico – the country to which she returns each summer. The artfully woven musical tapestry reveals itself seamlessly in jazz classics sung in Spanish and English.
Cole Porter never sounded so good.
“What inspired me to sing jazz classics in Spanish? It was just a natural culmination of who I am – my experiences musically, linguistically, and culturally,” says Vichules, a Tempe native who is also a visual artist. “It authentically reflects who I am: a multicultural, multi-lingual, multi-faceted musician and human being.”
STRUCK BY MEXICAN FOLKSONGS
Vichules’ love of music evolved from childhood when her Berlin-born mother sang her to sleep with songs in Hebrew and German, and with folksongs by Arlo Guthrie and Pete Seeger.
Her father taught political science at ASU and headed the local ACLU chapter. “Our house got egged a lot,” Vichules now laughs.
Her passion for the music of Mexico was sparked when, as an ASU undergrad majoring in jazz and saxophone, she visited a fellow ASU student in Guadalajara, and heard Mexican folksong melodies that were life changing.
“I was bowled over by the music. I knew just a little Spanish from growing up here, but I didn’t really speak it. I had the burning desire to know what they were singing about,” she recalls. “There was something different in it that I immediately identified with.”
Determined to learn more about the music, she borrowed and bought books and taught herself Spanish, enough that she was accepted as an exchange student to Guadalajara.
“I went out every night and taped these songs and then translated every single one,” she said, adding that she still has the journals with the painstaking transcriptions.
After earning two bachelor degrees in music and visual art at ASU, Vichules concentrated on her master’s degree in Spanish. The core of her research culminated in an ethnographic collection of children’s verse which, in her typical fashion, was the result on on-site research.
“I walked around little streets and hung out and played with the children. It was great – these weren’t the traditional ones from Spain, but a type of verse that comes directly from the kids, their own folklore,” she says.
FOLLOWING JAZZ DOWN PATH
Her haunting vocals are captivating in any lingua, but her current CD interpreting American jazz classics in Spanish and English reveals a mastery of jazz techniques, with her voice one of the finer featured instruments. As yet unnamed, this collection will be ready for release this fall at a CD release party. For a sampling of tunes from her upcoming CD, visit www.ruthlaravichules.com.
But even as this CD’s final touches are added this summer in San Miguel de Allende, Vichules is looking toward her next project: Mexican folksongs interpreted with the personalized jazz touch for which she is known, and some of her own original compositions.
“I will use whatever language ‘fits’ for me, translating and adapting and creating lyrics,” she says. “I like to play with words and melody and their intersection with meaning.”
For more information on Vichules, her music and her performance dates, visit her web site. A collection of her photographs from Mexico are also online.
“My consultants say the photos really have nothing to do with my music, but they mean a lot to me and have influenced me,” she says. “I’m a visual artist also, and though I don’t practice it, it gives you an appreciation for finding beauty in even minute things, and that happens in sound, too.”