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Gloria Estefan interview

We chat to the global superstar about her new album The Standards.

Gloria Estefan

2013 marks Gloria Estefan’s 36th year in music.  Originally rising to fame with Miami Sound Machine, Gloria is the most successful female Latin crossover artist with sales of over 90 million to her name.

This year she’s set to release her brand new album The Standards and will be performing a one-night only show at London’s Royal Albert Hall on 17th October 2013.

We caught up with Gloria to find out more about The Standards, talk about her incredible career and discuss her upcoming London live show.

Hi Gloria. Where in the world are you today?

I am now driving on Alton Road in Miami Beach going back to my house. We’re going to Vero Beach later today where we have a hotel that we’ve developed and built. It’s my favourite place on earth.

I’m sure it beats the UK weather which for the most part recently has been grey, miserable and raining…

Awww. It’s a shame. I get lucky every time I come over. Somehow the sunshine comes with me.

Please do bring it with you when you come over in October!

I will.

Your new album is called The Standards. What can your fans expect from the record?

Well they can expect a bunch of standards (laughs). They are American songs that were written between 1920 and 1949 from the American Song Book. I really chose the songs and music that is close to my heart. I grew up listening to my mom’s records such as Johnny Mathis and Henry Mancini. The drummer on this record is married to Monica Mancini, Henry Mancini’s daughter, and it was so special to have her in the studio as well.

All the greats of romantic music sang the standards – Frank Sinatra, Tony Bennett – and I got the chance to duet with Frank Sinatra on Come Rain or Come Shine. Recently I did a duet with Tony Bennett that was just phenomenal. This genre feels so much at home for me.

I was sitting at a Trustee dinner for the University of Miami, where I’m a trustee, and Shelly Berg the Dean of the School of Music said ‘come on, do a song with me here on the piano Gloria’. I sat with him and he asked me what songs I knew so I said Good Morning Heartache which I did on my first Johnny Carson show when I was introducing Conga to the world. At that time Natalie Cole and Diana Ross had come out with a version that I loved. We did the song and when I sat singing with him the whole idea for this record unfolded and I’d been looking for what angle I’d do something like this. It was always a matter of time for me. When I saw Shelly play it and the passion that he has, it just manifested itself right there in my brain. When we finished the song I said to him, ‘I’d love for you to do an album with me of standards that’s really intimate, sensual that can become part of people’s special moments in their life. Music that isn’t overblown and the arrangements have the necessary instrumentation to put through the emotion and the specialness of the song.’ He loved the idea.

From over 1,000 songs I narrowed it down to 50. I went with Shelly and sat at the piano and played. We recorded it live in the studio in four days. I wanted to do it live because at that time when the standards were being created, all music was recorded live.  I’ve done a lot of my records live and there’s just this magic that happens when you are exchanging musical ideas together at the moment with each other. We brought the rhythm section in and we did that first. We did as many takes as Shelly felt until it was right. These guys are at the top of their field and they played with Ella Fitzgerald and Count Basie. They’ve played with the best of the best in the music industry. Every time they played and I sang along with them they brought out a different nuance in what I did. What I sang in turn brought things out from them. There’s something very special that gets captured in that way and I felt we did that on this record.

To play with such incredible musicians must put a bit of pressure on you. Would you say it was a good pressure?

It was a good pressure. I wanted the best to be there because we were recording this live so there’s no time for teaching. I wanted these guys to bring their lives to the process and they did that very well. However, it was daunting for sure but it was an honour to have them play with the best there is. It’s a special compliment to me when they were so, so complimentary. They told me they thought I had done the definitive version of Good Morning Heartache and that to me was crazy. It was very wonderful for me to be able to do that with them.

On the record you sing in several languages. Is that to celebrate your roots and your global fan base?

Yes. Standards to me aren’t just American standards. Our wedding song was a standard from Argentina written by the Tango great Carlos Gardel in 1920 called El dia que me quiera and it had never been done in English. I got this idea and I’d been mulling it over in my head for a long time and it turned into The Day You Say You Love Me. I tried to stay very true to the metaphors and the flowery language that was used in the 20s so I’m really thrilled how that version turned out. I recorded it in Spanish as well. I wrote the Spanish version of Smile and just last night played it for Geraldine Chaplin. Charlie Chaplin wrote the lyrics for that and Geraldine told me she loved the Spanish version even more than the English. That’s a big compliment.

I now have an Italian daughter-in-law so I brought her father into the studio and had him help me work on an Italian version as well. It was a wonderful opportunity. They’re all romance languages. I studied French and also recorded in Portuguese. It’s been great fun to think on a global level for this album.

It’s nice that your fans across the globe can enjoy songs in their native language…

Definitely. It’s always special to hear something in your language. There’s a lot of countries that do speak French, and the Italian and Spanish I’m pretty much covered there – and the English of course. I don’t know German (laughs) so I’ve not ventured there but these are all languages I feel comfortable doing.

With all those languages though we’d say you’re pretty safe. You can’t master them all…

Exactly. These are amazing songs that are known the world over as well so it really was an exciting project for me.

We’re excited to hear that you’ll be playing the Royal Albert Hall this October…

Me too!!

It’s been a long time since you last performed in the UK hasn’t it?

The last time I think was in around 2004 or 2005 in Liverpool and London. I forget the exact dates but it’s been a while.

How do you find UK audiences when you play live over here?

They’re wonderful. UK audiences tend to be a little more reserved until the end. I think that’s cultural. Each culture has some moment where they just let go. The fans are such big music fans that they just like to really listen to a show. In Europe music is a big deal and London has a tradition of being on the cutting edge of music and sets worldwide trends. They’re big listeners and like to hear and see the show. I love that. My UK fans have always been incredibly supportive. They come over here when I’m performing here. I love them very much.

We hear the show is going to concentrate mostly on tracks from The Standards but you’ll be reworking some of your classic hits to fit in with the theme. Tell us a little bit more about that.

I want to keep the spectre of what this album is about and we’re playing with an orchestra. I’m bringing the core guys that played on the record, the rhythm section, but we’re going to play with a British orchestra that Shelly’s put together. We did something like that for a show we did for PBS recently and it turned out amazing. There were some funny moments for me in the show and some surprises. They didn’t expect a version of Conga and didn’t recognise it until about half way through. Their faces…it was so funny! I could see them going, ‘this song sounds familiar’ (laughs). When I did the chorus they flipped and didn’t expect it at all. It turned out really cool. I want to try some different things to surprise the audience and the hits as well.

It sounds like it’s going to be a great show. We’re really excited to see what you do…

I hope I can surprise you. The arrangements that Shelly did for The Standards are just ridiculous. They are very adventurous.  I told him I wanted to not put off my pop fans but I wanted it to be musically interesting for people that do like Jazz and are more musical and experimental in that way. He rode that line so well that I was thrilled with what he did. He’s going to be doing some cool arrangements of my classic stuff too. We’ve already been working on it and it’s a lot of fun.

The Standards is very different to your last album Miss Little Havana. Are you always consciously trying to do something different with every album you release?

I’m always trying to stay true to the musical moment I’m living and have it excite me too. With all my albums there’s something that does tie them all together because I do have an expansive musical vocabulary. I can go from the roots of Cuban music which I played in the band when I started, and I’ve been listening to my whole life, to the pop dance of America like on my Gloria album. What we did with Little Miss Havana was see what happened when Pharrell and I got together. We wanted to do a dance album – that’s the only thing we had in our heads going in. We wanted to do something uptempo, like a follow-up to what Gloria had been. It turned out to be a revisitation of Miami Sound Machine’s early days. I felt in the studio with Pharrell like I did when I was doing that. It’s not that we try to consciously do something because I think that would go against the grain of letting the art, the writing or the poetry lead you down a new path.

We started working and I love that album. When we went into the studio we had no record company. Even when we finished it we weren’t looking for one because we just wanted to see what would happen and it was a great opportunity to work with Pharrell. When we finished it we were like ‘damn we want to put this out’. We tried to figure out a way to put it out ourselves and Warner distributed it here. Then when you look at a worldwide level it’s just so complicated. I was already doing The Standards and Sony became very interested in it. They make it a lot easier when you’re on one record company worldwide. I love that record Little Miss Havana. I thought my fans would still hear early me from when they fell in love with Miami Sound Machine and my early records but just give them that artist years later with all my experience. I really enjoyed working with Pharrell.

Our last question for you. Have you ever performed in the Royal Albert Hall before?

I’ve been in it but I’ve never played in it ever. I was there for an awards show one time, I think it was the BRITs. It’s a magical place. I strongly believe that the energy of music and performance permeates the walls of a theatre, and the energy there is just so incredible. It’s elegant, beautiful and historic. I’ve always dreamed of doing the Royal Albert Hall so it’s definitely completing one of my dreams that’s not come true yet. It’s a beautiful place.

It’s the perfect venue to showcase The Standards. We’re imagining a very classy evening…

I think so too. It’s big enough so you can put an orchestra in it but it’s intimate. It’s going to be a very special show for me and I’m looking forward to it.

The Standards is released on 21st October 2013. Gloria plays the Royal Albert Hall on 17th October. You can get tickets from http://www.royalalberthall.com/tickets/gloria-estefan/default.aspx. Preview How Long Has This Been Going on from The Standards below:

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