Before Sima Verzino opened Marcellino Ristorante in Scottsdale with her husband Marcellino, she was a performer and recording artist living in Rome. It’s been almost 20 years since they moved to the United States and Sima put her artistic career on hold for the restaurant business. Now, she’s ready to start singing again, and she’s re-launching her career with the help of a special guest and dear friend, Brazilian jazz star Jim Porto, visiting all the way from Rome.
Porto’s signature style is a blend between Brazilian bossa nova, samba and classical jazz music. Born and raised in Brazil, he now lives in Italy. Porto has toured all over the world and has collaborated with artists including Chet Baker, Djavan and Gilberto Gil.
Porto and Verzino will both be performing this week at Marcellino Ristorante – Verzino on Thursday, March 24 at 7 p.m. and 8:15 p.m., and Porto on March 25 at 7 p.m. and 8:30 p.m. Both of Porto’s shows will feature Verzino as a special guest. Verzino and Porto will play with conductor and pianist Mark DeCozio, bassist Felix Sainz and drummer Lady Sheila Early.
What made you want to get back into performing?
Sima Verzino: The restaurant is my second career, and I have been a performer – I’ve been in the arts since I’ve been a very little girl… Marcellino and I met in Rome, and then we moved to New York and I put my career on hold to develop restaurants with him because he was such a phenomenal chef. So I took a hiatus from my business, and after so many years, I was so unhappy not singing. When you have a gift from the universe, you have a responsibility to share it with the world. So I came back from Bali last summer on a beautiful spiritual trip, regrouped myself and put the best musicians in town together, and we started our group.
How did you meet Jim Porto?
SV: We’ve known each other for over 30 years. We shared the same record company back in Rome. He was the one who kept calling me over there, “Sima, you have got to sing!” And last year Jimmy came over for the first time in America to perform here, and he invited me as a guest artist onstage last year in – March or April?
Jim Porto: April.
SV: That’s when the metamorphosis really hit me… So he was very instrumental in reawakening my light.
JP: She left her voice for a long time. She has an instrument, that you can use it, you know, until...
SV: Until you die… And you hear me singing now and it’s better, it’s more mature.
JP: Her voice is better than before.
SV: I feel like I am in the best place I have ever been in my life… Of course because he’s here too, he’s my heart. He is my, he’s my brother of my soul. I devoted myself to the man that I loved. I got married later in life, you know? And it was a new chapter for me, being married. So when we got back to New York, I was going to go out for Broadway, and I remember sitting on the couch in our apartment in New York, and I said, “You know, Marcci, they may give me a part, but it may not be for the Broadway stage, it could be to tour.” And when you tour, you’re away for three to six months. And he just looked at me, and he said, “That’s not why we got married.” And I said, “You’re right!” It was okay because I had an amazing experience learning so much more about my husband’s talents and developing our lives together, both in business and in our marriage. It kept, you know, developing and developing, and growing and growing.
Has co-owning a restaurant taught you anything you can apply to performing?
SV: Funny that you ask that question, it’s the other way around. Because I stepped out of being, you know, on stage, I went into behind-the-scenes, into production, and that’s how I built the restaurant and my husband. And then it all comes full circle… Everything that I had learned as a performer, and people managing me, I saw their mistakes and learned from the good things, and applied it to building Marcellino as a celebrity chef, and the restaurant. And I feel that I’ve done a great job, and I now have both a marketing director and a publicist and they are continuing the work that I started with Marcellino so that I can now get back to me.
SV: I’m performing Thursday the 24th with my all-star group, and then Jim is performing the following night, on the 25th, with his all-star group… Jim has some dates pending while he’s still here. And then I am in the restaurant two Thursdays a month, usually the second and fourth Thursday.
JP: People have to come! They’re going to love it. She still has a beautiful voice, and she has good energy on the stage. She’s very communicative.
SV: Well, you know, when you’re a performer, you need to command your audience with many different factors… Every concert is different, every performance is different, depending on the people that are out there. So even though you may have all the songs written for your show, you look at the people and go, wait a minute. That song would be better for this crowd. So you play for the people that are sitting there.
JP: Right, right right. That’s right. That’s what I’m doing. I have to be the feeling in that moment… It depends on the atmosphere. Sometimes people want to be romantic, and I feel that… Some people are waiting for something more rhythmic, and I try to give my best. The only thing that I want is for when people go home, they are happy.
SV: You know, there are a lot of mega superstars that are out there playing concerts. And when you play those huge venues, you don’t have that with the people. You don’t have intimacy. You lose the intimacy. So on a slightly smaller venue, intimacy is there and artists are very highly rewarded from that 'cause you’re feeling everything, you’re feeling the love. You’re sharing on a real personal basis.
JP: On the 25th… I’m going to play some songs from my first album, which I did with a special guest named Chet Baker.
SV: (Baker) was the foremost jazz god… I mean, he, Miles Davis, Chet Baker, the greats of that time – Chet was there… He was visiting Rome, and he saw Jim in a very famous club, and he gravitated towards Jim, and he said, “Man, I wanna play on your record.” And (Jim) had a heart attack and said, “I don’t have money to pay Chet Baker to play on my record!” But he said, “No man, I don’t want any money, I just wanna be on your record.” Do you know what kind of a compliment that was, from a jazz god?
JP: My first album!
SV: And not only that, Chet said to him, “You know what Jimmy? I hate staying in hotels.” He stayed at Jimmy’s house as a guest with his girlfriend for a month.
JP: Chet Baker, this album, has opened many, many doors for my career until now.
SV: And David Bowie was a big fan of Jim’s. He came to the club as well and struck up a friendship. They wound up going skiing, they became very good friends, David Bowie and Jimmy. He had admiration from a lot of the greats. And now I’m his biggest fan!
JP: I am the biggest fan of her too! You know, I have traveled all over the world, but she gave me the chance to perform for the first time in the United States of America last year… Because for all musicians, play all over the world, arrive in the United States for once, that’s a big deal.
SV: Wait a minute, you’ve played Africa?
JP: Africa, Europe, Asia, South America, all Europe. I’ve lived in Europe for 35 years.
SV: He’s lived in Rome for 35 years. He’s played all those countries. We both would like to now focus on trying to play in some of the casinos both in here and Vegas. That’s our kind of goal. It should be the next step.
Are you more willing now than in the past to travel to faraway venues or go on tour?
SV: After 20 years of marriage, ain’t no problem. We’ve been working together for so many years, and that can be extremely difficult for husband and wife. It can be challenging, because you’re always together. You’ve got to talk about the good things, you’ve got to talk about the problems. It’s very healthy to have two separate careers and then be able to share them. I’m not leaving the restaurant… My staff is amazing that we’ve built at the restaurant, so we’ll be just fine… My husband is very, very happy that I’m back to my singing because he knows me that well. He always has encouraged me… You know that expression, “I’ve found my voice,” it’s true, you know? I re-found my voice.
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