Friday, May 25, 2007

Guitar Choro Revisited!

Earlier I wrote a small survey on my encounter with the Brazilian choro focusing on the guitar (violão) tradition. You still have an opportunity to read this exercise by a novice clicking on headline.
Since then I have still been listening to guitar choro performers from Brazil, the list is too long to add here. If you are interested in the Brazilian tradition of the violão, choro is an indispensable part of this tradition. Investigating this tradition in details is some task for a non-Brazilian, I recommend a visit at Fábio Zanon's blog devoted to his radio programs at Radio Cultura de São Paulo on the subject 'O Violão Brasileiro' .
YouTube is a great resource to finding examples of choro performances, also if you keep focus on the violão. Below I'll add three video fragments of solo violão playing choro by the accomplished Ovidiov, who has uploaded several video performances at YouTube.
The first video features Ovidiov playing a guitar choro by João Pernambuco, "Dengoso"

The next video is a performace by Ovidiov playing 'Xodó da Baiana', by Dilermando Reis

The last video this time features Ovidiov playing 'Tempo de Criança', by Dilermando Reis

Thank you Ovidiov for your wonderful playing and for keeping the guitar choro tradition well alive!


Friday, May 18, 2007

Playing Choro

In the 1950s Jacob do Bandolim was deeply engaged in a pedagogical project to save choro music from oblivion. At that time the musical taste of the general public in Brazil no longer favored choro due to the influence of forreign (- mainly American) music that was promoted by record companies, radio and TV. However,as a highly respected and well known musician, Jacob do Bandolim had an opportunity to reach the public through several radio and TV programs that promoted choro and related Brazilian music. Jacob produced choro contests on radio and TV, fronted live shows featuring amateur musicians playing choro and he was tireless in encouraging the public to devote their interest into playing choro. In one of his radio programs he called for attention by saying:
"... Why don't you get together with your old friends for a choro session next Sunday instead of sleeping in? Put some new strings on your guitar, start warming up tonight and play in front of the group tomorrow. ... We bet that every one of you has already had this idea. ... All that was lacking was a little motivation. ... So here it is ... Get going, chorões, whether you choose C major or A minor ... Picks, reeds and fingers ready to serve good Brazilian music." (quoted from Livingston-Isenhour, T. & Caracas Garcia, T.G.: Choro, A Social History of a Brazilian Popular Music (2005), p.120)
The traditional way of playing and learning how to play choro is the roda, where choro musicians of all levels get together in a unique social event to play and enjoy the company of each other. The idea of the roda is a performance involving all, newcommers as well as old cats join in by listening and learning by doing, no one is excluded in advance. The spirit of the roda is a friendly cutting contest where everyone gets his or her chance to show off and develop playing skills. The art of improvisation is a crucial point to a successful roda, like the jamsession in jazz, and everybody gets a chance to improvise by choosing well known choro tunes - or 'standards' - to inspire and challenge the improvisations skills of the participating musicians. Written music, if any at all, is only a guide line for stating the musical theme being played, not a restrictive 'must' to be followed.
The roda has been carried on as a tradition in choro clubs in Brazil and other places, but if you want to play choro and no club is to be found in your area, what do you do, if you want to learn playing choro? You may start listening to a lot of choro recordings to get aquainted with the usual choro repertoire and the sound of a choro ensemble consentrating on the various instruments involved in the performance. Then pick up your own instrument and try to reproduce the tunes and sound you heard, not as played by a sudden group, but as you yourself would like it to be performed. This is an never ending process that will refine your ear and playing skills, however, this is also the hard, lonesome way as long as you are not playing together with others. By chance you may get together with other musicians interested in playing choro, then the roda once again is the best way to further develop your chops, I think. However, there is also another possibility to learn and play choro in an ensemble setting.
In the 1950s there was developed a pedagogical tool kit to help aspiring musicians learning to play in ensembles. The tool was distributed by an American company that named their pedagogical package Music Minus One. The idea of Music Minus One was to offer the learning musician an opportunity to play in an ensemble by providing the buyer of the package musical scores and recordings of the music both with and without the chosen instrument. For instance, if you played guitar, you could get a package with written music and the recording of a backing ensemble playing the music, first with the guitar 'as it should be played' and then without the guitar, but leaving you the possibility to play along developing your own rendition in an ensemble setting. Now this idea of pedagogical education of aspiring musicians has been relived by a new American company devoting their production to choro music. If you want to know more about their poducts and pedagogical philosophy, I highly recommend a visit at their website. Click on headline to learn more.

Friday, May 11, 2007

Retratos - Portraits In Music.

During the 1960s the renowned composer Radamés Gnattali and Jacob do Bandolim frequently joined forces in cooperative works and had a close relationship on a friendly basis. One of the joint ventures of Radamés and Jacob was the recording of 'Retratos', a composition by Gnattali for orchestra and solo bandolim. The recording was released 1964 on a LP and has since then also been re-issued on a cd with the same title.

'Retratos'is a suite and consists of four dance movements based on popular forms associated with choro composers of the past. The first movement is a choro entitled "Pixinguinha"; it is followed by a waltz ("Ernesto Nazareth") and a scottische ("Anacleto Medeiros"). The suite ends with a corta jaca dance ("Chiquinha Gonzaga"). The recording of this suite with Jacob do Bandolim as a soloist and Gnattali as director of the orhcestra sat a new standard in choro by incorporating written music in the performance and thus implying study, rehearsals and music reading skills by all involved. Of course, it was not a problem for Jacob do Bandolim to cope with this demanding way of professional work. One of the movements from the suite, the "Pixinguinha" part, was later performed and recorded live at the celebration of the 70th anniversary of Pixinguinha in 1968 - again featuring Jacob do Bandolim as soloist and Gnattali directing a full symphonic orchestra.

As said, the recording of 'Retratos' sat a new standard in choro performance. The choro ensemble Camerata Carioca is more or less formed on the basis of this composition. The story goes that bandolinist Joel Nascimento persuaded Gnattali to arrange the suite for a small group based on the conjunto regional (- the most common formation of a choro group). When the arrangement was ready, Joel gathered together some friends that had accompanied him previously and surprised maestro Gnattali on his 73rd birthday with the first performance for conjunto regional. The group that formed for this occasion was christened Camerata Carioca, and with this group Radamés Gnattali recorded the 'Retratos' in 1979 on a LP as a part of a project paying tribute to the music and influence of Jacob do Bandolim.

If you would like to know more about the influence of Radamés Gnattali in the story of choro and related popular music, I recommend paying a visit to a new website devoted to the life and career of Radamés Gnattali, click on headline to reach this site.


Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Benê, o Flautista

Benedito Lacerda (1903-1958) was a highly talented and skilled flutist, composer and leader of a famous regional that accompanied numerous singers and instrumentalists of the 1930s and 1940s in Brazil. Today Benedito Lacerda perhaps is mostly remembered for his co-oporation with Pixinguinha during the 1940s, their interplay on recordings from that decade added a new dimension to choro and remains exemplary samples of the level of virtuosity that choro performances had achieved. However, this musical aspect of the co-oporation between Lacerda and Pixinguinha has from time to time been neglected by critics, who instead have focused on Lacerda's role as a business manager due to the fact that Lacerda supported Pixinguinha by finance and promotion in return of having his own name added on some of Pixinguinha's compositions.

Whatever the point-of-view in this controversial matter, this aspect cannot errase the fact that Lacerda was a great musician and that his legacy of musical compositions (over 700) and recordings (over 1000) is a notable chapter in the story of choro and MBP.

Perceiving this fact, a new cd-set containing 4 cds featuring recordings by Lacerda has just been released in Brazil. I have not yet had the opportunity to listen to this set, but I'll point you to find more info following the link in headline. This release is definitely of historic importance, if you are interested in the evolvement of choro and MBP.

I add a quoted extract from Alvaro Neder's artist profile in AMG below
"Benedito Lacerda began to learn the flute at age eight, by ear. While still very young, he joined the Banda Aurora. At 17 he moved with his family to Rio, where he started formal flute studies. He graduated from the National Music Institute, in flute and composition. From 1923 to 1925 Lacerda was a member of the band of the military police. In his final year there he was promoted to soloist. Discharged in 1927, he became a professional musician, performing in orchestras and theaters. In 1929 he was a member of the regional (small ensemble) Boêmios da Cidade, which accompanied Josephine Baker.
In the early '30s Lacerda formed his own group, Gente do Morro (name provided by Sinhô). As a singer, he recorded seven songs through Brunswick, accompanied by Gente do Morro. The group, which had a strong point in its percussive section, also accompanied other singers in several recording companies, and recorded some instrumental songs as well. Soon it dissolved, giving birth to Regional de Benedito Lacerda. This group had a remarkable career as a soloist group and in the accompaniment of important singers (such as Carmen Miranda, Francisco Alves, Orlando Silva, Sílvio Caldas, and others) and instrumentalists, on the radio, and in recordings (where they appeared many times as Boêmios da Cidade).
Around 1940 Lacerda was famous and successful, performing regularly in the sophisticated casinos of Rio. Pixinguinha, who was in a bad phase economically, offered his own choro compositions to Lacerda, who would sign them as partner, in exchange for his excellent promotion work. Among the choros recorded for Victor (where Lacerda was director), there are "Sofres Porque Queres," "Proezas de Sólon," "Só pra Moer," "Canhoto," "Um a Zero," "Descendo a Serra," and others. Playing together with Pixinguinha gave Lacerda the opportunity for the great master to revolutionize Brazilian music through the counterpoints devised by Pixinguinha on the tenor sax (an instrument more appropriate to his style of embouchure, at the time). In 1950, Benedito Lacerda retired and the group was then led by Canhoto, as Regional do Canhoto."
I found a video fragment featuring a young flutist performing a solo version of one of the famous co-operative compositions by Pixinguinha and Lacerda, "Vou vivendo"