Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Jazz Meets Choro

Choro is a unique Brazilian music, at times it was closely associated with a national identity. Often choro was promoted and supported in official Brazilian cultural programs to emphasize the nation's unity.This policy may have contributed to save choro from oblivion through its long story and further prevented cultural influences from especially the U.S.A. eradicating the character of Brazilian music culture. However, although choro musicians always remained faithful to the virtues of choro, influence from outside Brazil gradually helped to evolve the music, albeit this aspect often caused controverse with defenders of choro as a pure Brazilian artform. In the 1920s, i.e. Pixinguinha and his Oito Batutas were accused of using American jazz insturments (- mainly the saxophone) and importing a jazz influence on choro after their stay in Paris, which for several years made it a tough job for Pixinguinha to stay in business and perhaps was one of his main reasons to dissolve his internationally successful group. Like in the U.S.A., where jazz from time to time has been met with racial prejudice, choro musicians in Brazil have had to fight back prejudices of the character of their music and the way it should be performed properly.

Like choro, jazz was originally a regional music. Jazz originated in New Orleans around 1900 and soon spread all over the U.S.A. and was exported to the rest of the world through records, broadcasts, films and touring musicians bringing with them various perceptions of the music reflecting the ever changing fashions of the time: from ragtime to dixieland to swing, be bop and free improvisational expression. After WW2 ended and during the 1950s and 1960s, the US government launched an ambitious cultural program disseminating knowledge of American culture worldwide to underpin mutual understanding among nations.A selection of this program also involved and supported jazz and its most popular practitioners in the U.S.A. As a result of this, Louis 'Satchmo' Armstrong - the icon of jazz then - was chosen officially to represent American jazz worldwide. Armstrong was elected 'Ambassador Satch' and was sent on tour around the world with his All Stars to play concerts for people everywhere, this way helping to spread knowledge about an original American artform.

During his trip to South America in 1957 Armstrong also visited Brazil in November that year, and the photo above showing Armstrong and Pixinguinha as good friends is shot at one of the arranged meetings with important Brazilian composers and musicians. Another official photo from this tour of Brazil shows Armstrong in company with the President of the Nation, Juscelino Kubitschek, Pixinguinha and Dorival Caymmi.
Armstrong and his All Stars played several concerts around Brazil, one of the most successful was performed in São Paulo at Ibirapuera gymnasium. The concert was broadcasted live on TV as one of the first transmitted live shows at the TV Record channel. I don't know, if part of this live-broadcast has been saved on film, but to give you an impression of the kind of shows Armstrong and his All Stars played during his job as 'Ambassador Satch', here's a TV presentation from this period showing Armstrong and his musicians performing 'When The Saints Go Marchin' In'

In 2010 there was arranged a concert in São Paulo to celebrate the encounter of Louis Armstrong and Pixinguinha, 'Quando o Jazz encontra o choro'. The concert had participation of renown choro musicians paying homage to the two icons of jazz and choro.A couple of videos from the event have been uploaded at YouTube, here is first a performance of Pixinguinha's 'Mundo Melhor' sung by vocalist Maria Rita accompanied by Hamilton de Holanda and supporting conjunto.

A live concert celebrating Pixinguinha most often includes a performance of 'Carinhoso', here it was performed by Maria Rita and Ney Matogrosso singing the lyrics accompanied by Hamilton de Holanda and the band.

The finale of the concert had an extended version of Pixinguinha's 'Urubu malandro' - a composition first made famous by Pixinguinha's Oito Batutas. The improvisational skills of the participating musicians in this finale remind of a jam session typically in jazz performance - and choro. Unfortunately, the filmed video has rather bad footage, but the sound is o.k., I think.