Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Pixinguinha and Choro Day

Pixinguinha (1897-1973)
Alfredo da Rocha Vianna Filho (1897-1973), better known as Pixinguinha, was a choro composer, arranger, flutist and saxophonist born in Rio de Janeiro. Through the legacy of the pioneering choro composers of the 19th century and of the Afro-Brazilian tradition, Pixinguinha produced some of the most important choro works of all time. His work as a composer, bandleader, flutist/reedplayer and originator of the choro genre is of invaluable importance, historically and from a musical point of view. The work of Pixinguinha may be considered important at the same level as the work of initial American jazz composers like Duke Ellington - both helped shaping a musical form that had success nationally and internationally.

The name and legacy of Pixinguinha is kept well alive in Brazil, in September 2000 President Fernando Henrique Cardoso signed an official document to announce April 23th the National Day of Choro in Brazil in honor of Pixinguinha. Every year since then choro has been celebrated officially on the 23th of April through countless events in Brazil and around the world where Brasilian culture is a part of the local community. Let's follow this tradition and celebrate the day by playing some choro music by Pixinguinha.

Os Oito Batutas
Pixinguinha demonstrated ability on both flute and cavaquinho as a kid and started composing at an early age. By the age of 14, he had composed his first choro, 'Lata de leite', and was already an accomplished flute player. In 1913, he made his first choro recordings, and by the time he was 15, he was playing professionally - at 18 he was one of the most popular musicians and choro composers in Rio de Janeiro. In 1919, Pixinguinha formed the legendary Os Oito Batutas (- meaning 'The Eight Remarkable Players' in English). The group consisted of flute (- and later saxophone), guitars, cavaquinho, bandolim, bandola, pandeiro and assorted percussion. - Led by Pixinguinha, Oito Batutas was formed to entertain the audience of Rio's prestigious Cinema Palais in its foyer. Opening on April 7, 1919, the group was a success from its debut. The Carioca élite were taken by surprise by the repertory of maxixes, sertanejo songs, batuques, cateretês, and choros. In 1920, the group performed for the King of Belgium and in the next year they toured Brazil. Returning to Rio, they went to play at the luxurious Assírio Club, accompanying the dancing duo Duque & Gaby. In January 1922, the group departed for Paris, France, financed by millionaire Arnaldo Guinle. Introduced as Les Batutas at the Scherazade club, they performed there for six months with great success. - Also in 1922, they left for Argentina, performing at the Empire Theater (Buenos Aires) and recorded 20 sides for the Argentinean Victor label. Upon their return to Brazil in 1923, they diminished their performances until they soon dissolved the group. - Among the recorded material by Oito Batutas there was a composotion by initial guitar choro originator, João Pernambuco, who was a member of the group for some time - here his choro 'Graúna' is performed by Pixinguinha on flute accompanied by the Batutas 

In the late 1920s, Pixinguinha was hired by RCA Victor to lead the Orquestra Victor Brasileira, and during his tenure there he refined his skills as an arranger. It was common for choro musicians at the time to improvise their parts based on a simple piano score, but the growing demand for radio music from large ensembles required fully realized written scores for every instrument, and Pixinguinha was one of the few composers with this skill. It was in this role that he created some of his most famous compositions, i.e. 'Lamentos' and 'Carinhoso' - Here is inserted the original recording of 'Lamentos' from 1928 

Benedito Lacerda (flute), Pixinguinha (saxophone)
In 1939, Pixinguinha left Victor to join flautist Benedito Lacerda's band, where he took up the tenor saxophone as his primary instrument and continued to compose music for the group. Lacerda's band was a conjunto regional, the name given to in-house bands hired by radio stations to perform music and accompany singers, often live in front of a studio audience. It was with Lacerda that Pixinguinha began another fertile period of composing and recording. Due to economic troubles as the regionais fell out of favor in the late 40s, Pixinguinha had to sell the rights to his compositions to Benedito Lacerda, who for this appears a co-composer of many of Pixinguinha's tunes, even those composed while Lacerda was still a boy. In the recordings with Lacerda, Pixinguinha plays secondary parts on the saxophone while Lacerda plays the flute part on tunes that Pixinguinha originally wrote on that instrument. - Here's an example of the co-work between Pixinguinha and Lacerda, the recording of Pixinguinha's choro 'Vou vivendo' (1946)

By the mid 1950s, changing tastes and the emerging popularity of samba and American jazz in Brazil led to the decline of the choro regional as other genres became dominant on the radio. Pixinguinha spent his time in retirement, appearing in public only on rare occasions. - Here's a rare film from this period showing Pixinguiha and his conjunto playing his famous choro 'Um a zero' - enjoy!

Pixinguinha's music continues to inspire and challenge musicians of all kind to play their version of his famous compositions, here's a new uploaded video showing the harmonicaplayer Vitor Lopes performing 'Lamentos' as a solo piece to end this small celebration of Pixinguinha and Choro Day


Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Rio, Choro, Jazz - A Contemporary Tribute To Ernesto Nazareth

CD cover: Rio, Choro, Jazz ... AAM Music, 2014
A new CD by the Brazilian pianist, composer, arranger and producer Antonio Adolfo is a tribute to the music of Ernesto Nazareth recorded last year and released a couple of weeks ago at Adolfo's own label, AAM Music. The CD has ten tracks, nine of them are compositions by Nazareth and the title track is a new composition by Antonio Adolfo, a contemporary interpretation of the different musical influences that are the inspiration of this project: choro and jazz. The musicians taking part in the recorded ten tracks are: Antonio Adolfo (piano, arranger), Claudio Spiewak (guitars), Jorge Helder (bass), Marcelo Martins (flute, soprano saxophone), Rafael Barata (drums, percussion) and Marcos Suzano (percussion). - The nine featured compositions by Nazareth are "Feitiço" (1897), "Brejeiro" (1893), "Fon-fon" (1913), "Tenebroso" (1913), "Não caio noutra" (1881), "Coração que sente" (1903), "Cuéra" (1912), "Nenê" (1895) and "Odeon" (1909) - the audio of the last mentioned in Antonio Adolfo's new arrangement has been uploaded at YouTube

What caracterizes Adolfo's interpretations of Nazareth's music is the freedom of improvisation, an element exposed in both choro and jazz, here in a contemporary form that may be considered a hybrid between the two genres. The result is neither traditional jazz nor choro, but a mixture that blows fresh air into Nazareth's musical themes through be bop inspired improvisation - in the liner notes Adolfo mentions Bill Evans as an inspiration working with the arrangements featured on the disc.

Antonio Adolfo
Antonio Adolfo (b 1947) grew up in a musical family in Rio de Janeiro and began his studies at the age of seven. At seventeen he was already a professional musician. His teachers include Eumir Deodato and Nadia Boulanger. During the 60's he led his own trio and toured with singers Elis Regina and Milton Nascimento. Adolfo wrote tunes that gained great success and have been recorded by such artists as Sérgio Mendes, Stevie Wonder, Herb Alpert, Earl Klugh, Dionne Warwick, and others. He won International Song Contests on two occasions. As a musician and arranger he has worked with some of the most representative Brazilian names, besides having released several albums. In 1985 he created his own school of music in Rio de Janeiro. Currently he is conducting a music school in Hollywood and teaches Brazilian music and jazz. More info on Antonio Adolfo's career at his official website, here 

Antonio Adolfo, photo by Paul Constantinides
The new arrangements of Nazareth's music by Antonio Adolfo continue and extend a longtime fascination with the founders of Brazilian Choro music, Adolfo released another CD featuring music by Nazareth and Chiquinha Gonzaga in 1991 and he has participated in other choro and jazz projects in Brazil as well. To end this small review of the new CD, here's another audio take from the CD uploaded at YouTube, Nazareth's "Fon-Fon"

The CD Rio, Choro, Jazz ... by Antonio Adolfo is available for purchase here.