Influence is a funny thing; a variety of people can greatly influence the direction of a musical style, but history remembers them all in different ways. Large figures that make bold musical changes are remembered vividly by the public eye. History book are written around them, their recordings become artistic textbooks, and generations of young musicians imitate them. They become more than musicians, they elevate into cultural markers that represent excellence in the style. There’s always a cast of supporting musicians that work as sidemen and their performances exert an equal amount of influence. Their names tend to float around the musical community, sometimes only recognized by those in the know. Despite a lower profile recognition, their supporting performances help shape the influential character of an artist’s performance through the execution and development of an artistic aesthetic. Outside both of these realms of public awareness, a group of musicians quietly create, innovate, and persevere through decades of performances. These musicians take their time investigating every artistic experience to the fullest possible degree, becoming outstanding instrumentalists, composers, bandleaders, arrangers, producers, educators, and more. Since they don’t bear the weight of history upon their shoulders, they sustain long and fruitful careers that result in major long term influence upon the genre. At every level, all of these musicians help the style evolve into new directions with equal importance.
Pianist Antonio Adolfo spent a lifetime supporting the most important musicians in Brazilian music and creating an identity as a bandleader. Initially encouraged to follow his mother’s footsteps and study classical violin, the young Adolfo soon realized that his artistic passion lay elsewhere. As a teenager, Adolfo moved to the piano and began taking lessons with renown Brazilian music educator Amyrton Vallim. His lessons helped him blossom into a strong musician, leading to performances in Rio and beyond. His early group, the 3D Trio, established Adolfo as a defined leader as the trio backed a number of influential musicians including trombonist Raul de Souza. Eager to learn more about music and gain all important performing experience, Adolfo spent a wealth of time at the legendary corner of the bossa nova world, beco das garrafas. While hanging out, Adolfo would come into contact with important Brazilian musicians including Elis Regina, Dom Um Romão, and Victor Assis Brasil. Visiting American jazz musicians also made impressions upon the young Adolfo, as he observed Horace Silver, Milt Jackson, and more. While the American public listened to Getz, Gilberto, and Jobim, Adolfo played alongside Brazilian musicians that were shaping the character of bossa nova. As Adolfo became an important player in that evolution, the music quickly evolved, leaving a future of musical innovation in front of Adolfo.
Adolfo built a major reputation in Brazil, while most of the Stateside population remained unaware of his important contributions to Brazilian Jazz and beyond. Steve Wonder, Milton Nascimiento, and other recorded his compositions, his recordings influenced young generations, and most US Brazilian music fans kept their attention upon Jobim. In recent years, Adolfo’s collaborations with his daughter vocalist Carol Saboya have brought a new interest in his work. In the first of our interview with Adolfo, we look at his initial musical directions, his time performing in beco das garrafas, and the formation of his trio.
LATIN JAZZ CORNER: You grew up in a musical family; your mom was a violinist in the symphony orchestra. You must have some great memories about your first exposures to music.
ANTONIO ADOLFO: I started at the age of seven. My grandmother wanted me to study violin; she thought that I could follow the steps of my mom as a classical violinist. I didn’t like the rules from classical music though. I knew that it was important, but I wanted something else. I felt that the piano would have more possibilities with the harmonies. I stopped violin at the age of ten and then at thirteen I started on piano by myself. When I was 15, I told my grandmother – she was the great instigator in our family, she wanted everyone into music – I told her that I would like to have piano lessons. She brought me to a teacher that I mentioned to her, who taught piano by ear. He didn’t teach piano by reading music. He was blind, and he was a very good piano player.
LJC: Was that Amyrton Vallim?
AA: Yes, Amyrton Vallim. I started to very quickly understand the whole thing and how it worked – playing piano, accompanying, and soloing. Then at the age of 16 or 17, I started a group at the school. This group was very interesting; (trumpet player) Claudio Roditi was in that group. It was called Samba Cinco. We played in some places in Rio and the university. At that moment, around 1963, bossa nova was already booming in the high-class audience, mostly in Rio. The bossa nova people had already performed at Carnegie Hall and started to find some success here also. There were many bossa nova festivals. We started playing first at the schools and then at some small events.
I had a trio after that; Samba Cinco performed as a trio. Zimbo Trio started a boom of trios in Brazil; there were a lot of trios at that moment. The trio was very easy to work with, traveling with only three people makes things easier. The formation was jazz influenced and everyone collaborated very effectively. We started to play in many clubs and travel and play with all the bossa nova people. We had a show with Leny Andrade and another show with Flora Purim in Brazil, before she came here. Then I was invited by Elis Regina; she was one of the best vocalists in Brazil. I joined the group from 1967 – 1968. We toured in Europe; we did three tours in Europe – there were very good musicians playing with her. She was an incredible singer. She had that sense of emotion. It was a great experience. Then after that, I formed my own group, Brazuca.
LJC: That was more of a Tropicalia group, right?
AA: Yes, it was a little bit influenced by Sergio Mendes’s group. After that, Sergio Mendes recorded one of my songs, “Sa Marina,” which is “Pretty World” in English.
LJC: Early on, before you jumped into the piano, what type of music were you hearing around you in Brazil?
AA: Jazz and bossa nova. Of course, I liked all types of music. I liked some of the slow tempos, what they call samba-canção. That’s like a mixing of choro and samba in a slow tempo. Jobim has some samba-cançãos.
LJC: Was jazz always around – were you listening to American jazz artists or was it more local Brazilian playing jazz?
AA: Yes, lots of jazz artists toured in Brazil at that time . I remember going to watch some of shows, like The Modern Jazz Quartet. After the shows, these people normally went to the beco das garaffas, which means “Bottle Alley.” That was the place where samba jazz was born actually. Before samba jazz there was bossa nova and there was samba. Not played on the cymbals, the drummers didn’t play samba on the cymbals like jazz musicians. They played on the drums, but not on the cymbals. People like Edison Machado and Dom Um Ramão are guys that started to play samba no prato, as we say; no prato means on cymbals. Then beco das garaffas was the place that everybody got together to talk and to show the new jazz releases. I remember Horace Silver going there and jamming with the musicians. I remember Milt Jackson and people like Paul Winter.
I was a young kid – I was 17. I couldn’t go inside the clubs; you had to be 21. I stayed outside trying to listen. Fortunately there were Sunday afternoon sessions where I could play because they were open for young people also. Every Sunday afternoon there was a jam session in one of the clubs of the beco das garaffas. Many people used to go to the sessions like Jorge Ben, Claudio Roditi, and Victor Assis Brasil – he was a legend, he died very young, he was a great sax player. We used to go to these afternoon jam sessions from 6:00 p.m. until 10:00 p.m. on Sundays.
LJC: I’ve heard a lot about beco das garaffas being compared to 52nd Street in New York during the bebop era. What was the area like, what were the clubs like – could you describe it?
AA: There were four clubs. It was one block from the Copacabana Beach. It was on the first block, very close to the beach. From these four clubs, one club was Bottles Bar – they called it “Bottles” because of bottles alley.
LJC: Was that where people would throw bottles down to the ground?
AA: Yes! People would start talking, laughing, and playing. Then the neighbors upstairs, they would throw bottles. You had to be careful! Also, two of these clubs were bars with hookers. Then the forth one had these jam sessions; they didn’t trust too much that bossa nova would be a big boom. The others wanted to have jazz in all these clubs. Then as the jazz and bossa nova started to be happening at that point so much, the owners of the hooker clubs sold the clubs to the owner of Bottles Bar. Except one that still didn’t trust the music too much. We had three good jazz clubs and the forth one never happened to have jazz there.
It was like a school, because we didn’t have a formal school at that time. That’s something that we missed very much, to have a school that taught us. The ones that wanted to learn a little bit more had to come to Berklee in Boston, like Victor Assis Brasil. The ones who could afford it, like Claudio Roditi, also came to the States for a while. Other people came also. In Brazil’s music scene, nobody can make a living from playing only jazz or playing only bossa nova. Bossa nova was something that disappeared after a while, and then something took place that was called MPB.
LJC: You were there at the start of MPB, right? I’ve heard that you were part of a play, Pobre Menina Rica . . .
AA: Yes, that was my start as a professional player, with Carlos Lyra, who was a great composer. He’s still alive. He and Vinicus de Moraes, they had this play. The play was very nice. That was my first real work as a professional, I was 17 at that time.
AA: Yes, Carlos Lyra gave us the name of the trio. Once I formed the 3D Trio, I recorded two albums for RCA, one in 1964 and the other in 1965. I remember the first one that we recorded – at that moment there was a military revolution in Brazil. The drummer was in the army and he couldn’t show up for the first day of the recording session. So we asked Dom Um Romão – he recorded some of the tracks and then Nelson (Serra De Castro), the other drummer, recorded the other tracks. The next year we recorded another album with guests like Raul de Souza. At that time, his name was Raul dinho do trombone. It’s very common in Brazil to mix nicknames with the instrument that a person plays.
Don’t miss Part Two of our interview with Antonio Adolfo. We dive into the rise of MPB, Adolfo’s experiences with legendary vocalist Elis Regina, and his studies with renown music educator Nadia Boulanger. You can find it HERE.
You’ll also want to read Part Three of our interview with Antonio Adolfo. Our conversation covers a lot of ground here, as we talk about the ground breaking creation of Adolfo’s record label, Artezanal, during the seventies, the establishment of his school, and his his first recording with his daughter Carol Saboya, Ao Vivo Live. Check it out HERE.
You’ll love to catch up with the most recent information in Part Four of our interview with Antonio Adolfo. We get into all the details about his latest release with his daughter vocalist Carol Saboya, Lá E Cá (Here & There), including the song choice, the band, the connection between jazz and Brazilian music, and more! You can read it HERE.
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Album Of The Week: Lá e Cá (Here And There), Antonio Adolfo & Carol Saboya
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