A life in music can be one of the most rewarding and fulfilling experiences possible, but it presents its share of artistic challenges. As a young person, a musician faces the struggle of finding a unique spot within the art form that both allows them to respect history and project their personal identity. Once they’ve discovered their true artistic path, they face the long road towards the public acceptance of their music. This path forces them to make decisions about their artistic integrity, making them choose between a compromise to find acceptance or a hard-line dedication to their identity. They might seek alternate paths toward success or stay in the traditional circuit, but they need to find a way to survive. Assuming that they find a manageable career, sustainability becomes a musician’s primary concern. Youth is fleeting and life is long, the musician needs to find a way to continue their art into old age. They might rehash their early successes or they might boldly continue moving into new directions; each decision requires different demands upon the musician. They both lead to the same goal though, a life-long commitment to music.
Pianist Antonio Adolfo has aged with grace and style, maintaining his artistic integrity while passing on the benefits of his experience to a new generation. Developing his musical skills among the top Brazilian and jazz musicians in the beco das garaffas, Adolfo led the 3D Trio into the changing musical world of MPB. He became an in-demand pianist in Brazil’s changing musical world of the sixties, earning a high profile gig with iconic vocalist Elis Regina. His work with Regina led him to Europe, where he studied with respected composer Nadia Boulanger before returning to Brazil to from the popular band Brazuca. When the music business rejected his desires to explore other musical avenues, Adolfo formed his own record label and became a prominent educator. With the establishment of schools in both Brazil and Miami and several educational books, Adolfo has become a respected figure in Brazilian music. His current collaborations with his daughter Carol Saboya have shown impeccable musical taste, but also a need to keep exploring. Adolfo and Saboya have shown the ability to perform the vast Brazilian repertoire on their 2007 release Ao Vivo Live, and are now playing upon the relationship between American jazz standards and Brazilian song. Their intelligent work displays keen musical insight and an understanding of dual cultures that moves beyond the execution of notes and rhythms; it shows a collaborative path into the future.
Adolfo’s recent work continues the long trail of high-level artistry that has been the hallmark of his career. In the first piece of our interview with Adolfo, we investigated his early musical growth and experiences in the beco das garaffas. In part two of our interview, we looked at the evolution of MPB, Adolfo’s time with vocalist Elis Regina, and his studies with Nadia Boulanger. In the third section of our interview, we dug into Adolfo’s creation on the independent music label Artezana, the establishment of his school in Brazil, and his first album with Saboya, Ao Vivo Live. In the conclusion of our interview with Adolfo, we discuss his latest release, another collaboration with Saboya, Lá E Cá (Here & There), and his plans for the future.
LATIN JAZZ CORNER: Ao Vivo Live had a lot of Brazilian repertoire; tunes that you played with Elis Regina and more. Lá E Cá (Here & There) has a lot more traditional jazz standards – was there a specific change in direction or something different that you wanted to do?
ANTONIO ADOLFO: I think I wanted to show that you can easily break musical barriers if you go with the correct phrasing. For example, I think these songs, like “All The Things You Are” or let’s say, “Lullaby Of Birdland” and some others . . . even “‘Round Midnight” – they sound very Brazilian on this album, because I am playing. I did arrangements treating them as Brazilian songs. That comes naturally with my experience. I have been teaching Brazilian phrasing and teaching different things and researching these things.
I noticed that the harmony for “All The Things You Are” could easily fuse with Dori Caymmi’s song a little bit – there’s a quote of “Amazon River.” Maybe because I have that Brazilian phrasing deep in me. I think that I could do that with different types of music from different places also in the phrasing. We can be closer – different cultures can be close.
Like Nadia Boulanger told to us, her students, I don’t care too much about showing technique or playing very fast things. It’s something that you have to feel, each note is very important. Each note you are playing, you feel that note. That’s something that I always told Carol, “When you sing, each note is very important. Each word, each syllable, is very important.” So it’s that feeling. I feel that this album, Here & There, with the American standards, is very Brazilian.
LJC: One of the things that I hear a lot is a jazz standard with a samba rhythm thrown behind it and there’s no connection between the two, but you do that. You pull them all together beautifully. I really liked how you took “Lullaby Of Birdland” and put it together with the Jobim tune “Garoto” – it seems like there’s no separation, they just flow together so naturally . . .
AA: Exactly, I feel like it comes naturally – one brings to the other. You are playing and then suddenly you fuse one song with another song naturally. Like when musicians are improvising, they quote other songs – that’s very common when someone is improvising. They do a phrase or a quote from another song; that comes naturally in jazz. I played that song naturally with the way that I was feeling it.
And these musicians are incredible, I love this group. The drummer, Rafael Barata, he plays the way I like, not that typical bossa nova. He’s playing very lively and freely, like Dom Um Ramão did. Like Edison Machado in Brazil a long time ago. For me, that’s a jazz way of playing, but with the Brazilian thing also.
LJC: The band on the album is great – are those guys down there in Miami with you or did they just come in for the album?
AA: They are in Rio. I think the drummer Rafael Barata is working with Eliane Elias right now. He’s in New York. I like the way he plays drums very much. The trombone player, Sergio, I’ve known for a long time. He’s on one of my old albums. He has a typical carioca phrasing; he has that North side of Rio trombone sound. He and Raul de Souza come from the same area in Rio. All those trombone players come from the same area in Rio – the north side of Rio de Janeiro. Raul also used to play valve trombone earlier, he’s one of my guests on the second 3-D album. These guys have that typical phrasing. The trombone is a very Brazilian, samba jazz, carioca instrument.
LJC: We associate saxophone with jazz so much, would you say that in samba jazz, trombone was an influential instrument?
AA: Yes, it was very much trombone. Of course, everyone likes to play saxophone, but trombone is a typical thing. They do those types of phrasing, which is combined with the percussion – ghosting some notes and accenting the other ones. It’s like they are playing a Brazilian tamborim. And then they combine it with jazz – that’s incredible! I’m very passionate about phrasing, I like that thing.
LJC: On the new album, it’s interesting, because you have all these jazz standards on there, but you also have some of your own older compositions. What do you think has changed in the way that you approach your compositions – do you see yourself doing something differently with them?
AA: There are three compositions that I wrote on this album. One of them is one of my earliest compositions – the last tune on the album, “Toada Jazz.” That originally was called “O Retirante.” That was written in 1967, that’s one of my earliest compositions. I think that the harmony was influenced by Bill Evans. The other very new one is “Minor Chord” – I built it using only minor chords. A song with only one type of chord is not common, but I think the chords flow naturally. I changed “Cascavel” . . . the original version of “Cascavel” was a straight, cut time tune. In this version I did some odd-measures in between without moving the samba thing. Samba normally is in two beat time feel, like cut time or 2/4. There are some measures where I put three beats, but it flows naturally without forcing it. It was something that came naturally. Maybe it’s because I’ve been playing these songs in many shows, many times. The harmony cycle for improvisation I changed a little bit also from the original, where it played only two chords. This time I did a sequence that I think fit it well for the new version of “Cascavel.”
LJC: That song in particular has some great rhythm section work; it’s a great arrangement of that song . . .
AA: Let me tell you, I recorded this album last December when I was in Rio. I did everything in seven or eight sessions. We did a rehearsal before just in the studio, playing the songs. The first song that we recorded was “Cascavel” and that took a little bit more time, because I had never played with Rafael Barata before. I told him, “Rafael, I want you to play freely. I don’t want you to play bossa nova. Play completely freely.” Then we talked a little bit and started the rehearsal. Of course, that song had those odd measures, and it took more time. But there were songs that we played just once before we recorded. Of course, I brought all the chord changes and the sequence of the arrangement written. Then Carol came one day to do scratch vocals for the musicians to listen and play together. Then one day she came and put all the vocals straight like that. The trombone came later also because he couldn’t play together, he had a schedule problem. All the rest was live.
LJC: You’ve done so much different stuff in career, gone in a lot of different directions. Is there anything that you still hope to explore in the future?
AA: I have many ideas. I like to have different experiences with different types of music. That’s part of me. The background in Brazil is very wide, because we play all types of music there. We learn a little bit of each culture. Like, for example, there is a combination, very interesting, that you can find in choro and ragtime. In the music of Scott Joplin and Ernesto Nazareth for example. That’s something that I am very much into; maybe one day I will do something with that. If you take Scott Joplin or another ragtime composer or musician and change a little bit the way of accenting and the harmony, you can say that’s a choro, that’s not ragtime. Maybe one day I’ll dedicate an album to that, I don’t know. I like to do all different things. I like to write my books, teach my lessons, to play, to arrange, to study; I’m very active.
Make sure that you check out Part One of our interview with pianist, composer, and bandleader Antonio Adolfo. We discuss his early musical training, his early bands, and his time in the birthplace of samba jazz, the beco das garaffas. You can read it HERE.
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.
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Spotlight: Lá e Cá (Here and There), Antonio Adolfo and Carol Saboya
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Spotlight: Viajando: Choro e Jazz, Grupo Falso Baiano
Album Of The Week: Lua e Sol, Mark Weinstein