During the second half of the 19th Century, Rio was the perfect place for the birth of Choro (pronounced Shoh-roh), an instrumental style created by cariocas*, who combined Lundu** with certain European dances brought to Brazil by the Portuguese Imperial Court.
During that period, all music from Europe and from North America (including rag time pieces) was transmitted, and acquired by Brazilian musicians, through written material (lead sheets).
Initially, it used different names such as polca, mazurca, habanera, schottische, maxixe and tango brasileiro, etc., but finally was immortalized with the name Choro. It can be considered the first genuine Brazilian musical style.
Pianist Ernesto Nazareth (1863 – 1934) was the most prolific and popular Choro composer, and his great choros and waltzes endured through the 20th century and are classics today.
As a pianist/arranger/composer and a deep admirer of Nazareth, I have combined his music with my Brazilian Jazz influences for this CD. Changes were made in the form, melody, harmony and rhythm to build the atmosphere presented here.
* inhabitants of Rio de Janeiro
** a dance and musical style brought to Brazil by the African slaves, mainly from Angola.
Greatly admiring the music of Nazareth, and being a musician who embraced Jazz, from the time of Bebop up until now, I began to see that I could bring the music of this genius into my universe. The big chance came in 2013 when I was invited to present a work with my band in a project that happened in the city of Belo Horizonte, Brazil, Ernesto Nazareth, After 150 Years.
So I resolved to do a bringing together of styles with the music of Ernesto Nazareth and Jazz, principally the Brazilian Jazz with which I am so familiar.
It was a big undertaking as an arranger that demanded of me a good dose of experience, not just as an arranger, but also as a composer and pianist.
I went to the recording studio in December of 2013 and recorded this CD, Rio, Choro, Jazz, in four sessions.
For this I was able to count on my basic quintet, made up of me on piano, Claudio Spiewak (guitars), Marcelo Martins (soprano sax and flute), Jorge Helder (double bass), and Rafael Barata (drums and percussion). I was also able to count on Marcos Suzano (percussion) and two musicians invited to play banjo on one of the tracks, the guitarists Rick Ferreira, from Rio de Janeiro, and Bob Whitlock, from the USA.
The initial recordings were made in Rio, with mixing and mastering done in Hollywood, Florida.
The great pleasure of this work was to see it was possible to bring the music of Ernesto Nazareth into my universe.
It was necessary to modify chords, form, and even melody. The piano music of that period followed the classical Rondo form (ABACA). Jazz can embrace all styles and formats, as long as its unique essence is maintained: improvisation. And for that is was necessary to have chords that permit the development of ideas and phrases.
To begin, a tribute to the legendary pianist and composer, nothing is better than a piece composed in his honor:
1 – Rio Choro Jazz, composed by me, and previously recorded for solo piano under the title Chorosa, perhaps would be the synthesis of the title of the CD, as it mixes the two styles and so blazes a trail for the rest of the repertory.
2 – Feitico (Enchantment), published in 1897, was recorded by me in 1981. It begins with an intro using a melody typical of Nazareth’s time, extracted from the first part of the piece, played freely on the piano. The pandeiro, the percussion instrument most typical of the Choro style, enters bringing the rhythm, combined with breaks by the group. Then comes the melody with just piano and pandeiro, followed by the entrance of all the players. Solos for the acoustic guitar, piano, and flute.
3 – Brejeiro (Bucolic), one of Nazareth’s most popular songs, originally published in 1893. In this piece can be identified, as distinct from Choro, an essence of Toada which developed in various parts of the Brazilian countryside and which until today carries a bucolic tranquility, with smooth inspired rhythmic accents from Baiao. An inspired electric guitar solo by Claudio Spiewak is followed by piano, and fills by Rafael Barata on drums, followed by flute.
4 – Fon-fon, published in 1913, the name refers to a magazine of the same title. Fon-fon was also the nickname Brazilians gave to the automobile, a “revolutionary mode of transportation” at the time. It begins with an intro in a minor key, with a samba feeling. Then comes the original melody in a sequence of dominant chords, with a rhythmic motif inspired by Lundu, but, of course, more syncopated, as this element evolved in Brazilian music with the passing of years. The bridge, part B, presents the melody based on the original harmony with chords that evolve, their internal voices in chromatic movement, opening possibilities for a jazz solo, where one can phrase on the piano, constructing new melodies in a very tranquil atmosphere. We return to part A only one time, then enter part C with a beautiful flute solo by Marcelo Martins.
5 – Tenebroso (Tenebrous), also first published in 1913, this piece has four parts. The beginning of part A presents the melody played by the bass – commonly it is played on a seven string guitar, an instrument typically used in Choro groups, with the seventh string tuned to low C. The harmony was substantially modified. The sequence for the solo was expanded giving more time for each chord. With solos by piano and acoustic guitar, with soprano sax later. Part C is more lyrical. In part D we have the melody played by the bass, complemented by acoustic guitar and piano.
6 – Nao Caio Noutra (Better Next Time), one of the first hits for Ernesto Nazareth, the piece was released in 1881. I perceived that the melody had a certain Ragtime Jazz influence and I tried to show this side, playing in North American style, instead of Choro, with the help of two banjos. In the middle of the arrangement there is a radical shift to Samba Jazz, with Blues influence in the harmony as was played in the sixties in Rio’s Beco das Garrafas, Alley of the Bottles, located in Copacabana, where it can be said that Samba Jazz was born and an entire generation of Brazilian musicians gained worldwide recognition.
7 – Coracao Que Sente (Sensitive Heart), originally released in 1903. At the time due to the influence of Chopin on Carioca pianists, waltzes were commonly played, a mixture of modinha brought to Brazil by the Portuguese with the waltzes of Chopin, and came to be known as Brazilian Waltz. In this music I perceived an incredible bridge to the music of Bill Evans that possibly inspired the arrangement played by the quatet of piano, flute, bass, and drums.
8 – Cuera (Valient), from 1912, it is surprising that this piece by Nazareth is little known. It is an authentic Choro, or Chorinho as some prefer, with a touch of Maracatu in the second part (part B). There is an improvised section where we pull toward Baiao, with a Latin Jazz flavor.
9 – Nene (Baby), from 1895, this piece, whose title is the affectionate word babies are called in Brazil, presents a very calm feeling, also in accord with the title, with a touch of Toada. For the second part I inserted some “modern” chords that contrast with the simplicity of the song. And in part C the unison of piano with acoustic guitar shows the beauty of this music by Nazareth.
10 – Odeon, from 1909. To bring this CD to a close with a very happy feeling, we chose Odeon, a very popular Choro by Nazareth, and previously recorded by many musicians. Parts B and C are very interesting where the flute is used with all its beauty and versatility.