Antonio Adolfo grew up in a musical family in Rio de Janeiro (his mother was a violinist in the Brazilian Symphony Orchestra), and began his studies at the age of seven. At seventeen he was already a professional musician. His teachers include Eumir Deodato and the great Nadia Boulanger in Paris. 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 more than 25 albums under his name. In 1985 Mr. Adolfo created his own school in Rio, Brazil. His most recent studio recording, Chora Baião, follows in the footsteps of his previous CDs, Lá e Cá/Here and There (released in 2010), and the 2007 live recording Antonio Adolfo e Carol Saboya Ao Vivo/ Live. Antonio Adolfo is currently conducting a music school in Hollywood, FL (USA) where, along with other instructors, he teaches Brazilian Music, Jazz, and Pop.
A Conversation with Pianist, Composer, Educator Antonio Adolfo
By Danilo Navas
Hello Antonio, it’s my pleasure talking to you in light of the release of your new recording entitled Chora Baião. Our readers will be delighted with your insightful answers and commentaries to my questions. Let’s start the conversation.
LJN: Choro and Baião are among the most popular two-beat Brazilian music styles. Choro originated in Rio, Baião in the northeast of Brazil. What are the commonalities and differences between them (if any)? Where do they cross? Where do they separate?
AA: Both are two-beat musical styles, both have African influences as, in general, other Brazilian two-beat styles have, but Choro carries more influences from the traditional European dances, such as Polka, Mazurkas, etc., Baião carries the Moorish-flavored musical atmosphere of the Iberian Peninsula. As you know Brazil was colonized by the Portuguese, whose music, as well as the one from Spain has lots of the characteristics from the Moors culture, who at certain moment in history, invaded and left their influence in the Iberian Peninsula’s countries, such as Spain and Portugal. And when Baião started to be developed in Brazil it incorporated some typical modalism that could be considered as influences from that Iberian music. The typical musical scale found in Baião shows an hybridism of both, tonal and modal (Lydian flat seven and mixolydian scales) – I think it is not necessary to go so deep in that analysis. Anyway, Choro’s scale carries more of the influences from classical music with its tonal system. What also occurs is that, in Brazil, Choro, Baião, Samba and their derivatives can be found in the Brazilian Maracatu that somewhat synthesizes all of them. Maracatu combines the African culture and the Roman Catholic religion adopted by the rich farmers from the period of Brazil’s colonization by the Portuguese, when the African slaves were brought to work for them. Nowadays, however, Brazilian Jazz musicians adopted all those styles and that mixture to their interpretations. Sometimes you go from one style to another without even noticing how much they can fuse themselves.
LJN: Is there an instrument (or more than one) that we can identify with those two music styles?
AA: Traditionally the two styles used different instrumentation. For example, Choro could use guitars, flute, piano, violin and other common instruments found in the classical music instrumentation. Pandeiro (Brazilian tambourine) was not yet used at that time, which we call Belle Epoque, but later when African descendants started to join the typical Choro groups, then pandeiro was totally absorbed by such groups. Baião used the typical Trio Nordestino (Northeastern Trio) formed by accordion, zabumba (a flat bass drum) and triangle. Sometimes you could find the “pifano” flute -a small hand made wood flute. Very characteristical for the Baião was also the melancholic chants sung by the “cantadores” with their sad melodies, combining the different scales used in Baião. It is interesting to notice here that, in both styles, despite some sadness found in the melodies, both (Baião, Choro and, even, Samba) are very rhythmic and danceable. Maybe that is one of Brazilian Music characteristics as well. Some (and more) of the explained can be found on my book Brazilian Music Workshop (Advance Music)
LJN: Carlos Althier de Souza Lemos Escobar (better known as Guinga) and Francisco Buarque de Hollanda (better known as Chico Buarque) are two giants of Brazilian music. What made you choose their musical works as inspiration for your new CD Chora Baião?
AA: As you say, they truly are two giants, but unfortunately not cultivated by Jazz oriented musicians due to several musical factors, as, for example, the harmonic styles found in their music are not the ones generally found in Jazz typical chords and/or chord sequences, I would even say that to build a Jazz solo based on, for example, some Guinga’s (or Chico’s) tunes can be a real challenge, since he (them) go through very different sequences of chords if compared to the II V I, or, even, through the modal ways adopted by Jazz music till nowadays. And even when they use typical harmonic sequences found in Jazz, they use different bass lines, which by itself create different colors. So, I thought it would be interesting to build that bridge that I’ve tried on the new CD and, then, bringing different colors to Brazilian Jazz than the ones normally used, for example, colors found in the music of another giant (Antonio Carlos Jobim) and few others. To achieve that goal it required a deep work and I went through all their songbooks searching which songs (among more than 300) I would feel more affinity and, therefore, could combine with my musical style. Then, I’ve decided recording three of my songs as well.
LJN: What can you tell us about the modern revival of Choro music?
AA: Its revival started to come to scene during the 80’s, by musicians in Brazil. First by Choro musicians, mainly in Rio and, then, by Jazz oriented ones. And I can include myself among these, since the recording of my album “Os Pianeiros” (1981), where I payed tribute to the great Ernesto Nazareth, one of the most important Brazilian composers of all times, and the subsequent ones: “João Pernambuco – 100 Anos”, a tribute to the guitarist and great Brazilian Choro composer and “Chiquinha Com Jazz” (another very important and influential Brazilian composer and conductor). Nowadays you can see a countless number of great musicians writing and playing very nice Choros and, among them, people like Guinga that, in my opinion, could be considered the one that reinvented that style.
LJN: Is there any difference between Choro and Chorinho?
AA: Chorinho is an affectionate form of calling Choro. In addition, we could say that Choro embodies several subgenres and similar styles as, for example, maxixe, lundu, polka (Brazilian Polka), tango brasileiro, etc, and even waltzes (Valsa Brasileira).
LJN: Let’s talk about the songs that you included on Chora Baião, starting with your own compositions, which by the way, fit perfectly and embody the spirit of this new project.
AA: There is a brand new one, “Chora, Baião” (Cry, Baião). I had written that song two years ago and it was in the “waiting list” to be recorded. And this was the perfect time to do that. There is another one that I’ve created for a composition class, when I was studying with master Guerra-Peixe, in Brazil, in 1975, “Chicote” (Whip), It was included in my 1977 “Feito em casa’ album, but as I’ve been playing that song in some shows and Concerts, it started to take different forms and for the new album I thought it fitted perfectly. Besides the type of chords used I have inserted a section with 24 measures, sort of Blues form but with typical Baião chord sequences, and one that I’ve written totally inspired by the songs of Chico and Guinga, “Chorosa Blues”, a piano solo, that I’ve decided to play just once for the track, simply the tune. In the album it has 1:24 length.
Note from the Editor: more information about Chora Baião at: www.antonioadolfo.info
LJN: Let’s talk about the musicians that joined you on this recording.
AA: Oh yeah, these are the guys, all GREAT musicians: Leo Amuedo (guitarist), born in Uruguay, worked in Holland for sometime and then went to Brazil to join Brazilian composer and singer Ivan Lins’ group. Leo is an incredible musician and peforms very inspired solos during the whole album. Jorge Helder, actually playing with Chico Buarque, represents what a bass player has to be: besides, his harmony knowledge, Jorge has a sense of the whole in a musical group, comes up with nice suggestions, he is very precise and well tuned: a real great bass player! Rafael Barata is one of the best Brazilian drummers I’ve ever met. He reminds me of Edson Machado, the inventor of playing samba using the cymbals that was in the 60’s. Back to Rafael, I am very impressed by his musicianship, his precision and, besides all that, he makes me feel very comfortable to express myself musically. Marcos Suzano, one of the most influential and precise percussionists from Brazil. The way he approaches and plays the pandeiro (Brazilian tambourine) has completely changed the function and possibilities of that instrument in popular music, not just Choro, but any style. He can play any style of music on pandeiro. Besides that, his musicianship adds much to any group of musicians. The way he chooses the percussion instruments to fit every song. I loved the experience of having him in the album. And, there is also Carol in two songs, singing “Você, você”, by Guinga and Chico, and vocalizes on “A Ostra e o Vento” (The Oyster and the Wind). Carol is great and I feel always very gifted having her with me in my recent albums. The most recent ones: Antonio Adolfo – Lá e Cá/Here and There, and Antonio Adolfo and Carol Saboya – Ao Vivo/Live are examples of the nice combination of our styles.
LJN: You credit Oscar Peterson as one of your major jazz influences. Being myself from Canada, I had to ask you how this came to be.
AA: When I started to listen to Jazz, Oscar Peterson became one of my favorites and biggest influences. He was (is) GREAT!!! I was very impressed by his musicianship and his way of playing Jazz. It is hard to describe.
LJN: Can you tell us about your intensive educational work (in both countries, Brazil and United States)?
AA: Since I’ve studied with all my masters, including Brazilian Guerra-Peixe, my dear French teacher Nadia Boulanger and all others, I could notice the importance of transmitting our musical knowledge to others. Besides that, teaching is another way for you to keep practicing. You have to be ready to answer to any question, you have to practice chords in any key, etc., and you learn a lot from the students. So, since 1975 I became a music teacher and, in 1985, created my school in Rio, Centro Musical Antonio Adolfo, which is very active, with a big number of nice teachers and students. Actually, besides, the school in Rio, which is more under the direction of my two daughters Carol and Luisa I go to Rio and work at the school four or five times a year. I am also conducting an experimental school in Hollywood , FL (USA), Antonio Adolfo School Of Music, where I teach music, mainly Brazilian music for adults and children. It has been a nice experience as well. Once in a while I go to other places to teach Brazilian music clinics as well.
LJN: I quote the following from an online source: “…the legendary Brazilian composer Antonio Adolfo, the first Brazilian musician to play the Fender Rhodes”. What can you tell us about this?
AA: Yes, that was in 1969, when I created my group Antonio Adolfo e a Brazuca, a sort of Sergio Mendes’ influenced band. Sergio had recorded my song “Sa Marina” (Pretty World) in that year and I was a big fan of him and his group. The Fender Rhodes was a new possibility in terms of sound for pianists and I wanted to try that. I still like its sound, but, to tell the truth, for the music I’ve been playing lately, I prefer the acoustic piano.
LJN: Besides promoting your new CD Chora Baião, and continuing your dedicated educational work, what’s next for Antonio Adolfo? Any project(s) that you’re already planning to pursue? Any project(s) you still haven’t been able to acomplish?
AA: I enjoy what I’ve been doing. I enjoy recording (my albums and being guest of other artists as well), performing (I’ve been performing mostly in Brazil, but also in the US). There are no projects right now, since I am dedicating much time to my new “baby”, the CD “Chora Baião” and cannot forget my students as well. Of course, ideas always come to my mind all the time, so, at anytime a new project can become reality.
LJN: Congratulations on another magnificent project. Latin Jazz Network wishes you all the best on this and future endeavors. Is there anything else you would like to add to close this conversation?
AA: Thank you. I’ve enjoyed your questions. It has been a pleasure answering to them.