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Sunday, July 24, 2011
Sao Paulo - The IASJ Meeting (Part 2)
The second part of my report on the recent IASJ meeting in Sao Paulo in July 2011. For part one go here
Today is a very Brazilian kind of day – it begins and ends with Choro.
Opening up the day we’re treated to an explanation and demonstration of Choro music by Pedro Ramos, one of the teachers at Souza Lima, our host school. Choro is a wonderful music typically played by at least two guitars (a small one called a Caviquinho, and a big 7-string guitar), one or more melody instruments (saxophone, clarinet, or flute usually) and Pandeiro – the Brazilian tambourine. It dates to the early part of the 20th Century and is sometimes described as Brazil’s Ragtime. It is full of counterpoint and the voice-leading prowess of a good Choro player is really something to behold – the 7-string guitar acts as a bass, but a constantly moving bass, playing wonderful obbligato lines underneath the melody. In fact the way the melody and accompaniment switch back and forth between the different instruments is in itself reminiscent (in terms of instrumental roles rather than sound) of traditional jazz. But the rhythms are unmistakably Brazilian, with that slightly behind, triplet-y samba so unique to the music of this country. Pedro also gave a handout that outlined the racial history of Brazil and how the very striking variety of races and skin colour that one sees in Brazil came about and how unique to Brazil that was.
(Pedro Ramos Group)
After we’ve all been uplifted by the Choro music we go to Masterclass again and this time Herbie Kopf takes the helm and has some great things to say about dealing with sound issues in venues of different types and also some very valuable stuff on practice techniques. The students weigh in with some great stuff too – questions and suggestions. This is exactly what IASJ Masterclasses are about – the sharing of ideas rather than stuff being handed down in a hierarchical way. In the afternoon, more student rehearsals and ongoing dialogues for the teachers, and then in the evening we go off to finish the day with the same music we started it with – Choro, and the legendary Ó Do Borogodó club.
Ó Do Borogodó is a unique place – small, very basic, with a tiny bar and space for maybe 100+ people, but it is THE place in Sao Paulo to go and hear Choro and other Brazilian music, and dance. Every time I’ve been to Sao Paulo I’ve come to this club, and every time it’s been great – the vibe is extraordinary. The gig starts at around 10.30, and it’s usually packed out. There are tables and chairs on the floor, but usually these gradually disappear as the dancers commandeer all available space and the music really gets going. The musicians sit behind a table, which acts both as something to place their drinks on and as a barrier to keep the dancers from actually falling on top of them! Another interesting thing is the age of the dancers – it’s totally mixed, with young and older people dancing together unselfconsciously – no age apartheid here!
And these musicians really work! Their first set will usually be almost 2 hours long, then they take a break and play for another two hours, finishing after 3am – it’s reminiscent of jazz in the old jazz club days in that respect. And the music has an insistent quality to it, where the intensity level gets raised over a period of time and just goes and goes. A singer will usually join them after a while and then the dancers really get going, singing along to the Anthemic choruses of these songs and just having a great time. What amazes me about this place is that it is totally packed, with no room to move for anybody – dancers, staff, musicians - but the vibe is universally good humoured with no sense of any annoyance or suggestion that things could get ugly. And this is at 3am - in Europe and the US, late night places that sell alcohol are usually places to avoid in the small hours – but not here.
Here’s a video I shot in Ó Do Borogodó, but not on the night in question (there were too many people there that night to film – the locals were astonished to arrive and find the place already packed with jazz musicians at 9.30pm!) - I shot this a few weeks before the IASJ meeting on a previous visit, but it gives a good idea of how the music sounds and what a great vibe this is.
A relaxed day – traditionally at IASJ meetings the middle day of the meeting week features a trip of some kind which introduces the participants to some aspect of the city or area that we’re in – something they wouldn’t be able to experience anywhere else. On this occasion the host school has organised a trip to nearby Santos Beach - birthplace of Pele! Since Brazil is synonymous with beach life (at least in the minds of non-Brazilians!), this seems like a great trip to do. However, it being winter here at the moment, and the weather has been cold, I decide discretion is the better part of valour and skip the trip in favour of rehearsing a little with Carlos and George (we have a couple of gigs at the end of the week), and doing some school work on the computer.
After dinner the second jam session of the week is organised for a nice club called Ao Vivo – after the spit and sawdust vibe of Ó Do Borogodó the night before, Ao Vivo seems positively opulent! Before the jam session itself, Marcelo Coelho’s group plays a set of his rhythmically involved compositions for soprano sax, trombone, bass, drums and percussion. The difficult music is very well played and Emilio Martins’ percussion playing is particularly impressive.
After Marcelo’s set, the jam session starts and this time, after my previous experience, I decided not to bring my instrument. However I again make a strategic error since this time there are much less people here because the bus taking a lot of the participants to Santos developed mechanical problems and is very late getting back. So this time I could easily have played if I’d brought my instrument, but I didn’t and console myself by having a great time listening to Herbie Kopf, and American expat and SP resident, drummer Bob Wyatt swinging the band into bad health on two pieces! It’s a pleasure to hear a great bassist and drummer really lock in together and drive the band along – listening to Herbie and Bob is almost as much fun as playing! Almost.......
(Lieb playing at the jam session)
At the end Lieb turns up and plays two tunes with one of the teachers and two of the students – ‘Milestones’ and ‘I Hear A Rhapsody’ get the Lieb treatment – total commitment to the music, everything stretched almost (but only almost) to the point of the dissolution of the form. Always great to see him playing standards..... There is a bit of controversy when the student playing the piano, visibly displeased with his own playing, abruptly leaves the stage after the first tune, the keyboard then being ably taken over by Cliff Korman, author of a fine book on the Brazilian Rhythm Section.
The night ends up being a late one due mainly to the length of time it takes to pay the bar tab – they have a very inefficient system where you’re given a card at the beginning of the night and the drinks you get are marked on it. At the end of the night you pay the tab – but of course when the music ends then everyone tries to pay at the same time so a huge queue forms and it takes more than 45 minutes for everyone to pay, and then we have to get on the bus and be taken back to the hotel, so it’s after 2am by the time we get back.
We’re at the business end of the Meeting now – literally and figuratively. The business of the IASJ is taken care of at the General Assembly which takes place in the afternoon – the housekeeping of the organisation is dealt with including the venues for upcoming meetings (Graz in Austria in 2012, Denmark in 2013, and very excitingly, Cape Town in South Africa in 2014).
But before all of that, in the morning there is another lecture and another Masterclass. The lecture is given by Emilio Martins and some colleagues on Afro-Brazilian rhythms and it’s just fantastic! The sheer variety of styles and approaches demonstrated is amazing and also gives the lie to the idea that Brazilian music is only about Samba or Baossa Nova. The guys switch effortlessly from one regional style to another and the whole thing is a revelation to all of us.
(Emilio Martins and group)
At the Masterclass, due to some confusion in scheduling, I am the only teacher there and so I spend some time talking about, and demonstrating, the benefits of playing solo bass – solo bass as opposed to bass soloing – i.e playing on your own and figuring out ways to make that work so that the music rather than the instrument becomes paramount. I demonstrate some techniques and ways of thinking about it and we get into some very interesting discussions about this and related topics. A very nice way to finish the Masterclass series.
So that evening, the empirical evidence of the value of the IASJ meeting is on display – the student concerts. Tonight is the first one, featuring three groups, with the other three performing on the following night. The gig takes place in a nice theatre about 30 minutes away by bus. I while away the journey by having a great conversation with Francois Théberge about the history of Ireland and Francois’ native Quebec. On arrival we find that Lieb has been struck down with severe laryngitis and will not be able to do his normal MC role for the student concerts, though he will be at the concerts. However his place is ably taken by his daughter Lydia and she does a great job of introducing all the groups and telling the audience about the IASJ. As usual the concert itself is full of good music and it’s amazing to hear how well these young musicians play together only 5 days after their first meeting......
Barry, the student I brought with me, performs with his group tonight and does very well – the band is a killer (see the video clip at the end) and they bring the evening to a suitably spectacular close.
I haven’t seen much of Barry since we arrived, just brief chats here and there - and that’s how it should be at these meetings. He’s been off hanging with the other students, making friends and connections and talking incessantly about music, as have I................
The final day and it begins with the traditional Lieb rousing speech to the troops! Every year Dave talks directly to the students, encouraging them, cajoling them, making them realise what a special thing they’ve become involved with by choosing to play this music at this level. He gives them practical advice as well as a lot of philosophical stuff to chew on. I’ve heard versions of this speech about 20 times now and I never tire of it! It’s always inspiring and send the stiudents off in high spirits and full of determination and the will to win. And I always hear something new or something I hadn’t noticed him say before – this year it’s about how the difference between a good player and a great player is how the great players take care of ALL ‘the details’. And how right he is.......
The fact that he manages to give this talk despite his ongoing laryngitis problem is amazing, but after the meeting he asks me if I will go and sound check with the students for the final concert tonight, since he’s not feeling up to it. So, after a farewell reception, off we go to the theatre at 5pm – earlier than last night and what was a 30 minute journey the previous evening turns into one more than an hour long due to the heavier traffic at the earlier time. SP has 5 million cars and tonight I think we were on the road with at least 3 million of them........ The soundcheck is relatively painless thanks to the amazing Jesse – (the guy who seems to look after EVERYTHING at Souza Lima – from the sound in a huge theatre, to getting a glass of water for Lieb during his morning speech – what a guy!) and also thanks to the help of Carlos Ezequiel who blends his musician’s knowledge with an ability to speak Portuguese to great effect. Pretty soon the job is done, time for a quick dinner and then the final three concerts.
(Me and the amazing Jesse!)
Again, great music, great playing, great spirit – to see these young musicians, from all over the world, communicating together through the medium of jazz is truly touching.
After the concert comes the 'long goodbye' where everyone says goodbye to everyone else - with more than 200 people involved, this can take a while! I manage to get a photo opportunity with Dimos Dimitriades from Greece and Bruno Santos from Portugal. Our three countries are currently in hock to the International Monetary Fund to the tune of about 400 billion Euro, so we dub ourselves the 'IMF Trio' - the world's most expensive jazz group!
(Bruno, Dimos and I - the IMF Trio!)
The IASJ Meeting is a truly wonderful event – every one is different but each meeting has one thing in common – a demonstration of the true spirit of jazz – creativity, generosity, individuality, collective spirit. It is a musical language that started in America but is now truly international. To see the proof of all of that – watch the clip below - The full personnel is:
Darren Craig English - Trumpet (University Of Cape Town, Cape Town,South Africa) Kasperi Sarikoski - Trombone (Paris Conservatoire/Sibelius Acdemy, Helsinki, Finland) Florian Wempe - Tenor Saxophone (Royal Conservatory, Den Haag, Netherlands) Kaneo Ramos - Guitar (Souza Lima Conservatorio, Sao Paulo, Brazil) Christian Li - Piano (Berklee College of Music, Boston, USA) Barry Donohue - Bass (Newpark Music Centre, Dublin Ireland) Ariel Tessier - Drums (Paris Conservatoire, Paris, France)
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