Interview by Martial Petit and Valerio Pappi.
Arnaldo DeSouteiro is one of the most successful music producers in contemporary music. Chances are, you have listened to the music he has either produced or composed. Born in Rio De Janeiro, Arnaldo was captivated by Brazilian culture and dedicated his life to promote it beyond its borders. From Joao Gilberto to Ithamara Koorax, from Dom Um Romão to Luiz Millan, the list of artists produced by Arnaldo is long.
Producer of music but also TV shows, Arnaldo is also a musician, an arranger, a journalist, a historian of Brazilian pop and jazz, a screenplay writer, and the founder of the Los Angeles-based label Jazz Station Records (JSR). For several years, he has been a member of the jury of the 7 Virtual Jazz Club’s Contest.
We wanted to know more about his fascinating career.
Can you tell us more about your professional background? What triggered this passion for music and entertainment?
My parents were music lovers. Actually, all my family. My mother, Delza Agricola, was a classical pianist, composer and conductor. In fact, she was the first female conductor (of symphony orchestras) in Brazil. We are talking about 1957… so you can imagine the violent prejudice she suffered at that time… But she was active as a classical pianist since her teens, and recorded her first 78rpm solo piano record in 1946, when she was 22 years old. A lot of appearances on radio and, later, TV shows followed. Delza also had her own classical music radio show. She used to perform one piece and do comments between the movements. All was done live, of course. There could be no mistakes. She used to tell that that was very stressful. Anyway she loved it and wrote over 40 works of all kinds: solo piano pieces, symphonic poems, string quartets, pieces for bassoon, French horn, violin and cello, lots of material. My mother died in 1985, at age 51. I was only 22, so it was a hard and painful experience.
My father, Walter Souteiro, was an amateur jazz pianist who introduced me to the music of George Shearing, Art Tatum, Hazel Scott, and his favorite pianist, Teddy Wilson. He also had the complete collection of accordion master Art Van Damme. But my mother loved jazz, specially the big bands of the Swing Era: Glenn Miller, Artie Shaw, Harry James, Tommy Dorsey. And she used to sing standards from the Great American Songbook and play bossa nova on acoustic guitar. I grew up on this “boiler”, with no musical prejudice, no boundaries for the appreciation of good music. Both my parents loved Frank Sinatra and Ella Fitzgerald too!
My aunt, Elge Agricola, was also a classical pianist and a painter. My grandfather, Ernani Agricola, a famous doctor in Brazil, played cello and flute, and showed me the Puccini operas. That was really amazing. I was exposed to all this music at a very young age, and by 1967, when I was four years old, I attended a concert by classical pianist Magda Tagliaferro and was already “selecting” the records that I wanted my family to buy for me. There’s a documentary series, on YouTube, filmed by director Bernardo Costa for the Coisas da Musica Productions, on which I tell all these things from my childhood in detail, but it’s in Portuguese only with no legends, unfortunately.
During my childhood my favorites were Shostakovich, Rachmaninoff, Mahler, Weber, Paganini, Grieg, Tchaikovsky. Later I developed a special love for the Impressionists – Debussy, Ravel and Fauré. Plus everything recorded by pianist Guiomar Novaes, who was the first Brazilian artist to record at the Rudy Van Gelder Studios. Then, in the early 70s I started to buy jazz albums, specially Miles Davis, Chick Corea, Weather Report, John McLaughlin’s Mahavishnu, I mean, all the so-called jazz-rock stuff. Then I fell in love with Corea’s “Light As A Feather” album with Return To Forever, and most of all with Deodato’s “Prelude” album, because Deodato’s version of “Also Sprach Zarathustra” was a huge radio hit all over the world, and Brazil was no exception. That was my discovery of the CTI fusion sound, which conquered my heart. I started to buy all albums by Freddie Hubbard, Stanley Turrentine, Hubert Laws, George Benson. I was fascinated by Benson’s “White Rabbit”, superbly arranged by Don Sebesky, and featuring Herbie Hancock, Jay Berliner and Airto.
In February 1975, when I was still 11 yo, my father made possible for me to meet Deodato in person. That was a turning point in my life. That year I also met João Donato, Luiz Bonfá, a fabulous arranger named Gaya and his wife, a brilliant Brazilian folk singer, Stellinha Egg. Gaya opened my head even more. He invited me to attend recording sessions he was arranging as well as to concerts he conducted for such Brazilian pop superstars like Chico Buarque and Maria Bethania. Then he introduced me to Joao Gilberto because they were rehearsing a concert. It’s an endless story.
You wrote music articles for magazines as a teenager, what was your ambition then?
I started to write by “accident”. I used to ask my parents to purchase for me DownBeat, Billboard, CashBox, Record World, Jazz Hot… I wanted to read everything about music. The hundreds of classical music books from my mother’s collection were not enough. And my family was middle-class, they were not rich. My grandfather, my grandmother and my aunts helped a lot purchasing the records and the magazines. Then one day I had the idea to give a call to the phone number that appeared in a stamp on the back cover of all the important magazines purchased on the newstands. That’s how met a guy named Wilson Falcão, who had been a composer for Carmen Miranda in the 40s. Mr. Falcão was the owner of that distributing company and became very impressed with my interest. I asked if I could purchase directly from him in order to get a discount. He agreed and, actually, gave me lots of mags for free. Then someone from the sales department of Billboard asked him to recommend a Brazilian correspondent to them. He asked me if I was interested. Of course I accepted but I couldn’t appear because I was only 14 years old, there would be no credibility. But anyway that was good for me to practice and make some money. Furthermore, that was an easy task. I didn’t have to review any concerts or albums, I only needed to write short news. Things like: “Brazilian classical pianist Guiomar Novaes has died,” “George Duke is recording a new album in Rio”. I remember those were two of the first news they published.
Due to my job at Billboard I was interviewed on the only jazz TV show in Rio, “Nota Jazz,” presented by Paulo Santos. That led me to be invited to write a jazz column on the daily newspaper Tribuna da Imprensa, and the rest is history. I was 15! I kept that column from 1979 to 2009, I think, till the newspaper closed. In the meantime I wrote for other newspapers and magazines in Brazil and abroad, did dozens of liner notes, and hundreds of press-releases for almost all the labels in Brazil. At 20, in 1983, I started my own jazz radio show at TUPI-FM radio station. At 22, I became a TV host at Manchete TV network, presenting a show for which I interviewed people like Dizzy Gillespie, Tony Bennett, Chuck Mangione, Airto Moreira, Flora Purim etc. In the beginning I was hired only as interviewer, but on the second program I was also editing, on the third I became a consultant, on the fourth show I was assisting the director…
When did you come to the U.S and why?
I started to travel abroad in my teens. I wanted to see my jazz idols performing. Some of them were living in LA (Wayne Shorter, Herbie Hancock, Stanley Clarke, Airto & Flora), but most of them were in NY (Ron Carter, Steve Gadd, Tania Maria etc). It was a dream come true to go to the Blue Note-NY and see Gadd, Eddie Gomez, Phil Woods, Joe Sample, Nancy Wilson, Louie Bellson, all those legends. However I never thought about living in NY. The “beautiful attitude of the sunshine people of California” was what attracted me. But my first “international jobs” were in NY, around 1985-1987: producing recording sessions at Deodato’s Duplex Sound Studio, directing Luiz Bonfa’s concerts at Fat Tuesday’s, supervising CTI reissues for CBS, lots of work.
You have multiple hats, producer, journalist, composer, arranger, educator, record label executive, to mention a few, what do you enjoy the most?
I started to produce in 1980. My first album of original material (not a reissue or compilation) was Yana Purim’s debut album for RCA. I still love studio work, but it’s not profitable anymore to work as a producer. What I enjoy most now is to work as arranger and musical director for live concerts, mostly jazz and bossa nova concerts. That’s a very creative task and you get an immediate feedback when people love the show. I have worked for over 20 years with Joao Gilberto, Luiz Bonfa, and Joao Donato since 1980! Ocasionally I’m invited to work as screenplay writer for TV music specials. I did the last concert that Antonio Carlos Jobim and Joao Gilberto performed together, in 1992. That’s priceless.
Anyway, I had many moments of pure joy as a producer. The pleasure to work in the studio with your idols is amazing. I’ll never forget those sessions with Ron Carter, Antonio Carlos Jobim, Alphonso Johnson, Lew Soloff, Sadao Watanabe. I also learned a lot from them, from their experience as session players. And I also loved to produce or supervise CD reissues, especially the ones from the CTI/Kudu and RCA catalogues. I was able to bring back to life albums that I had listened during my childhood! That involved a lot of emotion… I’ll never forget the day I received the original master tapes of Eumir Deodato’s first solo album, “Inutil Paisagem”, recorded in 1964 when he was 22 years old. I produced that CD reissue in 1999 as a co-production between my JSR label and Universal Music, that distributed the CD all over the world. It was a big responsibility to have such historic records in your hands, literally.
A different responsibility was to coordinate the promo strategies for albums I have not produced. If I failed I would feel like I was ruining the work done by other people. But when I succeeded that was a very pleasant sensation. And I’m proud to have coordinated promo campaigns of some Grammy winning albums, as well as to have been “the man behind music” in the international careers of such acts as Azymuth and Ithamara Koorax. I miss that thrill. Actually I miss many thrilling things, different, “alternative” things that I also loved to do. For ex: for 13 years (from 1985 to 1998) I was responsible for the entertainment-in-flight audio and video programs for Brazil’s biggest air company, Varig Airlines. We got many international awards. All channels were selected by myself: opera, classical music, jazz, pop, rock, r&b, even Japanese music and Chinese music! Sometimes I felt better in my home studio, doing that Varig job, than producing a recording session, because I didn’t depend of anyone else, everything was under my control.
You have produced soundtracks for the movie and the television industry, how did it come about?
In Brazil we have the famous “novelas”, a kind of soap operas. They are hugely popular. So they used to release soundtracks of those novelas, and I used to produce tracks for those albums. Sometimes the selections were fantastic, sometimes not so great. But for a novela titled Celebridade, in 2003, I produced a wonderful recording by singer Ithamara Koorax of a hidden gem written by Antonio Carlos Jobim, titled “Absolute Lee”. That was a top-class soundtrack which also featured Diana Krall, Michael Bublé etc. Now it’s all gone. A soundtrack CD used to sell at least 500,000 copies! Sometimes one million copies! Now there’s not even a physical CD release… A very interesting case was a song titled “O Passarinho”, that I co-wrote (with Gazzara and Ithamara Koorax) for a very popular Italian reality show, “La Pupa E Il Sechione”, in 2006. The song became a huge radio hit, was included in many compilations all over Europe and then became a dancefloor hit, receiving several remixes by such DJs as Tom Novy in Germany.
How different is working for television?
I supervised and wrote screenplays. You need to “introduce”, to explain to the average listener a most sophisticated kind of music. Editing is essential. Sometimes you need to cut off a solo. In the beginning it hurts. But then I understood that was essential to make the TV broadcast possible. My TV show was not on a cable TV, it was on a normal channel. All movie directors should have a real musical producer working for them, but unfortunately it doesn’t happens. The result is that I’ve watched recent musical documentaries that are terrible, full of mistakes, a festival of fake news. For two decades I gave so many interviews to movies that I became a “documentary actor”, but now I refuse most of the invitations because I was being included on terrible movies. You talk about Claus Ogerman and the director later adds a photo by Klaus Wunderlich. It really happened! I don’t wanna be part of that anymore.
You have been associated with Creed Taylor, the founder of CTI jazz label. How this association came about?
It’s a very curious story. Actually I was recommended to King Records, CTI’s distributor in Japan, by record producer Orrin Keepnews. That was in the early 80s, when they got the rights for the CTI catalog due to a law suit. King got the rights for Japan, while CBS (now Sony) got the rights for USA and Europe over everything CTI had released between 1970 and 1979. Two very complicated agreements, by the way. Eventually, Creed later once again made a deal with King Records for new products, but during a certain period he simply disappeared. That’s how I began to work on compilations of the CTI albums. A real dream come true, because as I already told you, I grew up listening to CTI. Creed Taylor really is my all-time favorite producer, not only due to CTI, but also for what he did previously on Verve and other labels. Without him, the Bossa Nova craze would not have existed.
Then, many years later I met Creed in person. We had lunch in NY at Creed’s favorite restaurant, Gotham (located at 12 Street, between University Place and 5th Avenue) and he congratulated me for the CTI reissues and compilations I had supervised. I was surprised, because Didier Deutsch had advised me: “Creed is very upset with our CD reissues, he even refused to talk with me on the phone. So, please beware!” But Creed was very kind, we talked for hours. I remember that pianist Bobby Scott, a dear friend of mine who recorded for Creed at Bethlehem as a leader and at Verve as sideman, has just passed away. He told me many stories about Bobby, and we also talked a lot about Luiz Bonfa, the first Brazilian artist he ever worked with. He referred to Bonfá simply as “the most polite and elegant man I ever met.” Then, the following day we had a meeting at CTI, at that time located on the 8th floor at 88 University Place, in NYC. I’ll never forget. That was in October 1990, when he was resurrecting the label. I was invited to help him in some new projects.
One day we were at the SIR Studios during a rehearsal for an all-star CTI band called Chroma, and he introduced me to many of the musicians by saying “This is Arnaldo, from Brazil. He knows my work better than I do!” I also remember a day that Mike Stern was rehearsing Joaquin Rodrigo’s “Concierto de Aranjuez”. Creed and I were seated side by side. Then he whispered to me: “Villa-Lobos!” He thought that Heitor Villa-Lobos, Brazil’s greatest classical composer, had written “Aranjuez”. But that was by Spanish composer Rodrigo. During some seconds, I didn’t know how to react. If I didn’t say nothing just to not make him uncomfortable, he would later find out that that was a Villa-Lobos work and consider me a fool. If I had guts to correct him, he could be angry and shy. But after a few seconds I finally said: “No, this is by Joaquin Rodrigo, the centerpiece of that famous Jim Hall ‘Concierto’ album you produced”. He was surprised and replied: “Oh, but I did some Villa-Lobos, right?” I said: “Yes, Jackie & Roy recorded Bachianas Brasileiras on ‘Time & Love’. And George Benson recorded Little Train on the ‘White Rabbit’ album.” Creed murmured: “Amazing” and then remained in silence during the rest of the rehearsal.
In April 1991, I returned to NYC to work for Creed, as well as to complete an album I was producing for Luiz Bonfá at Deodato’s Duplex Sound Studios. He put me up at the Gorham Hotel (136 West 55th Street, next to Broadway Avenue). We worked on an Art Farmer date with Brazilian singer Ithamara Koorax, featuring Eddie Gomez and Jack DeJohnette, that remains unreleased. He asked me to select Brazilian songs and musicians for news albums he was producing for Charles Fambrough and Larry Coryell. Creed put a limo at my disposal for when I wanted to go out at night! I remember when I told this to Didier Deutsch when we had lunch at Rockefeller Center, where Atlantic Records (Didier was working as publicist for Atlantic at that time) was located on the 3rd floor at 75 Rockefeller Plaza. He laughed and said: “Tipically Creed!” Curiously, as you may know, during its heyday, when Didier worked as CTI publicist, CTI’s office was at the 1 Rockefeller Plaza. I felt a very interesting and intense sensation when I was gravitating around those famous places.
Didier was my boss when we worked for CBS at the first CTI CD reissues in the USA, from 1987 to 1990, discovering many previously unreleased tracks and, sometimes, some unreleased albums. I mean, full albums! Due to contractual reasons, we were able to release only few of them, most notably one album by The New York Jazz Quartet and the Deodato “2001 Space Concert” at the Felt Forum of Madison Square Garden. Can you imagine my thrill listening, for the first time, for the first live performance ever of Deodato’s “Also Sprach Zarathustra”? By the way, there’s also a fascinating complete film footage of that concert. Phil Ramone worked on the sound. The movie quality is great. Creed tried twice to release both the 1973 Felt Forum concert and the 1972 “CTI Summer Jazz At The Hollywood Bowl” on LaserDisc, during the LD heyday in Japan. But the distributors were afraid to be prosecuted by the artists since he never got all the authorizations and there were too many people involved.
By the second half of the 1990s, I tried to make a deal with Creed to distribute the new CTI releases in Japan (after his contracts with Pioneer and PolyGram KK imploded) and Brazil. I fell in love with Jurgen Friedrich’s “Summerflood,” one of the last great albums released by CTI, and distributed it as an import in Brazil. Creed was interested in releasing my JSR productions in the USA too, but only through the CTI Jazz online website, because he had lost all his international distributors. I have a collection of faxes saying: “the online distribution is imminent.” But he had no resources to pay advance royalties and make it happen in a profitable way.
Some years later, in 1997, the same year I produced the “CTI Acid Jazz Grooves” best-selling compilation, I began to freelance as a reissue producer and compiler for Verve/Universal, and then I had the chance to work with Creed’s productions of the pre-CTI days. One of my favorites was a Quincy Jones compilation I produced for Verve in 2007, “Summer In The City,” on which I included several tracks produced by Creed during the A&M days because the Universal Music Group (UMG) had acquired A&M. I was also able to include Creed Taylor-produced tracks, from the Verve and CTI days, in my compilation series “A Trip To Brazil” (Verve). Two of the volumes reached the top of the world-music charts in Europe. Creed told me he loved them. I was flattered.
I also produced and/or supervised and/or wrote liner notes for dozens of CTI CD reissues in Japan. I remember a series of 40 titles that came out in 2000, when the CTI albums were remastered for the first time with 24bit technology. That was also the first (and last) time I was able to release Deodato’s “Prelude” with the radio-edited single version of “Zarathustra” as a bonus track! I coordinated many other CTI and Kudu reissue series that came out in 2001, 2003, 2006 and 2009. The 2009 series, titled “CTI + RVG”, released on SHM-CD format, was very special for me, because that was the first time that Creed himself accepted to produce CTI CD reissues, and the first time that Rudy Van Gelder himself remastered those gems he had recorded. Ira Gitler and I provided the liner notes, and I also took care of the marketing. It was really a privilege to work with Creed, Rudy and Pete Turner, another hero, who kindly accepted to take care of the covers of two albums for my own JSR label: Jorge Pescara’s “Grooves In The Temple” in 2005 (the last image on Pete’s last book, “The Colours of Jazz”) and Rodrigo Lima’s “Saga” in 2015.
Needless to say, my love for CTI led me to work with such artists as Ron Carter, Don Sebesky, Hubert Laws, Mike Mainieri, Larry Coryell, Claus Ogerman and many more strongly connected with the CTI sound. Not to mention the Brazilian geniuses that became my friends: Luiz Bonfá (the first Brazilian artist that Creed signed for Verve in November 1962), Antonio Carlos Jobim, João Gilberto, Eumir Deodato, João Palma, Airto Moreira, Claudio Roditi… Creed was really a mentor, an idol. He cared about the music, the sound quality, the graphics, the whole package. Creed changed my perception of music. And CTI changed my life.
Some albums that I produced reached the top of the jazz and latin charts in Japan. An album that I did for singer Ithamara Koorax (“Red River”) went to #10 in Japan, while a Sinatra album was #11 in 1995, when Sinatra was still alive! Some compilations I produced for Verve (on the “A Trip To Brazil” series) reached #1 in Europe. “Brazilian Horizons” and “CTI Acid Jazz Grooves” were very successful too. That’s very rewarding. And they are deeply connected to my love for the CTI sound.
Following you on social media, we know you are taking your role as a voting member of NASRA-GRAMMY seriously. Many think the Grammys have lost a lot of their influences. What is your opinion?
NARAS remains very powerful. To win a Grammy is the most important recognition an artist can receive. The TV show is still broadcasted worldwide. So, I’m very proud to be a NARAS voting member. However, we have to admit that the fact that an album wins a Grammy doesn’t means it will sell a lot. In the past, sometimes an album was #40 in the charts and, after winning a Grammy, it would jump to #1 instantly. It worked like a catapult!
You were busy in the 1990s with reissues of music on CD format. Since, the way we consume music has drastically change. What is your take on today’s industry and how do you see the future?
I really don’t know, I don’t feel capable to predict the future. What I know is that, more than ever, music became a visual thing, more than on the MTV heyday. People like to listen to music on YouTube even when there’s no music video, only a still image. They keep watching to a screen that shows the same image for 4 or 5 minutes! The saddest thing is that no one gets the proper credit. The producer is uncredited, the arranger is uncredited, the musicians are uncredited. Young audiences will know nothing about who made the music (pop, jazz, funk, whatever). They only know the name of the singers, of the leaders. It doesn’t makes any sense for me.
People don’t know that sometimes the producer is the “creator” of an album, the person who creates the concept, that sometimes needs to convince the artist to go on that direction. I never worked as employee at a label, I never received a salary. I have always worked as a freelancer and needed to succed. And later, when I started my own label, JSR, I invested a lot of time and money in many projects. It’s not fair to not be recognized, it’s not fair to remain uncredited in all digital plataforms.
The world has changed dramatically, the music industry has changed completely. So many labels closed, so many catalogues were sold. I used to work a lot for Fantasy Records, they had a wonderful family of labels: Milestone, Pablo, Riverside etc. Suddenly the company was sold to Concord Records in 2005, I think, when I was working on many projects. Concord never contacted me. It was a traumatic experience.
With a career covering multiple responsibilities and spanning over 40 years, what are your regrets?
I started to write in 1978, and to work as a record producer in 1980. I have done so many things, it’s like I have lived 160 years, not 60. My house is a museum! No regrets.
What’s your main field of work today? What are you currently working on?
I have worked a lot as consultant for music festivals. A new invitation that I accepted during the pandemic was to record a podcast series about Brazilian artists that developed their careers abroad: Laurindo Almeida, Luiz Bonfa, João Gilberto, Antonio Carlos Jobim, Dom Um Romão, Claudio Roditi, Eumir Deodato, João Donato, Raul de Souza, Tania Maria, Astrud, Airto & Flora etc. I have been friends with all of them, and have worked with most of them. So, I was asked to add personal anecdotes of stories I lived with them.
I have also written the screenplay for a documentary movie tentatively titled “The LA/Rio Connection” and interviewed 15 Brazilian musicians that lived or worked in Los Angeles: João Donato, Cesar Camargo Mariano, Dori Caymmi, Chico Batera, Marcos Valle etc. I’m not directing neither producing the movie, just did the screenplay and conducted the interviews. Besides that I produced an album for a rock band, a dance music project and a haunting tribute to Jaco Pastorius. And I’m already working on some very exciting projects with singers from Sweden and Armenia, but for now they are still top secret for contractual reasons. I’m also doing the debut album of a young bossa nova singer from Brasilia, Gustavo Cysne. Like me, he also loves Claus Ogerman, so we are working with orchestral scores.
But the most rewarding experience in 2023 was the release of a new album, titled “Brazilian Match”, that I produced for a fantastic Brazilian composer, Luiz Millan. What a great talent! I invited some of my “superfriends” to perform on the album: David Sanborn, Randy Brecker, Ada Rovatti, Mark Egan, Danny Gottlieb, Eddie Daniels, Mike Mainieri, John Tropea, Barry Finnerty plus the best Brazilian musicians based in São Paulo, where Millan lives. We also invited some great singers such as Ellen Johnson, Alice Soyer, Clémentine, Lisa Ono, Giana Viscardi and the fabulous vocal group New York Voices. A brilliant pianist, Michel Freidenson, wrote the arrangements. We added strings, horns, everything we wanted. It was like producing in the “good ol’ days” of high budgets. Everything I learned from Creed Taylor, Quincy Jones and Tommy LiPuma, I applied on that record.
“Brazilian Match” is receiving rave reviews all over the world, heavy airplay (it made the Top 30 in the U.S. jazz radio charts), and now is in the first round of the Grammy Awards in eight categories! I’m also in the ballot in the “Producer of the Year” category, but it’s impossible to be among the finalists. There are only three jazz producers — me, Manfred Eicher and Matt Pierson – and we have to compete with the pop producers that work for big stars like Miley Cyrus, Taylor Swift, Dua Lipa, Ed Sheeran, Beyoncé… Anyway, just the fact that you are selected for the first Grammy round helps a lot to promote the artists.
How do you see the state of jazz in your country? In which direction is it going?
In the wrong direction! (laughs) There are many great musicians, but most of the younger guys are too much worried about technique and speed, everybody wants to be a virtuoso. You can’t forget that the main things are creativity, originality and feeling. My essential advice for young musicians of any part of the world: take a breath, let your heart speak and play with your soul, try to develop your own personality, your own style. Today we lost the great pianist, organist, composer and arranger Carla Bley, who is a great example of creativity and personality. Nobody played or composed like her, she was a true stylist. Her husband, my friend Steve Swallow, with whom I worked when I was 19 years old, is another one-of-a-kind musician. Nobody plays electric bass like him, with a pick. His bass sound is unique and instantly recognizable.
Make three names of musicians that innovated jazz music in your country.
All the musicians from the Bossa Nova era, in the late 1950s and early 1960s, were big innovators: Joao Donato, Luiz Bonfa, Sivuca and Johnny Alf (in Brazil), and Laurindo Almeida (in the USA) were fusing jazz and samba in the mid-1950s, long before the labels “bossa nova” and “jazz samba” existed. Donato, Luiz Eça, Bebeto Castilho, J.T. Meirelles and Cipó recorded a revolutionary all-star session in 1956, titled “Em Tempo de Jazz,” conceived by my late friend Paulo Santos. That’s a groundbreaking album, a forgotten gem. Then Joao Gilberto created the bossa nova beat and the bossa nova aesthetic in 1958, starting a revolution. All musicians from that era were top class: Dom Um Romao, Sergio Mendes, Tamba Trio, Zimbo Trio, Edison Machado, Milton Banana, Joao Palma, Eumir Deodato, Hermeto Pascoal, Cesar Mariano, Antonio Adolfo, Airto Moreira, Ronie Mesquita, the brothers Mario Castro-Neves and Oscar Castro-Neves, Tenorio Jr. and many more.
What’s the name of a new talent you are particularly fond of?
I can’t mention only one name. In Rio we have Rodrigo Lima, Paula Faour, Jorge Pescara, Cesar Machado and a superb reedman named Marcelo Martins, one of the top 5 tenor sax players in the world today. In Sao Paulo, I can mention Edu Ribeiro, Selma Boragian, Renato Consorte, Felipe Lion, Igor Willcox, Mauricio Zottarelli, Michel Freidenson, Vera Figueiredo, Zé Eduardo Nazario, Lelo Nazario. Some of them are not so young in terms of age, but they make contemporary music, they always come with fresh ideas and are always pushing the envelope, keep evolving, keep developing new concepts and approaches. That’s what matters to me. You can be 20 years old and play in an old-fashioned style, sounding like an old guy. And you can be 50 or even 80 and play with a child-like spirit like happened with Chick Corea, Wayne shorter, and still happens with Herbie Hancock and John McLaughlin.
What’s your favorite genre within jazz? Why?
All of them, if played with soul. I love mainly cool jazz, fusion, jazz-rock, jazz-funk. No prejudice at all.
Do you think that schools can teach improvisation?
Yes, of course. They teach technical skills and shall try to make you understand that you need to tell a story when you are soloing. You like to make “complicated” things? OK, but at least try to make them sound easy, natural.
Name a record that every jazz lover should own.
Besides the usual suspects like Miles Davis’ “Kind of Blue” and John Coltrane’s “A Love Supreme,” there are many other essential albums. My favorites are Dave Brubeck’s “Time Out,” Bill Evans’ “With Symphony Orchestra” and “Symbiosis” (both arranged by Claus Ogerman), Don Sebesky’s “Giant Box,” Claus Ogerman’s “Gate of Dreams,” “Cityscape” and “Across The Crystal Sea,” Shirley Horn’s “Here’s To Life,” Stan Getz/Joao Gilberto’s “Getz/Gilberto” (if you don’t listen to this album, you’ll never understand Brazilian music), Luiz Bonfa’s “Jacaranda,” Miles Davis’ “Bitches Brew,” “Miles Ahead” and everything else he recorded with Gil Evans, Flora Purim’s “500 Miles High At Montreux,” Chick Corea’s “Light As A Feather, Weather Report’s “Mysterious Traveller,” Ithamara Koorax’s “Brazilian Butterfly,” Joao Gilberto’s “Amoroso,” ”Eumir Deodato’s “Prelude” and “Deodato 2,” George Benson’s “White Rabbit,” Antonio Carlos Jobim’s “Stone Flower” and many other CTI albums.