1. How did you get started with your career in music? Tell us about your ‘Big Break’.
I was nine when I began to study classical piano and 15 when I learned to play the flute with the Brazilian Symphony Orchestra School. But it was through Choro that I started playing “popular music.” What really changed my life was when I heard Hermeto Pascoal and his band in Rio de Janeiro, back in the 70s. I also liked Dave Brubeck’s legendary Time Out album and Chick Corea’s albums, too.
I started my musical career in 1976 as a flutist in Chroro groups and that led to my first solo album Bambu three years later.
I actually have two ‘big breaks’! The first came here in Rio, in 1983 when I created the Jazzmania jazz club with Luiz Antonio Cunha. The second was my big beak in the US, when WEA Latina released my Terra do Índio in 1989.
2. When it comes to a list of legendary Brazilian jazz albums, ‘Zil’ belongs near the very top. What was it like to be part of it?
Being part of the band Zil was great! It was a once-in-a-lifetime experience to be part of that supergroup of the Young Lions of Brazilian Jazz: singer/guitarists Zé Renato and Claudio Nucci (who I first met in the 70’s), saxophonist Zé Nogueira and guitarist Ricardo Silveira, who appeared on my first album, Bambu.
In the early 80’s I met bass player João Baptista and drummer Jurim Moreira and ZIL was the natural consequence of the great friendships and musical affinity between all seven of us.
And here’s some news for Brazilian jazz fans everywhere: Zil reunited to record a live concert in 2016 and it will be released on DVD later this year.
3. Your recent Facebook posts and videos show off a new venue for ‘pocket shows’ – your garage! What is the story about this?
I would love it if the show you saw was in my garage! Actually, the show I posted recently was recorded in Los Angeles at Gloria and Javier Arjona’s home, Casa Arjona, and they turned their residence into a new venue for concert performances.
In the summer, bands set up in the garage while the audience is outdoors enjoying the pleasant climate of Long Beach. During the winter the shows take place in Casa Arjona’s living room.
4. Your talents as a Pizza chef are well-known among your friends in Rio. Tell us how to make the perfect Brazilian pizza: any secrets and tips?
I’ve always loved pizza and started making my own pizza dough when I had tendinitis. I went to a doctor’s office and the doctor suggested that I should try to make breads to help cure the tendinitis crisis. Pizza therapy!
So, that’s how I started my career as a pizzaiolo.
I always try to make a very traditional Italian pizza dough. My secret is to add some boiled cassava or yucca to the recipe. In the early 2000s I opened a bistro called Piano & Pizza in the cities of Visconde de Mauá, Búzios and Itaipava. It was a lot of fun.
5. Your new album, ‘Americas’ is doing really well with fans on both sides of the equator. What was the inspiration behind it?
The experience of being able to play with musicians from Brazil, the United States and Canada was an opportunity to gain a new appreciation of the rich and different musical styles of the Americas.
That was the beginning the process of composing and ultimately, the production of Americas. Many of the songs on the album were written while I played at popular Ipanema restaurant that was on the ground floor of Jazzmania. It was summertime and the place has a beautiful view of the beach at Ipanema to give me inspiration!
6. You’ve recorded many times with your longtime friend, guitarist Ricardo Silveira. How did the two of you meet?
In 1978 I created a quintet called Usina to experiment with new ideas and musical partnerships.
The group included Zé Nogeuira’s sax, my great friend, bassist Antonio Sant’Anna, drummer Joca Morais and guitarist Victor Biglione. One day Victor received an invitation to work with the singer Gal Costa.
Zé told me about a buddy of his who could replace Victor. It turned out to be Ricardo Silveira and that was the start of a great friendship and musical partnership.
Did you know that Ricardo Silveira’s very first recorded song was included on Bambu? The song is ‘Dois Irmãos. Today we were both very proud and happy to see my son Lucas and Ricardo’s son Pedro working together in the music business.
7. What do most people not know about you?
Well, I think most people would be surprised to learn that I’m now singing in Portuguese and English. You can check it out in the video my show at Casa Arjona and also on my upcoming EP from Biscoito Fino, Soul Carioca, where I sing on five of the six songs.
I’ve always been a good communicator; especially during my shows where I like to interact in a relaxed way with the audience. When I started doing shows in Los Angeles I noticed how American musicians playing with me behaved with the audience.
Two great musician friends who greatly influenced artistically were the saxophonists Justo Almario and Eric Marienthal.
8. What songs and musicians are you listening to these days? Anyone ‘new’ on the music scene in Rio?
I always like to hear the masters: Hermeto Pascoal, Egberto Gismonti and Chick Corea and I’m very excited and impressed with the new generation of musicians that are breathing new life into Brazil’s musical scene.
Keep an ear open for pianists Hercules Gomes, Marquinhos Diniz and Antonio Guerra who are making their mark with Choro. I’m impressed with a group of guitarists who are following in the footsteps of the master Baden Powell: Yamandu Costa, Marcel Powell and Zé Paulo Becker and I cannot fail to mention drummer Kiko Freitas and bandolinist Hamilton de Hollanda, who are already internationally acclaimed.
9. You’ve spent a lot time in the United States: What are a few of your best memories, and do you miss living here?
I have loved living in the USA and going forward, I plan to spend more time in America and look forward my visits to Brazil.
I think sometimes I am like those lyrics in Zeca Pagodino’s song: “Deixa a vida me levar…” It means “let my life take me” and while I don’t exactly want to say that my life could be a theme of a Brazilian soap opera, let’s go there anyway!
When I heard that WEA Latina was going to release my album Terra do Índio in the US I thought it would be a good opportunity to try to live in North America.
So, I embarked to Los Angeles in 1989, supported by my father-in-law Professor Walter Machado Barroso (cousin of the great Brazilian composer Ary Barroso) and encouraged by Talaya Trigueros and Ricardo Silveira, who was already living there. Ricardo gave me a place to stay.
Well, I barely knew how to speak English and on my first trip to the supermarket I didn’t understand when the clerk asked me: “Paper or Plastic?”
I was totally confused by the question and this story has become a joke that friends still tease me about!
The best memories I have of the US always revolve music and friends. Some of those friends that have become my American family. Justo Almario calls me “Soul Brother” and Talaya and Tony Trigueros have opened both their home and hearts to me today so today when I see the grandchildren they treat me like an uncle, or grandfather.
The chance to have met you and your wife and to be able to have my music played on your radio show is another reason and our friendship has always brought a lot of joy for me. I hope to do a show in Chicago soon.
Another very powerful and affectionate memory is the response of American audiences during and at the end of my shows. From the very beginning, I’ve always felt surprised and honored with how fans show their appreciation of the shows I do in the United States.
10. You have lots of fans here in the USA. When will we see you performing here again?
This year, I was in the US back in February, again in July and I will be returning in December for some shows in Washington DC. Looking ahead, you can be sure that I will be planning to do shows all over the country.
I will be in Montreal on September 7th for Brazilian Independence Day, playing with my friend Jean-Pierre Zanella at a concert to celebrate Bossa Nova’s 60th anniversary. It’ll be great to see all my friends in Montreal again!