Voltarol - related music

Thursday, 25 November 2010

A man of constant Choro

The other week my good friend Pete Kubryk Townsend phoned me with the suggestion that we get together to run through some Choros together. He had acquired the music for some and was eager to give them a try. A few days later we sat down in my living room with two other curious recruits and began to work through some of the tunes. Four hours later we agreed that we had the makings of a Choro group on our hands and agreed to meet up on a regular basis to knock some of this material into shape.

“So what?” I hear you yawn. Well, the point is that this particular music form dates back to the late nineteenth century and has a lot in common with ragtime and yet the musicians involved in this particular project include two young students and one of the teachers on the Truro College jazz degree course. They, like me, are totally enthused by it and obviously find it relevant and satisfying music to play. So what is this music that we’re all getting so excited about?

Choro seems to have started in Rio de Janeiro around about 1870. According to Chris McGowan and Ricardo Pessanha in their book ‘The Brazilian Sound’ – “ In its early days, choro was less a genre than a style, with Afro-Brazilian syncopation and a Brazilian flair added to fashionable European dance music of the time, including waltzes, polkas, schottishes, quadrilles and mazurkas. The pioneering figure Joaquim Antônio da Silva Calado (1848 – 1880) founded the group Choro Carioca in 1870, the same year he was appointed a teacher at Rio’s Imperial Conservatory of Music” Calado, a virtuoso flautist, was joined by two guitars and a cavaquinho. The music that he composed for this group seems to have been based around his virtuosity and set the tone for the Choro groups that were to follow – as did the instrumental line up. By around 1900 Choro had settled down as a distinct and recognisable genre which continued to evolve and spawn new talent.

The evolution of this music seems to have a lot in common with the evolution of Ragtime in North America, being an admixture of African and European musical styles, although Choro is generally believed to slightly predate Ragtime, which seems to have emerged around 1890. Never-the-less there are distinct parallels to be found between the two forms Just as elements of ragtime helped shape the newly emergent Jazz, so elements of Jazz were incorporated into Choro – particularly by the great Pixinguinha, who added saxophone and trombone to the sound. By the late1930s Choro has even penetrated the market outside of South America. I’ll hazard a wager on the likelihood of most people over the age of forty having heard ‘Tico Tico’ (originally ‘Tico-Tico na Fubá’) which was written by Zequinha de Abreu in 1917 and sung by Carmen Miranda in the Hollywood movie ‘Copacabana’ in 1947.

This is not the original film version but dates from around the same time

The fortunes of the genre have waxed and waned in the intervening years – sometimes generating a new batch of great composers and performers and sometimes lying dormant for years at a time – but it has always remained there in the background of Brazilian popular musical taste, influencing many musicians and often being reworked and reinterpreted in new and interesting ways. In the last few years it has generated a new following in North America (which I have written about elsewhere in this blog (Strike up the Bandolim), and is currently undergoing another revival of interest in Brazil. I was fortunate enough to visit a private Choro club in São Paulo a couple of years ago and was delighted to see that the age of the audience ranged from about 12 to 75 or more. More to the point, the age range of the musicians wasn’t that different, starting as it did at around 24 or 25. Brazilian jazz musicians continue to draw on the Choro repertoire for inspiration  and the great Benjamin Taubkin has recently released a whole CDs worth of Choros under the title ‘Modern Tradição’ (Modern Tradition’) which includes works by some of the genre’s finest composers – Pixinguinha, Jacob de Bandolim, Kchimbinho, Garoto and Ernesto Nazareth.

Yes, this music is alive and well 140 years after it first emerged, and is still finding new adherents every day.  I can’t wait for the next gathering of our group.

If these few words on the subject have whetted you r appetite then here are a few examples for you to savour - first, a classic Pixinguinha tune performed by the master and his band.

And next the same tune reinterpreted in 1978 by the great Elis Regina

Next, a more classical interpretation of a Garoto tune by Paulo Bellinati -

and finally, two great young contemporary musicians from Brazil - both of whom I have written about elsewhere on this blog - perform an Ernesto Nazareth tune. Enjoy!