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Artist Profiles

Claudio Roditi: A Brazilian in Iowa

By Published: October 26, 2009
After several 'before" and "after" versions of each tune, a cumulative effect emerged. While the "before" versions were tasteful and well-rendered, the "after" versions felt palpably authentic. By the time rehearsal was completed, any sensitive listener, even one relatively unschooled in the nuances of Brazilian music, could see and hear how Roditi, tactfully but authoritatively, had conveyed his ideas and shaped the sound.

Roditi's admitted perfectionism about his music's sound is informed by both American and Brazilian varieties. He is fond of the term "Gemini Man" to describe his blending of Brazilian and American jazz traditions, and the second tune rehearsed, "Impressions," showed that his focus on authenticity encompasses the spirit and sound of Coltrane, too. After a couple of brief asides to Danielson, the second run-through, somehow, sounded more like something to be expected from someone who has played extensively with McCoy Tyner
McCoy Tyner
McCoy Tyner
b.1938
piano
—as Roditi has. His sensibility has been further refined by two other key influences with whom he has played, Horace Silver
Horace Silver
Horace Silver
b.1928
piano
and Tito Puente
Tito Puente
Tito Puente
1923 - 2000
band/orchestra
, themselves products of the Caribbean's dynamic mix of North and South America.

After rehearsal, Roditi hoped aloud that no one had been offended, but no egos were showing any bruise marks. Unsurprisingly for professional educators, his sidemen had treated the rehearsal as a world-class learning opportunity: Roditi has taught master classes and performed with student ensembles around the globe. "Hey, what do I know? I'm just a gringo from Iowa," joked McPartland. "I thought I knew a little about Brazilian music!" mentioning his youthful fondness for Airto Moreira
Airto Moreira
Airto Moreira
b.1941
percussion
's classic album Fingers (CTI, 1973). Danielson smiled and nodded in agreement: "It makes you realize how much you don't know."

A week earlier, Roditi had graciously consented to a telephone interview—an hour-long, wide-ranging discussion which he supplemented after rehearsal with some additional remarks. Roditi recounted his early childhood in Rio de Janeiro, his exposure to American jazz and its Brazilian offshoots, and the challenges facing many deserving players attempting to raise their professional profiles.

Roditi had just returned from an engagement at the Hollywood Bowl, his third gig at the storied open-air venue. On one other occasion there, he related, some big players like James Moody
James Moody
James Moody
1925 - 2010
reeds
and Jimmy Heath
Jimmy Heath
Jimmy Heath
b.1926
sax, tenor
had played as well, but Dizzy Gillespie
Dizzy Gillespie
Dizzy Gillespie
1917 - 1993
trumpet
, who was slated to perform, was sick and couldn't make it. Roditi enjoyed a lengthy gig playing in Gillespie's band, and he reminisced about a celebration of Diz at the Blue Note prior to his death in 1993. "They had saxophone players one week, another week piano players, another week something else" Roditi recounted.

Asked about growing up in Rio, he began by clarifying a biographical note. "Actually, I started at age six, on the piano," he recounted. "I knew I wanted to play trumpet when I was nine. My father was very supportive, and he bought me one right away." Although Roditi's parents had the Brazilians' love of singing at parties while strumming a guitar or piano, it was an American uncle, Harold Axman, who was responsible for introducing his ten-year-old nephew to jazz.

"He was an American sailor during World War II," Roditi explained with a fond laugh. "I don't know what the mission was, but he met my mother's sister in Rio. He didn't speak Portuguese, and she didn't speak English, but they fell in love and got married." He continued. "We visited him in Bahia, and he really had a very nice collection of jazz albums. He had a pad that he used to practice drum rudiments on, so I think he may have played the full drum set back in the States, but I'm not certain of that."

Thinking of the vinyl 33s his now-deceased American uncle played on the stereo, Roditi mentioned canonical names like Bird, Miles and Dizzy. Told earlier that his interviewer grew up in Buffalo, NY, he also referred to Stan Kenton
Stan Kenton
Stan Kenton
1911 - 1979
piano
's Cuban Fire (Capitol, 1956), "with Sam Noto
Sam Noto
b.1930
—someone from your area." That album, featuring Buffalonian Noto on trumpet, had just been released on Blue Note at the time of his formative visit to his uncle Harold. "I knew that was the music I wanted, that's what I was attracted to."

There was another uncle, one on his father's side (which is Jewish, according to Roditi), who also did a great deal to instill an early love of jazz. "His name was Moises Sion, in fact, and his son went on to become a professional saxophonist. When we moved to Santos in 1959, he used to have jam sessions. When he first began sitting in with the big guys, he said, "I was so scared I used to sit under the piano." That would not be the last set of jitters as his talents began taking him to Europe and later the U.S.


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