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Artist Profiles

Claudio Roditi: A Brazilian in Iowa

By Published: October 26, 2009
Roditi recalled the emergence of Joao Gilberto
Joao Gilberto
Joao Gilberto
b.1931
vocalist
and Jobim in the late 1950s. "It wasn't necessarily 'bossa nova' at that point," he said, adding that 1959 saw the beginning of a very creative period. However, in 1964 the Brazilian cultural climate "had a decline because at that point there was a military coup, and things got very bad. There was no emphasis on creative music, and many people were leaving the country, afraid they would be persecuted by the military. It definitely changed the whole scene." The political environment normalized a few years later, and regular jam sessions reemerged with participants like Sergio Mendes
Sergio Mendes
Sergio Mendes
b.1941
piano
. "His commercial success in the States with Brazil '66 came later," Roditi said. "He was really a very good jazz player. At that time, Sergio was influenced a lot by Horace Silver, and it was more free instrumental music."

Asked later about his non-trumpeter influences, Roditi mentioned Mendes again. "Sergio had a sextet, Bossa Rio, that had two trombones and a tenor sax. They had a very warm, rich sound. Raul de Souza played the valve trombone, so I could see what was going on. I would say he had a big influence on me." [Note: Julian "Cannonball" Adderley
Julian
Julian "Cannonball" Adderley
1928 - 1975
saxophone
recorded Cannonball's Bossa Nova (Blue Note, 1962) with this group, marking the first North American exposure of drummer Dom Um Romao
Dom Um Romao
1925 - 2005
percussion
, who went on to fame with the group Weather Report]. "I played with Airto and Flora Purim
Flora Purim
Flora Purim
b.1942
vocalist
in '92," Roditi mentioned, and this led to a brief discussion Romao and Airto's intertwined experiences with Shorter and Zawinul's jazz/fusion super group during the early 1970s.

As many jazz buffs know, the "West Coast" school found a receptive audience among Brazilians, and names like Stan Getz
Stan Getz
Stan Getz
1927 - 1991
sax, tenor
became associated with their music. Others of that school who found wide favor in Brazil were Gerry Mulligan
Gerry Mulligan
Gerry Mulligan
1927 - 1996
sax, baritone
, Chet Baker
Chet Baker
Chet Baker
1929 - 1988
trumpet
, Shelly Manne
Shelly Manne
Shelly Manne
1920 - 1984
drums
, Dave Brubeck
Dave Brubeck
Dave Brubeck
1920 - 2012
piano
and Paul Desmond
Paul Desmond
Paul Desmond
1924 - 1977
sax, alto
. Along with its somewhat greater emphasis on extended compositions and developed arrangements, West Coast stylings were generally of a calmer, less frenetic variety than hard bop. Asked if this "laid-back" quality made it more congenial to adoption for Brazilian musicians, Roditi waved the suggestion aside. "There were economic reasons people in the U.S. don't understand," he explained. "The Pacific Jazz albums were cheaper than Columbia or Blue Note. So, if you were a Brazilian kid with only so much money to spend on records, well, you'd buy Pacific Jazz records because your money went farther."

In 1966, at the age of 20, Roditi was invited to compete in that year's International Jazz Competition in Vienna. Discussing the daunting experience of auditioning for a panel of judges that included the likes of Joe Zawinul
Joe Zawinul
Joe Zawinul
1932 - 2007
keyboard
, Ron Carter
Ron Carter
Ron Carter
b.1937
bass
and Art Farmer
Art Farmer
Art Farmer
1928 - 1999
flugelhorn
, Roditi admitted, "I was shaking, for sure." Nerves notwithstanding, Roditi was a finalist, although Randy Brecker
Randy Brecker
Randy Brecker
b.1945
trumpet
won. While at the competition, a third important mentor entered Roditi's life when he befriended Farmer, whom he had idolized as a boy.

One other moment of youthful discomfiture, four years later, was also recalled by Roditi. He was getting off a boat in Boston, where he had come in 1970 to study at Berklee College. Americans' casual dress code, always something of a contrast to that of Latin American culture, was particularly pronounced that year. "I was the only person wearing a suit and tie," Roditi remembered. "Everyone was dressed like hippies, you know, with jeans and sandals and tie-died shirts!" After quickly revamping his wardrobe, Roditi applied himself to his studies in Boston, meeting his wife there while rubbing elbows with Jaco Pastorius
Jaco Pastorius
Jaco Pastorius
1951 - 1987
bass, electric
and Pat Metheny
Pat Metheny
Pat Metheny
b.1954
guitar
on campus and in local clubs.

Claudio Roditi"Americans confuse Cuban and Brazilian music," Roditi pointed out during the rehearsal and elaborated afterward. Roditi, who has played with legendary Cuban reedman Paquito D'Rivera
Paquito D'Rivera
Paquito D'Rivera
b.1948
saxophone
, agreed that this mimics somewhat the blurring of distinctions many Americans make with various Asian and African cultures. "Mexican music, Dominican, Argentine—it's all different!" he exclaimed, and he singled out Lee Morgan
Lee Morgan
Lee Morgan
1938 - 1972
trumpet
and Jimmy Heath
Jimmy Heath
Jimmy Heath
b.1926
sax, tenor
as two American musicians who have been particularly successful, in his view, with their explorations of Brazilian styles.

Roditi discussed his use of rotary valve, or German, trumpets and flugelhorns custom-made for him by Kromet and Schagerl. "At first, it seemed weird to me, but then I really liked it a lot."


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