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Latin Jazz Conversations: Adriano Santos (Part 2)


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Adriano Santos
Even the most focused, dedicated, and thoughtful musicians hit roadblocks on their path towards musical goals. Plans laid at an early age seem certain at the time, based on unstoppable feelings of invincibility and power. Fate has a funny way of testing musicians though, seeing just how long they will persevere in order to reach their goals. On the job challenges first jump into their path as new musical ideas require extra study and interpersonal conflicts test everyone's patience. Financial obligations may drive a musician to find extra work or take a series of gigs that sit outside their prime interests areas. Health issues might stop a musician from working or even worse, stop them from playing music altogether. The musician might encounter a personal crossroads that demands a life adjustment to fit the demands of friends or family. Any number of crises could potentially pop into a musician's world at any point and consequently change their predetermined plans. Without a doubt, something will happen at some point in a musician's life; their continued success simply depends upon the way that they deal with it.

Despite some serious roadblocks placed in his path, drummer Adriano Santos built a solid musical foundation and became an in-demand drummer on New York's scene. Fascinated with the drum kit at an early age and surrounded by a diverse world of music, Santos set his sights on a music career during his youth in Sao Paulo, Brazil. He built his technical skills and got exposed to a wide variety of jazz and Brazilian standards through studies at Centro Livre De Aprendizagem Musical (CLAM), the prodigious music school ran by The Zimbo Trio. Inspired to dedicate his life to music, Santos moved to the States and attended The Berklee School Of Music. He found early success while expanding his horizons, only to be sidelined from the drum kit by a serious back injury. Unable to play, Santos shifted his focus onto arranging, composition, and film scoring. While completing his degree, Santos sought constant medical help and eventually regained the ability to perform at a high level. With his skill set back in place, Santos moved into New York's active Brazilian music scene. He found quick acceptance and camaraderie on the scene, bonding with the area's top musicians. At the same time, Santos worked towards a master's degree at City College of New York, getting the opportunity to study with jazz legend Ron Carter. Santos' musicality gained momentum with each passing day, building enough steam to work through any situation.

Once Santos found his way to New York, he established himself as an important part of New York's Brazilian Jazz scene, adding a solid dose of integrity and depth. In the first piece of our three-part interview with Santos, we discussed his early connection to the drum kit, his studies with The Zimbo Trio, his move to Berklee, and more. In the second part of our interview, Santos talks about his career changing back injury, his return to music, his move to New York, and more.

LATIN JAZZ CORNER: When you graduated, you earned a degree in film scoring. What pushed you in that direction?

ADRIANO SANTOS: What happened was that in 1990, three friends and I that were studying at Berklee had a percussion group. We used to play in Harvard Square on Saturday and Sunday in the street. At that time they still had live music on the streets there. We had this group; we played there every summer and made some money. We decided to go to Europe--grab the instruments and just go to Europe, try to play in the streets, have some gigs, and stuff like that. So we did that--we took all the instruments and went to Europe. We stayed there for about two and a half months, just traveling. Taking the train with the instruments and traveling all over Europe playing in the streets. It was very fun; at that time I was very young and had a lot of energy. The players were very good too.

At the end of the tour, I injured myself carrying some heavy stuff. We were in Austria and we were helping one of our friends that was organizing a rock concert in a castle that belonged to his family. This guy was a very famous drummer from Austria and he was a friend of one of the percussionists in my group. So we went there, we stayed in his house, and we helped him to build up the tents for the concert. I carried some heavy stuff and I hurt my back really badly.

I had a very bad injury on my scapula in my back and I also had tendonitis in both arms. This happened in two weeks. So I couldn't play anymore. Instead of going back to Boston, I went straight to Brazil to look for doctors, to see if I could repair the injury. It looked really weird. My scapula, this pointy bone that we have in our back next to the shoulder, was pointing out. I found out that I hurt a nerve that controls the muscle that holds that bone. That's what triggered the tendonitis in both arms also.

I couldn't play drums. I went to the best doctor in Sao Paulo that took care of all the soccer players and athletes. The guy told me that I would never play the drums again. So that for me was really hard. But I was really persistent; I didn't want to give up the music. I went back to Boston. I knew that I couldn't play drums, so I switched my jazz performance major to film scoring. It was great, because it got me exposed to a lot of arrangements and learning how to do arrangements for horns and strings. I ended up working a little bit with the Film Department of the Boston College, in terms of music. It was great.

At that time, when I was doing the film-scoring program, I went to an acupuncturist that lived there in Boston. I heard great things about him. I did a treatment with him for six months, and it was the most important thing that I did. It centered me again, my muscles started to respond, and I started playing the drums again. It was really important to go to this doctor and do the acupuncture treatment every week

LJC: When were you able to play and start doing gigs again?

AS: I started playing again in 1992 with a singer that lives in L.A., Téka Penteriche; she's a great singer from Brazil. I started working again; it was 1992, more or less.

LJC: Had you graduated from Berklee at that point?

AS: I finished in 1994, and then I moved to New York in the end of '94. It was probably the end of October when I moved here.

LJC: Between that time that you graduated from Berklee and you moved to New York, who were you working with?

AS: I was working with Téka Penteriche, Hermanes de Abreu, Sergio Brandão, and also with Conexão Brasil, a 13-piece Brazilian big band, which was also run by José De Barros from Berklee. Besides that, there were a lot of local small gigs here and there with singers and stuff.

LJC: What inspired you to move to New York?

AS: I knew that I didn't want to go back to Brazil and the only way that I could stay here in the States would be to study. I knew also that Boston had limited opportunities in music. I came down here a couple of times and I liked what I saw. I had a proposition here to play in a Brazilian restaurant in mid-town. I knew that if I came here, I would already have a job. The only way that I could stay would be studying and have a student visa, so I went to the City College of New York to do my masters. Meanwhile I was working at some jazz clubs and Brazilian restaurants with other Brazilian musicians.

LJC: So was that 1995?

AS: Yeah, 1995 was when I started the City College.

LJC: When you were at City College, that must have been at the time that Ron Carter was there . . .

AS: Yea, I had the opportunity to study with him for three years. Every Wednesday at 9:00 in the morning, he would be there. He would open the class door and ask us to hang our coats on a hanger. He would bring original scores or parts from his group with Miles in the sixties and he would tell great stories from the time that they were playing. It was just the best thing. It was unbelievable.

He really changed the way that I would face music, the concept of me being a musician, he really changed that.

LJC: How so?

AS: It was because of the stories that he used to tell about the Miles Davis group when he worked with Herbie, Tony and Wayne, and how tough it was for them as blacks working at that time. It was really tough. He just showed us how important it is for you to love your profession, and to be dedicated and professional about it. And how far that could take you.

In terms of concepts about music and arrangements, he used to mention Miles quintet. He used to say that if somebody would make a mistake one night, then another night they would capitalize on that mistake and turn the music into something else. He also would force us to explore new ideas for the arrangements and orchestration . . . every Wednesday was just a delight for me and the other students.

LJC: What was the Brazilian Jazz scene like when you got there and how has it evolved over the years?

AS: It was really good, I would say. It's still good nowadays, but after September 11th, everything changed. But I remember after I was here three months, I got a very nice gig with a big band led by this arranger Jorge André. He put a big band together only with music from Antonio Carlos Jobim. At that time, I was the only Brazilian drummer in town that could read music. So I got this gig and it was really good. We had Maucha Adnet for a while and also we had Leny Andrade singing with us for a while. We had a weekly thing at Blue Water Grille in Union Square, so every week we would be performing there. That was a big push for me, in order for people to know my name, so people could trust my work.

Two people that really helped me here were the great drummer Duduka Da Fonseca and his wife Maucha Adnet. Every time that somebody needed a drummer, they would give them my name. So I started meeting a lot of people, and a lot of other groups that were playing here in New York. It got to a point where I would be working for fifteen days straight. Sometimes two gigs on Saturday, two gigs on Sunday and throughout the week. Unfortunately after 9/11, everything changed.

LJC: You said after 9/11 everything changed . . . I've heard from a lot of people that the work slowed down--what is the scene like today?

AS: I think that it's changed a lot. At that time before September 11th, there were more spots for you to play. There would be jazz clubs or restaurants that would have live music all the time. Because of September 11th, all the schedules of the clubs changed . . . especially in the first year, it was incredible. People didn't go out that much, so all the schedules of the clubs changed. Some places just closed. With that, the money also got reduced often. Maybe one club you would play three sets before and now it would be just two sets. Maybe you would play for the door. There were a lot of variables that made the city to be less party like. I think that it's coming back nowadays, but it definitely made a permanent change to the scene. A lot of people left New York because of September 11th. A lot of musicians left New York. I think it made it harder for owners of clubs and restaurants to be able to afford music as well. The regular costumers and tourists were not coming to restaurants or staying out drinking. It really changed. But not only that, I think after that, the people that rented places, that didn't have their own places, started to pay more for rent. So it came in a lot of different ways economically.

LJC: That must have been huge.

AS: Yeah, I think in the Bush era, also, they reduced the money for arts. That also had an impact on the music scene.

Make sure that you check out Part 1 of our interview with Brazilian Jazz drummer Adriano Santos. We discuss his early connection to the drums, his training at The Zimbo Trio's music school, his move to Berklee, and more. You can find it HERE.

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