Drummer Adriano Santos spent most of his musical life defining his own artistic identity, working avidly as an in-demand sideman before fronting his own ensemble. Inspired at a young age by drums in a wide variety of music, Santos learned the basics of performance at The Zimbo Trio's music school in São Paulo before moving to the States to attend the Berklee School Of Music. Santos rediscovered his love for Brazilian music and quickly earned a number of playing opportunities, stretching his musicality at every turn. Unfortunately a serious back injury sidelined him from playing drums, until extensive medical treatment led to a full recovery. Reinvigorated, Santos moved to New York, looking for work among the city's active Brazilian Jazz scene. He quickly made good connections, building a busy performance schedule while earning his master's degree at City College of New York. As his reputation grew, Santos captured some prime gigs, including a spot in harmonica and vibraphonist Hendrik Meurkens' New York Samba Jazz Quintet. Many busy years followed, with ample tours and local performances before Santos realized that the time was right to focus upon his own project. Experience on the New York scene and a connection to the greater world of Brazilian music helped Santos pick a unique repertoire that separated his group. He gave considerable thought to the artistic approach of his group, leading him to pick modern players, widely versed in both jazz and Brazilian music. With saxophonist David Binney and pianist Helio Alves serving as primary soloists and bassist David Ambrosio and percussionist Dendé filling out the rhythm section, Santos headed into the studio to record. The consequent 2010 release, In Session, offered a clear snapshot of Santos as a serious artist leading a top-notch band.
delivers a beautiful balance of traditional Brazilian styles and a thoroughly modern approach to improvisation, a testament to Santos' solid background and refined musical approach. We started looking at the development of Santos' musicality in the first piece of our interview, where we discuss his early connection to the drums, his studies with The Zimbo Trio, and his move to the States. In the second part of our interview, we talked about Santos' severe back injury, his long recovery, his move to New York, and his studies with jazz legend Ron Carter. The third piece of our interview digs into Santos' work as a sideman with Hendrik Meurkens and beyond, the recording of In Session, the members of his band, and more.
LATIN JAZZ CORNER: I think that they first recording that I heard your playing was Hendrik Muerkens' New York Samba Jazz Quintet album in 2007--how did you get the gig with Muerkens?
ADRIANO SANTOS: It was Duduka and Maucha; they used to have this steady gig at a coffee shop on Union Square every Saturday afternoon. That was a hot spot for you to meet musicians. Everybody would come to the coffee shop on Saturday from 12:00--5:00 in the afternoon. They knew that if they came to the coffee shop, they would see great musicians. For you to have an idea, the trio that played with Maucha was Duduka, Romero Lubambo, and Nilson Matta--Trio da Paz. That was the group that played in the afternoon there. I believe it was there that Hendrik saw me playing one of the days that Duduka couldn't do it. I was there playing with Maucha and I met him there.
LJC: You've worked with him pretty steady since . . .
AS: Yeah, I've been working with him for a long, long time now. We just came back from two weeks in Germany. It was great. We recorded two albums--one live and one in the studio. It's been great.
LJC: You've also been playing with Forro In The Dark.
AS: I've been doing some subs for Mauro Refosco. He's a great percussionist that plays with David Byrne. Sometimes he gets very busy doing some long tours with Byrne. Last year he was out for seven months so I became his sub for that gig. It's great, because I don't play drums; I play percussion, the zabumba instrument. For me it's great because I teach that at the Drummer's Collective. To have a steady gig like that playing the zabumba it is very positive. I can take all of my knowledge and experience that I have from playing live and transfer it to my students at the Collective. It's a great experience. We're going to go to Europe at the end of July. We're going to have three concerts in Portugal and Germany.
LJC: You started recording In Session in 2008; what inspired you to put your own recording together? Had you been leading groups before then?
AS: I always have had some gigs here and there, but nothing that was going to be a group. People would call me to do gigs and I would put a band together, go and play some Samba Jazz stuff. What took me to this point of having a band was that I was here in New York for fifteen years already just working as a sideman, and I never had time to do my thing. I was always working with other people, working to learn material for other projects. I noticed that I was not doing what I was supposed to do, what I always dreamed to do, which was to have a band. I wanted to be touring with my band, playing my music. So I had to start at some point.
In 1998, when Hendrik Meurkens took a break for a while, I realized that I needed to start doing my thing, not wait for the telephone to ring for a gig. I decided that I had to go looking for my gig, my band. My father had supported me to do the studies that I did and I wasn't using what I was supposed to use. So I decided to put a band together and try out being a bandleader.
LJC: Were you gigging for a while before recording the album?
AS: Actually not much. We started playing a couple of months before the recording. Right before the recording, we had a two-day gig at Zinc Bar. We rehearsed and then during those two days--I think that it was a Tuesday and a Wednesday night--we were able to play the repertoire both nights. The next day, Thursday, we went to the studio very early in the morning and we recorded the whole album in one day.
Since then, every once in a while we get together again. It's really hard to put the band together actually. David Binney and Hélio Alves are traveling all the time. But we didn't play that much before I decided to do the album. The repertoire in my head was already almost decided--what I would play and what musicians I would call.
LJC: What I love about the album is the selection of the tunes--they're great songs, but not ones that you hear everyday.
AS: Exactly. That was my goal. After working here fifteen years and knowing the repertoire that all the bands played--because I had played with everybody--I knew exactly what was being played. And I knew that the music that I listen to in my car, here at home, or on my iPod, was totally different from what people were playing out there. I was definitely decided to do something different. Airto Moreira was one of my biggest influences on this project in terms of inspiration, especially the time that he work with Miles Davis during the seventies. I watched some videos and I listened to a lot of albums. I really enjoyed also Nana Vasconcelos, and all the percussionists that had freedom during the fusion time here in the States. All of those bands--Chick Corea and Return To Forever, Miles--it always had a big influence on my playing. Also the sound of the sixties in Brazil--the trios with Edison Machado and Milton Banana. That sound always stuck with me, the samba jazz stuff from the sixties and also the fusion time where Airto and Nana and Paulinho Da Costa, all of these percussionists and all of the projects that they got involved with. I always felt very fascinated with where they could take the music in terms of freedom.
It was really important for me to have the great soloists David Binney and Hélio Alves. I was very comfortable with the idea of having them playing together, because I knew that they could bring something different to the band. Having Dendê on percussion was crucial. I work with his band also, so I knew already that we together had a very good chemistry playing. I play in his band--it's an Afro-Brazilian band--so I knew that the relationship between me, the percussion, Dave Binney and Hélio Alves, the combination would be great. And just to complete that great band, I invited David Ambrosio on bass, who is one of the top acoustic bass players, and also very knowledgeable about percussion as well. I knew that the combination would work. I just let the magic happen in the studio; I just let them play without restrictions.
LJC: It's funny you say that, because it really comes through on the album. You stretch out and solo on things, but you never loose that great rhythmic element--was that something that you were striving for?
AS: Yeah, that's because of the influence of the music that I'd been listening to for the last four years. I've been listening to a lot of Dave Binney's music and his contributions to other artists like Chris Potter and Kurt Rosenwinkle, a lot of Brian Blade--I was really connected into Bill Stewart, Jeff Ballard, Jeff Watts and Brian Blade's playing. Also Donny McCaslin and Danilo Perez. I was listening to a lot of these cats--the music that they play, it seems like it stretches and transform. It's very loose in a way. I knew that I had to keep that modern element, what is happening now, here in New York with the modern jazz groups.
At the same time, I knew that I had to keep the Brazilian roots in place in terms of playing. With the influence of Milton Banana, Edison Machado, and Airto, and all the great drummers, I knew that I had to keep that vocabulary inside of the music. But at the same time, I wanted to bring some openness that I learned listening to and watching Bill Stewart, Brian Blade, and those cats. With Dave Binney and Hélio, I couldn't go wrong.
When I'd go to record an album with other groups, the composer or the arranger would be concerned with the timing of tune, because they wanted their music to be played on the radio. So the music has to last five minutes; it cannot be more than five, and things like that. I didn't want to do that; I didn't want to constrain the music. I just want the music to come out, on the spot. I think that's what happened, that's what we did.
LJC: I think you really captured that. I also wanted to ask you about David Binney and Hélio Alves; they sound great. I've heard them on other albums and I've always loved their playing. How did you hook up with those guys?
AS: Hélio Alves was one of the first guys that I met in Boston. I think he was the second guy that I met. We played a lot in Boston. We worked a lot in different bands--he was my first choice. I knew that he would be in my band for sure; he's like the top Brazilian pianist here in the United States. Especially as a Brazilian soloist, he's just amazing.
I had a chance to meet Binney with Leonardo Cioglia's group. Leonardo used to put some nice Brazilian repertoire together, and he liked to call a lot of American players to come and play. On one of these gigs, I had an opportunity to meet Binney and then I started following his group up and close. I knew his name through Chris Potter's albums. Soon I started going to his gigs. I watched his approach to music, started reading about his biography, and stuff like that. Binney represents the modern jazz music that is taking over the young generation. I knew that he would be a great call to record the project. Binney is such an innovator as a composer and as an alto saxophonist. All the groups here in New York, usually when you would have a horn, you would have a tenor player, never an alto player. I'm a big fan of Victor Assis Brasil, a great saxophonist from the late eighties. He was a very important jazz musician in Brazil, and he played alto. I knew that Dave would deliver; he would bring the music to another level.
LJC: Now you've got the album out and you've still got a lot of sideman work, are you going to try to focus on your work as a bandleader--what are your plans?
AS: It's something that I've been talking about a lot. It's really hard today for a musician. You have to duplicate yourself--you have to wear a lot of hats. You have to wear the hat of a performer, you have to wear the hat of the business guy . . . I also wear the hat of an educator, because I've been teaching at the Drummer's Collective for the last ten years. It's really hard for me to be in front of the computer for five hours straight just trying to connect with people. Keeping my websites, Facebook, MySpace, and all the communication tools updated. Sending e-mails to people looking for gigs, sending packets here and there, having to rehearse, having to gig, and having to go to school to teach five hours--it's really hard to do everything. So I'm learning that firsthand now. But it's great, I think it's part of growing as a musician.
I definitely want to push this group. I'm also pushing my Organ Trio to have the possibility to play. When the money is not that great, I can use the trio working the same type of repertoire. And also because Binney, Hélio, and Dave, they travel so much, I'm not always able to get them to the gigs. If I have this ability of working with the Organ Trio or the Quintet, I think it's going to be fine.
But I definitely want to push the group, and I've started working for the next album already, trying to put original music together. I already have a couple of compositions already completed. Hopefully by next year I'll have money again to record the next one!
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.
Don't miss Part 2 of our interview with Brazilian Jazz drummer Adriano Santos. We talk about his severe back injury that halted his career, his eventual recovery, his move to New York, his studies with jazz legend Ron Carter, and much more. You can read it HERE.