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Latin Jazz Conversations: Samuel Quinto (Part 1)

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Our early years put a lot of pieces in place for us artistically, but they never cement our musical future into place. The sights and sounds of our childhood certainly stay with us, building an unconscious foundation for our future endeavors. They become a comfort zone and the measuring stick for all the music that we encounter in our adult lives. While this major influence may lead to a career in the music of our youth, fate may very well push us in an unexpected direction. An artistic idea might resonate with us so powerfully that we completely loose ourselves in its breadth. We become open to a whole new set of aesthetics, growing into a new musician that can draw upon several different musical directions. The unexpected twists in a musician's life become the stimulus for their artistic output, producing a fascinating mix of the past and the present.

Pianist Samuel Quinto moved through several stages in his musical evolution before finding an inspiration that would define his current style. Raised in Salvador da Bahia, Brazil, Quinto experienced a humble childhood, flirting with music throughout his community. His prime connection to music existed in the church, connecting Quinto with gospel music and allowing him to experiment with a variety of instruments. At the same time, the percussion heavy music of his neighborhood became a major piece of his life. The young Quinto enthusiastically engaged both sides of his musical life, but the realities of life soon caught up with him. Looking towards a stable career, Quinto's family pushed him towards engineering, but the pull of music was too great. He left his schooling to perform as a pianist nightly at The Marriott Hotel in Bahia. Quinto dug into his new focus with a passion, studying Brazilian piano greats such as Cesar Camargo Mariano and Amilton Godoy. A group of hotel visitors provided a major turning point in Quinto's musical life, suggesting that he check out pianist Michel Camilo. He followed their advice and found a kindred musical spirit that changed his whole outlook on performance. As he looked around him, he saw a lack of musicians that shared his interests, implying that it might be time to push his musical career into the next stage of evolution.

The influence of the Brazilian music around Quinto and the love he found for music in the church would set the stage for his vibrant Latin Jazz personality. Quinto would find his way to Portugal, where he engaged his love for Latin Jazz with a fantastic trio through performance and recording. In the first part of our interview with Quinto, we look at the dual influence of the church and traditional Brazilian music, his move into a professional music career, and the influence of Michel Camilo.

LATIN JAZZ CORNER: You were raised in Salvador da Bahia; how did you first get into music?

SAMUEL QUINTO: I grew up in a Baptist family, so, I got into music through the church. We had many groups that played gospel music in my church. I grew up listening to this type of music, and it made me a specialist in it. In my church, I played piano, guitar, drums, bass, and saxophone—whatever I could get my hands on.

I'm self-taught; I never had classes on piano or any other instrument. My parents didn't have the conditions to allow them to pay for classes for me.

LJC: Then your whole musical upbringing was through the church . . .

SQ: Yes. I always saw the other musicians that played at the church. I would sit very close to them, looking for the kind of musical things that I would like to learn. I would just watch what they played. That was my school—watching other musicians play.

LJC: You mentioned that you played a lot of different instruments—when did piano become your main instrument?

SQ: The music in my life was not professional; it was just playing at the church. I would play piano and other instruments. I grew up like this, and I studied at school. After I finished my school, I started to work with my father. I wanted to help him pay the bills, so I started to work with him. After that, I received an invitation to play piano in a hotel in Salvador da Bahia.

At this point, I spent my time just focusing on playing piano. I practiced and I listened to more musicians—more jazz and whatever I could find to help me understand much more music.

LJC: Outside of the gospel music that you heard at the church, what did you listen to when you were developing your musical skills?

SQ: It was just Brazilian music—samba, bossa nova, baião . . . the rhythms from Brazil. Every night, my neighbors would like to play pandiero and other instruments. So we would have conversations through playing music, almost every night. It was informal, just getting together. We would play music, talk, play cards and dominos—that was another part of my school, the music on the streets.

LJC: So you were really influenced by traditional Brazilian music?

SQ: Yea. At one point, I discovered American music like progressive rock and blues. I liked Pink Floyd and Dire Straights. I loved many different kinds of music. I discovered a little bit about each one of them. That became another part of my musical personality. But my big influence, of course, is Brazilian music.

LJC: Later on, you actually started going to college for engineering.

SQ: When I was twenty-four, my sister put my name on the list at the college. I had to take a test to get into the college, and I passed. So in January, I started to study, but I never liked it. I didn't enjoy engineering, I just liked to play music. But in Salvador, we don't have many places to play piano. My sister, father, and mother told me every day, “You have to find another profession, you have to study engineering." So that's why I went to school—it wasn't because I liked it, it was more for survival.

LJC: When did you leave school to go work as a pianist at the hotel?

SQ: I was in school for a year, and then in 1999, I started at the hotel. I actually gave up in less than a year. My sister almost killed me!

LJC: You did find work at the hotel—what were you playing there?

SQ: When the Marriott Hotel opened in Salvador, we would get a group of travelers every week from England. The English visitors would sit close to me at the piano, and they would ask me to play Brazilian music. I started to play Brazilian music every night from many areas—I played samba, bossa nova, baião, whatever. When we would see guests from other countries, I would play much more than Brazilian music—Argentinean music, Peruvian music, American music, and Cuban music, whatever. But at the beginning, it was Brazilian music.

LJC: You discovered Michel Camilo around that time.

SQ: Yes, it was there in the hotel. We had two guests from Argentina, a couple. They asked me if I had heard Michel Camilo. I had never heard of him. They said to me, “You must find his music and listen." I went back to my house after work and got on the internet, looking for Michel Camilo. I found a video of him playing “Caribe"—my life changed! That was the point where things changed for me. I listened to Michel Camilo and I thought, “That's what I like, I have to play this."

LJC: What did you take from Michel Camilo that you brought into your own music?

SQ: The best thing was the energy—the energy and the melody. He has a great melodic sense on his pieces. I liked those points in his music, and I wanted to transpose them onto my music. I wanted his type of melody with a lot of energy on piano.

LJC: Were there other musicians around you in Bahia that wanted to play like this?

SQ: No! Unfortunately, no. We had many, many good musicians, but there were mostly percussionists. You have great percussionists in Bahia . . . great, great, great percussionists. But I needed much more than this. I needed a drummer that understood the language of South American music. They needed to start in Uruguay and Paraguay, and go up into Brazil, Chile, Ecuador, Cuba, and the Dominican Republic. I didn't find a drummer like this. Also, I needed to find a bassist that could play more than Brazilian music. Most of the bass players could not do much more than this.

That's why I moved to Portugal and found my Cuban friends!

LJC: Before you made the move, were there any other Latin Jazz artists that influenced you besides Michel Camilo?

SQ: My first influence on piano was Cesar Camargo Mariano, who played with Elis Regina. He was my first influence, and then there was Amilton Godoy from Zimbo Trio. I grew up listening to that kind of Brazilian music, but when I listened to Michel Camilo, I heard something totally different. I heard another kind of music that I wanted to do. So I decided to put together Cesar Camargo, Amilton Godoy, and Michel Camilo in my music.

LJC: Did you ever get to meet Cesar Mariano or Amilton Godoy—did they come through Bahia to play?

SQ: No, I never saw them play live. I just listened to the records—this was before CD.

LJC: Was there much live music in Bahia, giving you access to people that you could see perform?

SQ: No, unfortunately, we just had music from Bahia. There in Bahia, the people just listen to Bahian music. We have these kinds of thoughts—in Bahia, it's just Bahian music. There's music for carnival—we have many groups playing samba, pagode, and forró, but just local music, made in Bahia. That's why I was on a kind of island, surrounded not by water, but Bahian music.

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