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Latin Jazz Conversations: Samuel Quinto (Part 2)

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When a particular artistic vision strikes a musician, they encounter a powerful need to find the means to execute it. Sometimes this means exploring their own community to find the right collaborators, spending time jamming with an endless list of musicians. At other times, a musician might need a thorough education about their chosen musical genre. This may mean attending a music school or meeting with a mentor, but it involves gaining a broader understanding of music. In more extreme cases, a musician might need to leave their community altogether and find a more suitable environment for their art to thrive. Regardless of the required means, once a musician finds their path towards artistic fulfillment, forward motion is inevitable.

After spending his childhood casually indulging his passion for music, Brazilian pianist Samuel Quinto discovered Latin Jazz and then found a path towards performing the genre. The community in his hometown of Salvador da Bahia was Quinto's main connection to music during his youth. The church filled his ears with gospel music and provided access to both skilled musicians and a variety of instruments. The streets resonated with traditional Brazilian music, connecting Quinto with samba, bossa nova, baião, and more. He spent a brief period studying for a career in engineering, but soon realized that his future rested in music. While working as a pianist in a hotel, some guests introduced Quinto to Michel Camilo's music, and the pianist became a fan of Latin Jazz. Unfortunately, Salvador da Bahia held little opportunity to perform the music, so Quinto looked towards Europe. He moved to London for a short time and then moved to Spain before returning to Brazil. This small taste of the European music scene filled Quinto with hope though, and he soon found his way back to Portugal. After finding steady work in a hotel, Quinto started making strong connections with local musicians. The pianist formed a Latin Jazz trio and quickly headed into the studio, producing his first release, Latin Jazz Thrill. The album opened doors to performances across Europe, establishing him as an able voice in European Latin Jazz.

Once Latin Jazz grabbed hold of Quinto, there was no turning back; he found his way to Europe, and only possibilities laid out in front of him. With a solid introduction through Latin Jazz Thrill behind him, and the original music on Salsa 'n Jazzahead of him, Quinto sat poised to become a strong stylist. In Part One of our interview with Quinto, we looked at his introduction to music through both the church and Brazilian street music, his move towards a professional career, and the influence of Michel Camilo. Today, we discuss his move to Portugal, the creation of his trio, and the European Latin Jazz scene.

———- LATIN JAZZ CORNER: Did you move to Portugal to find other types of music?

SAMUEL QUINTO: Yes, I wanted to move. When I decided to live as a professional musician, I knew that I had to move from Brazil to another place. So I had two thoughts—the first was Europe and the second was America. In America, it's almost impossible for me. I'm Brazilian, so I would have to get a visa, and it's very, very complicated. I gave up on America and moved to Europe because it's much easier.

I wanted to just show my music to the many countries around there. In Europe, the countries are so small that we can move from one to another and play. So I can show my music to a lot of people.

LJC: Did you go to Portugal first or somewhere else in Europe?

SQ: No, I didn't go to Portugal first; in 2003, I moved to London. I spent a little time there. Since I was working at the Marriott in Brazil, I asked my manager if I could move to London and play in the Marriott there for a while. He agreed, and I moved to London for a little bit. I needed to learn how to speak English—I didn't have classes for English, I was self-taught.

LJC: How long were you in London and when did you move from there?

SQ: I was in London for about one month. After that, I moved to Madrid in Spain for about twenty-five days. Then I went back to Salvador again. It was a big experience to see another country, because I had never left my state before. This was the first time that I had the opportunity to see another country, and it was amazing. It was like I saw the future. I lived in a really poor neighborhood in Salvador, and then I moved to London. I thought, “Wow, I'm in the future!" I could see many concerts in London—I saw Herbie Hancock, one of my idols. I never thought that I could see him live, but I saw him in London. It was an incredible experience for me.

LJC: Once you went back to Salvador, how did things move forward from there?

SQ: I came back to Salvador and I started to play again in the hotel. I also started to send out my curricula vitae to other countries. I started sending it to America, England, Portugal, Italy, Spain, and more. I didn't get any answers because I didn't have a college degree in music, so nobody wanted me. I met my current manager, Isabel Melo, in Salvador at the hotel where I play; after that, she came back to Portugal and tried to get my CV to hotels in Portugal. There was a group from Brazil—Amarelo Manga—they gave me a contract to play, so I was able to get a visa for living in Portugal. Once I got there, I started to play at the Sheraton Hotel in Porto. That's why I'm here, because of her.

LJC: Once you got there, how did you put together your trio?

SQ: I played at the hotel, and then many musicians from Brazil and Portugal knew that there was a new pianist in town. So I got some invitations to play in other bars. I started to play with many, many musicians. One night, I met the bassist who recorded on my first CD—he's from Rio de Janiero in Brazil. He introduced me to the drummer on the first CD. After this, I was playing in many bars, where I met Manuel Santiesteban and Marcos Borges (who play on Quinto's second CD). I met them just through playing in nightclubs and bars.

LJC: Were there many people doing Latin Jazz like you in Portugal?

SQ: No, I recorded the first Latin Jazz album in Portugal. Salsa 'n Jazzis the second. There are no other Latin Jazz CDs from Portugal. We do have another pianist here in Portugal who is Cuban, but he lives in Lisbon. He has lived in Portugal almost ten years, but he has never recorded a CD.

There are not many musicians performing Latin Jazz. They feel that Latin Jazz is much more complicated. They can't play it, I don't know why. That's why I founded the first Latin Jazz course in Portugal. It's at Escola Jazz Ao Norte. I teach how to play Latin Jazz, but not just on piano—I teach piano and percussion too. I get to the idea of a group that would like to play Latin Jazz.

LJC: If there wasn't a scene of musicians playing Latin Jazz, how did you get your first album, Latin Jazz Thrill, recorded?

SQ: It's complicated! I had to get my finances together and pay for the recording. I recorded a demo and I went to a company. I showed them my album; he listened and he told me, “This is strange!" I told him, “It's Latin Jazz." He said, “What?!?" I told him, “It's Jazz Latino—it's like jazz with Latin rhythms." He said, “It's strange, but we can record this." I paid for the CD and he published it.

They gave me bad conditions to record the CD though. He gave me a broken piano! I had to play some pieces by jumping over notes, because those keys didn't work! It was terrible, but I survived it!

LJC: After you recorded the album, you played in Germany and moved out across Europe a bit. What kinds of opportunities were available for you to play outside of Portugal?

SQ: Both CDs gave me an opportunity to show my music in many other countries, like Spain, France, and Germany. I always do all of it myself—I call theaters, I talk with the director and say, “I'm a pianist and I have a CD, would you like to listen?" So that's why I started to travel around Europe. Now I have my manager in Portugal, I have a manager in Germany, and I have a manager in Brazil. I think it's much better. But in the beginning, I did everything. I often talked to my musicians and I told them, “I clean the house, I compose the music, I call the theaters, and I drive to the shows . . . I do whatever I can to make sure that my music goes to any place."

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