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Take Five with Pianist Marta Karassawa


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Meet Marta Karassawa

Marta Karassawa, a Brazilian pianist and arranger, graduated from Berklee College of Music and formed the Marta Karassawa Quintet in 2001, bringing to light the nostalgia of the great jazz quintets of the '40s and '50s. With it, she performed on the stages of various clubs and festivals. Now, completely revamped, she leads her quintet, with a lineup of renowned musicians, including Teco Cardoso on tenor saxophone and flutes, Sidmar Vieira on trumpet and flugelhorn, Frank Herzberg on double bass, and Ze Eduardo Nazario on drums, as well as some special guests: Jacques Schwarz-Bart, Stephanie Borgani, and Chico Macedo, on her recently released album, Tempo Bom, with an exquisite original repertoire that naturally mixes funky blues, samba grooves, swinging melodies, and baião rhythms.

The album release shows have been sold out in several jazz clubs in São Paulo, such as Blue Note and JazzB.


I have been playing the piano since I was seven years old.

Teachers and Influences

I was in my early twenties when I first heard Bill Evans' Turn Out the Stars. This changed my life. I was so moved that I went through an insane process of transcribing every Bill Evans solo that I got my hands on. At that time, in the '80s, it wasn't so easy to find jazz records here in Brazil. Mostly, they came from people who traveled abroad.

When I went to Berklee, I had a Japanese piano teacher, Yuki Arimasa, who helped me a lot with chord construction and harmony. Another teacher I learned a lot from was Ed Tomasi on harmonic considerations for jazz improvisation. Back in Brazil, I started listening to Wynton Kelly and Benny Green, from whom I got a lot of ideas for my quintet's work. Brazilian pianists also took part: Cesar Camargo Mariano, Hermeto Pascoal, and Egberto Gismonti.

I knew I wanted to be a musician when...

Although I started playing the piano at age seven, I didn't know it would be my livelihood for a long time. I come from a family of Engineers and Architects, so it seemed natural for me to study Architecture, as I enjoyed drawing as much as playing the piano. When I was halfway through the course, I realized that my great passion was playing the piano. Then I graduated and followed my heart, trying to get a scholarship to Berklee College of Music, which I did.

Your Sound and Approach to Music

It seems funny how your roots can influence your way of playing and composing. As I'm Brazilian, I grew up listening to a lot of Brazilian music, bossa nova, MPB, samba... jazz came much later. So, although I love jazz swing, hard bop, cool, fusion, when I compose, Brazilian rhythms come to my mind first. Most of my compositions are based on Brazilian rhythms, baião, bossa nova, part alto, and samba.

Your Dream Band

I feel blessed to play with these incredible musicians who are featured on my album. They are some of the best musicians on the São Paulo and international jazz scene. Teco Cardoso is a renowned flutist and saxophonist who plays frequently in Europe, Japan, and the USA with Monica Salmaso, Vento em Madeira, Pau Brasil. Sidmar Vieira, trumpet player, played with Maria Schneider, Tia Carrol, Frank Sinatra Jr. among others. Frank Herzberg, bassist, played with Dave Liebman, Airto Moreira, Hermeto Pascoal. Zé Eduardo Nazário, drummer, played with Hermeto Pascoal, John McLaughlin, Egberto Gismonti. But of course, having a quintet with those legends from the Kind of Blue album, Paul Chambers, Jimmy Cobb, Miles Davis, and John Coltrane, would be great!

Favorite Venue

JazzB in São Paulo

Your favorite recording in your discography and why?

I have more than one favorite recording. A Brazilian, I would say Samambaia by Cesar Camargo Mariano and Hélio Delmiro. As I said, Cesar Camargo was one of my biggest influences on Brazilian piano, and this is an iconic album. Kelly Blue by Wynton Kelly is another. The rhythm section for this album was the same as that for Miles' Kind of Blue, with Paul Chambers, Wynton Kelly, and Jimmy Cobb. I loved the repertoire and arrangements so much that I took them as a basis for the beginning of my quintet's work back in 2001.

What do you think is the most important thing you are contributing musically?

Nowadays, we have such a large number of talented musicians, not only musically but also technically, that compared to them, I don't consider my work as relevant. On the other hand, my compositions and arrangements are my story. This album I just released, Tempo Bom, tells the entire trajectory of my musical life. I have a composition from the time I was studying at Berklee, then when I was pregnant with my first child, for my husband, who is also the bassist on this project, for my other two children... another song that I dedicated to my parents because it brings me the memory of my childhood... So I think this album is very rich and colorful because it reflects different moments in my life. And I could also count on these exquisite musicians, with incredible solos.

Did you know...

I am a practicing Catholic, and I have a great devotion to Our Lady, who has always helped me in everything.

What is the greatest fear when you perform?

Until the day before, I have every fear you can imagine... fear of speaking in public, forgetting the music, not playing a good solo... but I think the worst of them is speaking in public! When I'm on the stage, everything disappears!

The first jazz album I bought was

Bill Evans Trio Sunday at the Village Vanguard at Tower Records when I moved to Boston.

Music you are listening to now

I'm not listening to anything specific at the moment. I listen to music usually when I'm driving and I listen to jazz radio.

How would you describe the state of jazz today?

I think nowadays almost everything is considered to be jazz. Just take a look at these jazz festivals to find almost all types of genres that are called "jazz" but really aren't. Without being too harsh or pure about the conception of what jazz is, I still think that yes, there are a lot of good musicians doing jazz. As I said before, there are many talented musicians who have a good grasp of this and are doing a great job! There are also many women shining on the jazz scene: Maria Schneider, Esperanza Spalding, Diana Krall, Hiromi Uehara...

What is your favorite song to whistle or sing in the shower?

I don't sing or whistle in the shower...

By Day

My daily job is teaching and practicing piano, taking care of the house, my husband, three children, and a cat.

If I weren't a jazz musician, I would be

I can't think of anything else... but working in something on the beach would be great!




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