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Latin Jazz Conversations: Jovino Santos Neto (Part 5)

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After a career filled with countless important musical interactions, pianist Jovino Santos Neto focused his energy on a more intimate artistic conversation. His early training led him through classical music, progressive rock, and jazz fusion, before he decided on a career outside of music. A meeting with composer Hermeto Pascoal changed his mind though, and he became a key member of the influential musician's band. Neto stayed with Pascoal's group for fifteen years, soaking in the composer's concepts and becoming an experienced performer around the world. A desire to dig deeper into Pascoal's larger works took Neto to Cornish College Of The Arts in Seattle, where he eventually became a professor. Along the way, Neto spent several years performing with Airto Moreira's Fourth World and establishing his own group in Seattle. Neto solidified his standing as a bandleader with several outstanding albums, including Roda Carioca (Rio Circle)and Alma do Nordeste (Soul Of The Northeast). Looking for new inspiration in 2010, Neto recorded a series of duets with twenty different musicians, resulting in the recording Veja O Som (See The Sound). Neto gathered ten musicians from Brazil and ten musician from the United States, producing a double disc collection of exposed artistic communication. The recordings are personal and exciting, emphasizing the thrill of improvisation and the joy of human collaboration. Neto tells a story about the intimate quality of music, interacting with these musicians on a whole new level of artistic insight.

There's something magical and honest about a musical collaboration between just two people, and Neto captures the essence of the experience beautifully on Veja O Som (See The Sound). It's a gorgeous step in an illustrious career that has spanned a number of the most important interactions in Brazilian Jazz. In Part One and Part Two of our interview with Neto, we looked at his early years immersed in progressive rock and jazz fusion, the influence of Brazilian music on these genres, and his first connection with Pascoal. Part Three of our interview delved into Neto's fifteen year span with Pascoal, while Part Four focused upon Neto's emergence as a bandleader. Today, we conclude our conversation with Neto, looking deeply into his latest recording Veja O Som (See The Sound), his work as a teach at Cornish College Of The Arts, and his efforts to keep Pascoal's legacy alive.

———- LATIN JAZZ CORNER: Your new album Veja O Som (See The Sound)has duets with musicians both from the United States and Brazil—how did you pick all the different individuals?

JOVINO SANTOS NETO: I was talking to Richard Zirinsky from Adventure Music and we knew it was a time where we needed to do something new. It was right around the time that the economy was really tanking and things were looking pretty dismal in general. I had all these ideas—I was thinking of doing a solo record, another recording with my group from Seattle, and more. There were all these things that we thought about, and they were great ideas with great potential. He told me, “I think what people really need, what would be a good thing to focus on, would be to work with the human interaction aspect of music. Why don't we just come up with some people that you like to play duos with and explore that aspect?"

Then of course, we had a hundred names to choose from. I thought of a lot of cool people from Seattle, from Brazil, from Europe, and all over the world. We decided to each make lists, send them to each other, and then see what names appear on both lists. Then we had to make sure that the people would agree, that the people would be available, and such.

It was nice the way that it worked out—it was natural. Some of the people were my good friends, like Mike Marshall or people like Gabriel Grassi, that I've worked with twice before. Other people were people that I'd never played with, like Gretchen Parlato; I knew of her, but I didn't even know her work. We would just kind of meet, go into the studio, and go, “O.K., what do you want to do?" In a way, that unprepared sincerity gives the record a unique twist.

LJC: One of the things that really strikes me on the album is the one on one aspect of what you're doing really touches upon the spontaneous nature of jazz. How much was this planned out or first take stuff?

JSN: The majority of the tracks are first takes. Even when we did more than one take, we would listen back and end up finding that the first take had something in it that we liked more. There's really no overdubs either. There's some editing—there's some tracks that would have been ten minutes long, like the one with Airto. So I edited it down to six minutes. That kind of editing went on after the recording, but there was not that I said, “Oh, I have a better idea, let's go do it." That did not happen. It was the idea that came in—it's very human, it's not perfect. I like that too.

LJC: On so many albums, personalities get buried in arrangements, so it's nice to hear that.

JSN: If you take a guy like Airto, he can overdub a million percussion tracks and make it sound beautiful. But the whole concept of this was that we were not overdubbing. So he set up a whole bunch of bells and shakers around him with three microphones—one for his voice and two for his instruments. Even I was flipping between the flute and the piano—that was not overdubbed. I put a little piece of cloth there on the piano so it wouldn't make noise when I put the flute down. The same thing with Joe Locke—when I play flute and then go to the piano, he changes mallets. All that is done on the fly, we didn't really construct it. So it was really what went down, and we just tried to make the best of it.

LJC: Were there any particular sessions that stood out?

JSN: I liked the session with Gretchen Parlato. I didn't really know her voice. I talked to her on the phone and she said, “We could do How Insensitive." I said, “O.K., I love that song." It's actually a song that I play often with my band, so I said, “I can figure out something to do." So I got there and I proceeded to set up the song on the first take. I waited for her to come in, and then she started with a very soft, breathy sound. I thought, “Oh my god, I started at level six and she came in at level two on the volume." So the whole first take was me trying to drop down to where she was. She stayed there; she didn't come up to where I was. So I thought, “Hmm, this requires a total reworking of what I had in mind."

We listened and I said, “O.K., let's do another one." So on the second take, I felt that and I came from a much more quieter space. We met in that space, played around, and then the song ended. Then we said, “Let's do it another way." So we went back in and we knew what we could do. I came from Mars, she came from Saturn—it was so out!

When I listened to the three takes, I was really confused about how to choose. I asked Richard Zirinsky, and he said, “I prefer the first one, because there's a spontaneity of you reacting." I said, “Yea, but we got to the end of the take without really finding it." Then the third one was very cool, but it was so out that people would actually not recognize the song. It would become something else, it would become an abstraction. I thought that I owed it to the composer for the song to be at least recognizable. So my compromise was to choose the second take. Gretchen agreed, and there it was—that was the take that you hear on the record, as is.

LJC: I like how you have the musicians from the States on one disc and then the musicians from Brazil on the other disc.

JSC: Originally, I wanted to mix everything together. The two albums were actually Zirinsky's idea. I saw his point. There is something in the record from Brazil that has a different flavor . . . obviously, it's different people and it's a different place. I like to have those two colors, and the concept of the dual projects on two CDs done in two different countries. The duality of the whole process shines through even more with the separation of the two places. It's funny, because even the fact that there were the same number of artists from both places was totally accidental. At first, we thought we were going to have sixteen, then it was seventeen, then it was nineteen. At the last moment, it was twenty.

Both of us wanted to have David Sanchez. I wrote to him and he said, “Yea, I'm interested." The only day that he was available was New Year's Day. I pretty much gave up on the idea. Then he wrote back and said, “I want to do this so bad, I'll find a way to make it work." So in the midst of the holiday rush, we went ahead and booked the studio, got the flight, and the hotel. He flew in, I picked him up at the hotel, and took him to the studio. We recorded, he came back to the hotel, and then he flew out. It was so quick. We had two songs in mind to do, both by Torinho Horta. We ended up choosing “Aquelas Coisa Todas (All Of Those Things)" and I'm so happy. It came out so beautiful that I actually chose that to open the album. It was the last track that we did.

LJC: You've got this series of duets recorded now—is there anyone that you would like to do duets with?

JSN: I probably have another twenty, easy. This could easily become a franchise! I could do just in Europe with my great musician friends from there. I really enjoy playing with all kinds of different people.

LJC: I wanted to ask you about your role as a teacher at Cornish—how do you see the younger generation of musicians and their interest in jazz?

JSN: I see that the biggest problem today is not the students; it's actually the teachers. They did not have that latitude in their experience and they feel very helpless in trying to teach students who want openness in their education. If you want to compose music and if your idea of structure is rhythm changes or the blues, then you're lacking something because you've never heard music that has more complex structural forms. At the same time, if you come from a place of very highly developed structural music but you don't know how to deal with the simplicity of chord symbols, then you also are seriously damaged in your ability to create music. If you want to work in anything—film soundtracks, television, video games, ringtones, whatever it is in music—then you have to know these things. I'm very happy to have the opportunity to interact with younger students who have that openness.

At the same time, you help the other teachers; I like to collaborate. At Cornish, I work with both the classical people and the jazz people. I've got a foot on each side there, which is the way that I like it. I don't feel like I'm in any way constrained or stifled in what I do. I design my own courses, I write my own syllabus, and I decide how to teach the class. In a way, it's a continuation of the work that I did with Hermeto in an institutional setting—I didn't have to conform.

LJC: You've also really preserved a lot of Hermeto's work. What is your goal there?

JSN: The goal is to preserve this music and make it available for musicians to access it. I realized the importance of this back in Brazil when I first joined Hermeto's band. I looked where Hermeto stored his music; it was in baskets underneath his bed. In Rio, there's a lot of termites, humidity, floods, and stuff like this. I said, “Man, this music . . . that's where it is?!?" He said, “Yea, where else am I going to put it?" So he had baskets of yellowing paper under his bed. At that moment, I went ahead a bought a file cabinet for it and created a letter/number system to organize it. I had to look at all these papers and figure out how they were like the other papers—maybe one song came the other period as another one, maybe one had a similar kind of pen or a similar kind of writing. It is almost like an archaeologist's work.

When I left in 1993, I left that archive there, but I copied the entire thing and brought it with me. So that's the source material for what I've been creating. Hermeto's aware of that; I talk to him about it all the time. The book that I put out was one of the things, but I'm actually putting out a lot more. I'm passing music to a lot of musicians, arranging and re-arranging this music. It's like a little ant carrying one grain of sand at a time, and there's a mountain. I just want to make sure that as long as I can, I can keep that going.

His music is very difficult to understand, especially if somebody doesn't understand his notation methods. Hermeto, being visually deficient, had to develop his own way of putting the little dots on the page. At times, it's very difficult to read. When I transcribe one of his orchestra pieces, it basically takes me one hour for one measure, to put it into Finale. I have to go with a magnifying glass and look at those little dots. Sometimes, I even have to understand where Hermeto made a mistake, because sometimes he does. I ask him about a note on the score, and he'll say, “Oh yea, I'm glad that you caught that. You know that I would not write that note." So it's quite interesting.

Last time we were together in February at this workshop down in Brazil, he was really impressed. He wrote some music right there and I put it into the computer right after he wrote it. I could play it off the computer; he said, “That's amazing, that's the stuff I wrote!" So he immediately proceeded to give me three notebooks full of music. It's stuff that he wrote in 2004 and 2006—notebooks full of music. So I copied them again and gave him back the originals. So I have my work cut out for me!

LJC: The world is lucky that you're doing that . . .

JSN: It's kind of like a mission. None of this is done with a sense that here's a goldmine that I'm going to rich from. This music, I actually give away, and that's where Hermeto's concept it—why don't you give it to them. If you have do an official publishing thing and sell the book, that's O.K. too. But most of it is just getting the music out there to people who want to play it.

LJC: You mentioned you've got a new album coming out with your Seattle group, what else does the future hold for you?

JSN: I'm finishing another album, a solo recording that I did a few years ago for Adventure on a Fazioli grand piano, a wonderful instrument. They're doing a Fazioli series in which they have a lot of different pianists playing on Fazioli pianos. Eventually it's going to become a box set. I'm editing and mixing my contribution to that in which I do a lot of jazz and Brazilian tunes with some improvisations in between. Then there's the new Quinteto record and still basking in the fun that it is to have put out this duo record. I'm very proud of that—not just what I have done but what we have together on each one of the duos.

———- Make sure that you read Part One of our interview with pianist Jovino Santos Neto where we discuss his early musical explorations, the influence of progressive rock, and his eventual move into jazz. You can check it out HERE.

You'll want to check out Part Two of our interview with pianist Jovino Santos Neto, where we discuss the relationship between Brazilian music and jazz fusion, the influence of Airto Moreira, Flora Purim, and Hermeto Pascoal, as well as Neto's entry into Pascoal's group. You can find it HERE.

Don't miss Part 3 of our interview with pianist Jovino Santos Neto, where we look at his time with legendary Brazilian composer Hermeto Pascoal. We'll discuss the complexities of Pascoal's music, his influence upon Neto, and the pianist's multiple roles in Pascoal's band. You can read it HERE.

Take a look at Part 4 of our interview with pianist Jovino Santos Neto, where we dig into his tenure with Airto Moreira's Fourth World, the creation of his Seattle based group, and a good number of his albums as a bandleader, including Roda Carioca (Rio Circle)and Alma do Nordeste (Soul Of The Northeast). Check it out HERE.


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This story appears courtesy of The Latin Jazz Corner by Chip Boaz.
Copyright © 2014. All rights reserved.
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