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Latin Jazz Conversations: Pedro Giraudo (Part 1)

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Pedro Giraudo With so many possibilities swirling through the modern world, young people often need to find their way through the contemporary musical landscape towards jazz. Their families exert a strong influence in terms of musical preference, but in most cases, it's not the final word. Popular culture and the sound of the times provide a powerful direction for musical pursuits, one that moves people to action. Along the way, other music will fall into mix, but falling in love with jazz takes more than a casual appearance. Finding jazz requires dedication from an individual and a burning desire to better their artistic abilities. This discovery will challenge an individual, but they'll arrive from their journey as an outstanding musician.

Bassist and composer Pedro Giraudo spent his childhood connecting with a variety of musical styles until he eventually found his way into jazz. Born in Cordoba, Argentina, Giraudo's father was a symphony orchestra conductor, who shared his love of classic music with his son. The family record collection held a variety of additional styles as well, and Giraudo's grandfather exposed him to classic big band music. The power of the culture around him captured Giraudo though, and he eventually turned his attention to popular rock groups. The young musician found his way to electric bass and soon began playing with local rock bands. Looking for further musical challenges, Giraudo discovered fusion and dug deeply into Mike Stern, Chick Corea, and more. He decided to pursue jazz in the United States and made his way to The Manhattan School Of Music. Giraudo found himself in among a collection of ambitious young musicians, such as Miguel Zenón, Luis Perdomo, and more. His classmates inspired him to immerse himself in music, and he emerged from the school with strong jazz performance skills. At the end of his time there, Giraudo spontaneously made his first venture into composition, writing pieces for his senior recital. Giraudo continued his studies at City College Of New York, where he studied extensively with jazz legend Ron Carter and musicologist David Bushler. With a strong set of performance and theory skills under his belt, Giraudo looked to the future, ready to pursue his interest in composition with his own ensemble.

Over the course of the next decade, Giraudo would emerge as a bold composer that put an adventurous and distinctly modern slant on Latin Jazz. Bringing together a powerful big band sound with modern jazz harmonies and Argentinean undercurrents, Giraudo has created an individual approach for his band that overflows with originality. In Part One of our interview with Giraudo, we discuss his connection with music during his youth, his time as an electric bassist, and his move to New York.

LATIN JAZZ CORNER: You were born and raised in Cordoba, Argentina and your father was a symphony orchestra conductor. What was your early musical life like?

PEDRO GIRAUDO: I started playing piano with my father at a very young age, between 3 and 4. Then at 4, I picked up the violin; at 6 I stopped playing the violin. I continued with the piano until I was a teenager. Then I quit everything.

At 16, I started playing rock on electric bass. I gradually started moving towards jazz fusion—Jaco Pastorious, Mike Stern, and all that kind of thing. I came to the United States for college and I auditioned in both Miami and New York. I got a scholarship here at The Manhattan School Of Music.

I got here with the electric and then I realized that nobody really played electric bass at the Manhattan School Of Music. I started to play the acoustic bass and I fell in love with it. That kind of became my main instrument. I became a New Yorker and started playing any style here—Latin music like Cuban music, tango, jazz, Latin Jazz, Venezuelan, Afro-Peruvian music, Brazilian music—pretty much anything.

For my graduation recital, out of the blue, I got a sextet together and wrote music for it. I had not even thought about composing, but I did. I just loved it—I loved leading a band and I love writing music. I kept the band and I gradually built it up. I started with six musicians and added a percussionist. Then I added another horn to make it eight, and then I went to the current formation, which is 12 musicians.

LJC: I'm assuming that you had a lot of classical music around you when you were younger due to your father's work, but were there any other styles swirling around you?

PG: There was definitely a lot of classical music at home, but my father used to love a lot of very different things. For instance, he would listen to Pink Floyd, João Gilberto, Quincy Jones, Patti Austin—a lot of music. My father was a huge fan of this singer/songwriter from Argentina, Luis Alberto Spinetta. There was a lot of very different music around home.

I also used to get together with my grandfather, who was not a musician, but he loved music. He had an incredible love for the big band era. When I was around ten or eleven years old, I would go to his place, sit down, and listen to Count Basie records. He would show me all the ones with Frank Sinatra. We would listen to Nat King Cole. Somewhat recently, I realized that my grandfather probably had something to do with the fact that I loved the big band sound.

LJC: I've heard that during the time you were growing up in Argentina, Piazzolla was heard, but most tango was not evident, people were more into rock and popular music . . .

PG: Absolutely. In my life, there was a little Piazzolla, but I actually learned to play tango here in New York. In Argentina during my generation, we grew up listening to rock. Argentina has been a center for rock in Latin America; we almost completely ignore our own music. This has changed during this last few years, but I never heard tango regularly until I got here.

LJC: You got into rock where you were a teenager and you were playing electric bass. Were there places for you to get out and play?

PG: I didn't stay there that long after I started playing. I started playing when I was 16, and I was already playing some gigs when I was 17. But I left when I was 19. There were places to play. As a garage band, we used to play for parties, high schools, and other places. Once I got more into jazz, we did a few concerts. There were definitely places to play.

LJC: Fusion was an entry point for so many of us; guys like Jaco Pastorious and Chick Corea grabbed so many of us . . .

PG: Exactly; those guys that you mentioned were big. I remember buying all the records. I knew all that stuff, I was familiar with all those people, but I had no idea who Thelonious Monk was. I had no idea who Duke Ellington was. When I got here to New York, I was into all the fusion bassists like Jeff Andrews and Marcus Miller. I was into the fusion style and I really didn't know anything about the older stuff. I got exposed to that stuff here.

LJC: Were there other people in Argentina sharing your interest in fusion before you left?

PG: Yes, and there still is. There's a pretty large jazz community in Argentina. The scene in Buenos Aires is pretty large, relative to the size of the city. There is a good jazz scene, and there are musicians that I admire a lot. They do really original music. Of course, there are not as many players in Buenos Aires as in New York, but there are plenty of people doing interesting things. Some of them are more towards the fusion side. One of my early CDs, Desconsuelo, I dedicated a tune to Dario Iscaro—he's one of those guys that I played with before coming here. He's an amazing composer, very original.

LJC: You said that when you started looking at the United States for college, you loved New York—what drew you there?

PG: I auditioned at the University Of Miami, and from there, they took me to audition at Miami-Dade. They told me it was very safe I would definitely get in there. I really liked it in Miami, but I remember getting off the F Train here in New York. I got into JFK (airport) and then took the subway to meet someone that I knew from Cordoba. I remember getting off the train and feeling that thing that I still feel every time that I come back to New York. I've been here for fifteen years now; but every time I go on the road and get back, I still feel that energy . . . every single time. I remember getting off the F Train, seeing Rockefeller Center, and getting that feeling—I really loved it, it was instant chemistry.

LJC: You chose the Manhattan School Of Music; what was it that took you there?

PG: I was also considering The New School, but that was not my main goal. My main goal was to study with Jeff Andrews, who was at The Manhattan School Of Music. I was following him while I was in Argentina, through his work with Mike Stern. I remember going to Buenos Aires once to hear him play, and I talked to him afterwards. I really wanted to study with him, and I did. There were also conflicts with the auditioning times. I came all the way from Argentina to audition here, and the auditions for the two schools were a month apart. I couldn't do both at the same time.

LJC: You made the switch from electric bass to acoustic bass at The Manhattan School Of Music, how was that transition for you?

PG: It was very gradual. I really love both instruments. When I got here, I was playing electric, but gradually I started playing more and more acoustic. I really loved the acoustic right from the very beginning. It got to a point where I was playing only acoustic. I'm actually coming back to electric now. I bought a very nice electric bass two years ago, and I've started playing it again. There are some gigs that I do on electric.

LJC: You were into fusion, but you didn't have a clear picture of traditional jazz. Was it pretty foreign to you?

PG: Completely. The only thing that I had from before the seventies or eighties was Kind of Blue. I remember not being that much into it. My favorite was Tutuand that was the one to listen to. When I got here, that was hard. That was a much stronger shock for me rather than changing instruments. It was about being exposed to so much music. I felt completely clueless. All the kids that grew up here in the U.S. had big bands in school; everybody knew everything and I was pretty clueless.

LJC: I imagine that The Manhattan School Of Music was pretty competitive in the jazz scene too . . .

PG: Absolutely. I would say that 60%㭂% of my former classmates are major people in jazz—Miguel Zenón, Luis Perdomo, Hans Glawischnig—all those people are doing really well now. It was really, really inspiring.

I had quite the opposite experience when I did my Master's Degree at City College. There, the teachers that I had were incredible—I had the luxury to study with Ron Carter for two years and also with a classical musicologist David Bushler. My classmates were very few and it was really not that competitive. I learned so much from these two teachers.

The Manhattan School Of Music was opposite—I had good teachers, but I learned so much from my classmates. It was so inspiring to see everybody practicing fourteen hours a day, everyday. It was impossible to get a practice room! Everybody was so into discovering new things and sharing information. It was a very special time.

LJC: You recorded your senior recital and released it as your first CD, Destiny Of Flowers. That was your first step into composition—what got you into writing and what were your compositions like at that point?

PG: My first shot at composition was very strange; I had never thought about it, I don't even know how it happened. In a considerably short amount of time, I wrote all the music for my recital. You can definitely hear some traces of my current music. You can hear my interest in odd meters, it was all straight eighths, and there were Argentinean folk music influences. Naturally, it was a little immature. When I listen to it now, I can hear that. It was what it was, and it was what inspired me to get moving on composition. I really loved the idea of playing my own music and leading my own band. It was something that I never even considered; it's not like I thought for a long time that I wanted to have my own thing. It was something that I never even thought about; it just happened.


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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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