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Latin Jazz Conversations: Pedro Giraudo (Part 3)

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Pedro Giraudo In order to truly express their artistic personality, a musician sometimes needs to look beyond cultural norms. This is not an easy task—the collective power of popular culture can exert a tremendous pressure upon a modern artist. It can dictate everything from form to style, and in the long term, shape a musician's complete output. While the recognition of popular culture in modern art isn't necessarily a bad thing, it often buries the original elements of a musician's personality. This is where the battle must take place, as the artist struggles to focus upon their inner Without regard to the whims of the majority, modern musicians need to maintain the things that make their music interesting—the distinct expressions of their own personality.

Bassist and composer Pedro Giraudo has looked at life insightfully, and over the course of his career, he has made music on his own terms. He grew up in Cordoba, Argentina around a wide variety of music, and eventually gravitated towards the electric bass. He played in rock and fusion groups before moving to New York for college at The Manhattan School Of Music. He honed strong performance skills, inspired by the enthusiastic musicians around him, and after he graduated, he continued his work at City College Of New York. Working with jazz bassist Ron Carter and musicologist David Bushler, Giraudo learned the musical details that lead him to form his first octet and record Mr. Vivo. His group became a steady unit and soon grew to twelve pieces as he put together music for his next album, Desconsuelo. In 2008, Giraudo released his most mature collection of music to date, El Viaje, a sonic description of his journey into parenthood. This recording presented a bold and confident sound that revealed an artistic ready for in-depth explorations of his art. Upon deep reflection, Giraudo decided to focus his next work upon his childhood summers, which he spent on a farm in the countryside. The resultant album, Córdoba, tells a story of innocence, discovery, and unbridled emotion, expressed delicately through the rich colors of Giraudo's finely tuned compositions. Taken as a whole, the album paints a splendidly detailed picture of Giraudo's experience, while each individual song overflows with beauty. With over a decade of collective performance experience, Giraudo writes for his orchestra with a personal touch and the group executes the compositions with a sympathetic understanding. At this point, Giraudo's music vividly expresses his own experiences and shares a very personal side, elements of his music that could only have come from within.

The rich eloquence of Giraudo's gorgeous artistic expression on Córdobaresults from his unwavering dedication to his personal vision. The use of a longer story told with unique compositions throughout the course of a whole album certainly steps outside the realm of many jazz albums, but for Giraudo, the approach works wonderfully. The collection of works resonates with a distinct sense of Giraudo, and as a result, his experience flows through the music with an undeniable grace. In Part One of our interview with Giraudo, we looked at the role of music in his early life, his step into performance, and his move to the United States. The second piece of our interview dug into Giraudo's time at City College Of New York, the formation of his group, and several of his early albums. We conclude our conversation today with a focus on his new release, Córdoba, his thoughts on extended composition, and the future of his music.

LATIN JAZZ CORNER: One of the things that really struck me about Córdobais how visual your music is—can you give me a little background about your summers on the farm in the countryside and how that translated into music?

PEDRO GIRAUDO: For me both as a composer and a performer, it's very nice to be able to relate to something in my music; it adds a new dimension when I'm writing. Maybe four years ago, I was somewhat against programmatic music. I felt that absolute music was the real thing. Now, it does help me give a new air to the music and it helps me focus when I'm performing; to think of the images helps me. I think that it also helps the audience relate to the music in a way. If I were to play the same music at a concert without explaining what went through my head when I was writing the music, it would not be as complete. It's not the same if you're listening to the music without knowing the background of it.

My childhood was strongly touched by my time in the countryside. It really shaped me as a person. I used to go there every summer for a month—there was no electricity, we would wake up really early . . . we were completely detached from the urban life. For a whole month, we were detached. Of course, back then there was no e-mail or no cell phones—you were completely out of touch.

It was a very special thing. We had to go to the closest village to use a phone. We were very in touch with animals every day, and we would see how things would work. We would see animals die, and we would see animals being born. I still remember now—just like it was yesterday—seeing a horse born for the first time. We would make bread. We would travel by carts pulled by horses. We would be sleeping with candles. There were insects. We would be getting water from a well. I could go on and on—it was very unique.

You spent a lot of time by yourself, which was also very special. It was very safe, so my parents would forget about the kids. We would go and be by ourselves for a long time, and we would be really by ourselves. My brother would do something else and I would be on own for five or six hours. It really was a very special moment.

LJC: As I read the liner notes and listened to the music, one of the things that really came to me was the stark contrast between the life that you experienced in Córdoba and our modern obsession with technology—was that something that you thought of in association with these pieces?

PG: I did not think about it, but definitely, if I'm longing for those times, it's because of the contrast. Nowadays, I'm always on my smart phone and checking e-mail every 45 seconds without noticing. It's something that I'm really fighting. Whenever I have the chance, I turn the phone off and turn off the computer. It's amazing how life works nowadays with everything—I'm trying to go back to reading. Actually, I didn't do a lot of reading when I was younger, but I remember my father used to read like crazy in the countryside. I did not think about it, but it definitely played a part—the contrast of the urban 21st century life compared to the very detached zero electricity life of back then.

LJC: I really hear Ellington and Mingus in your work, are they influences?

PG: Absolutely. The funny thing is, I think that I own one Mingus CD. Everybody tells me that they hear so much Mingus in my music. I think, “O.K., great!" Just last week, I got Let My Children Hear Music, and I definitely hear the similarities, despite the fact that I haven't heard his music that much. I hear the same spirit quite often.

Ellington, on the other hand, I've listened to his music a lot. I took another class, when I was at The Manhattan School Of Music that really taught me a lot—it was a class with David Berger about Duke Ellington. It was really eye opening for me. Later on, I took a few more classes from David Berger that gave me a lot of big band rules of thumb; I use that information on a daily basis.

LJC: You definitely draw upon music from Argentina, but it seems like your compositions don't strictly adhere to the traditions. How do you relate to that culture in your music?

PG: I would say that it's more than just an influence; it's more like an undercurrent. It's not something really evident. Most of the time, I don't even use the rhythms. The rhythms are more implied. When I play a chacarera, it's a little different. It has elements of those rhythms. I would guess that maybe if you were to play my music for an Argentine musician here, they would hear it. My music is full of nostalgia, that's something very much part of its idiosyncrasies. It's something that you hear in the folk music and also in tango. I think that my music has kind of an essence of Argentina, but it doesn't draw exactly from the music. There are things that sound like a chacarera, and then are things that don't sound like anything at all. But they still have a little bit of an Argentine essence.

LJC: You mentioned the electric bass earlier—I must have listened to Córdobaa few times before I realized that you were playing electric bass on “Duende Del Mate." It didn't necessarily matter that you had changed instruments; your sound still came through.

PG: Despite the fact that I switch instruments, I still feel that it's me filling the same role in the band. It's still me playing the bass and supporting the rest of the band; it's a slightly different instrument, but it's the same role.

LJC: Did you write “Duende Del Mate" for electric bass and is it something that you'll probably do more in your writing?

PG: I wrote the main theme on electric bass, which is more or less strange. I usually write without instruments or lately a lot on the guitar. I wrote the main motive of “Duende Del Mate" on the electric bass. The last piece that I have currently written is also for electric bass. I want to explore it more; I definitely have a lot of fun playing it. It will continue being part of the sound—it's another tool to be used.

LJC: The story goes from beginning to end on Córdoba, which is something that is not really common in the age of downloading single songs. Do you struggle with that in terms of selling music to your audience and do think that someone would be missing something if they just listened to a piece of the album?

PG: I don't know if they would be missing something. For me, it was very special to write all this music. It was part of a grant that I got from The Jazz Gallery. The purpose of the grant was to write one hour of music. When I got the grant, I decided to base it on the countryside memories. Needless to say, I think that the complete picture is the whole album. If somebody downloads one song and they really like that one song, then why not? Maybe that will inspire them to get some other ones! Sometimes I just listen to one movement of a symphony, and that's cool too.

I never, ever, ever think about selling when I'm writing music. Ninety percent of the time, I'm a sideman, and I play with other people. Whenever it gets to my band, I really don't compromise anything. Whenever I write music, it is what it is.

LJC: You mentioned your work as a sideman, and you've done a lot of work both live and recorded. Has there been anyone that you've worked with as a sideman that has made you a better musician?

PG: There have been many musicians. The first one that comes to mind is Fernando Otero. Pablo Ziegler is another musician that really marked something. There was also this other guy that I just recorded this CD with and I love his music—Gustavo Moretto. I record a lot of tango, and it's music that I really love—I love performing tango. In the last year and a half, I've started dancing it.

Someone that really shaped how I write is William Cepeda. I did a lot of work as an arranger for him, from music for movies to symphonic orchestra; I worked a lot. He was somebody who helped me think about form and arranging ideas a lot. About four years ago, I worked a lot with him as an arranger; he's one of those guys that you show an arrangement to, and he always has things to say back to you. Then you have to change it . . . I learned a lot from him.

LJC: You've got this great new recording and your reputation is growing as a bandleader—what are you future goals and where do you see your music going?

PG: For me, my goal is to continue writing and recording; hopefully that will bring things. That's what I really want to do. That's something that I learned from William Cepeda—the idea of documenting your work. You work, document, and move forward. Whatever point I'm at right now, I've done with that mentality. That's what I plan to continue doing.


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This story appears courtesy of The Latin Jazz Corner by Chip Boaz.
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