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Latin Jazz Conversations: Pedro Giraudo (Part 2)


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Pedro Giraudo
With each statement that they make, progressive musicians show signs of consistent forward motion and artistic evolution. They reject complacency at every turn and take each available opportunity to grow into more expressive artists. As they release new albums and appear for more performances, they show elements of growth both small and large. They reach plateaus along the way, but they never stay there long; their passionate involvement in music constantly drives them towards deeper study. This focus upon growth helps them reach artistic maturity, giving them the insight and skills to express themselves with a potent meaning.

Bassist and composer Pedro Giraudo has spent his life moving forward musically, eventually producing a series of outstanding recordings. Giraudo grew up in Cordoba, Argentina, soaking in the sounds of his conductor father's symphony orchestra, the family's diverse record collection, and his grandfather's connection to big bands. Rock permeated popular culture in Argentina at the time though, and Giraudo picked up a bass to play rock and later fusion. Inspired by the fusion greats of the eighties, Giraudo looked to the United States for college and made his way to The Manhattan School Of Music. Surrounded by passionate classmates such as Miguel Zenón and Luis Perdomo, Giraudo studied jazz deeply, and in his final year at the school, he began composing. He continued his studies at City College of New York, where he learned the importance of discipline from bassist Ron Carter and the depth of classical styles from musicologist David Bushler. Building upon a group of musicians from his days at The Manhattan School Of Music, Giraudo formed an octet to record the album Mr. Vivo, gathering a core group that would remain with him over the next decade. As the demands of his compositions grew, Giraudo saw the need for a larger ensemble, and when he recorded his next album Desconsuelo, his group grew to twelve musicians. With his music career moving into high gear, Giraudo became a father, an experience that moved him to write a sonic description, which became his 2008 release El Viaje. His most mature recording to date, El Viajeexploded with bold writing, solid playing, and multi-movement conceptual pieces. Giraudo continued to grow with each progressive milestone, evolving into an artist with rich ideas that he gracefully expressed to the world.

While Giraudo displayed mountains on musicality on his early releases, El Viajemarked a mature statement from a fully formed artist. Glimpses of his concepts peeked through each recording and became a bit clearer with each subsequent release. As he arrived from the journey described on El Viaje, Giraudo stood poised to contribute significantly to the modern Latin Jazz world. In Part One of our interview with Giraudo, we looked at the role of music in his youth, his initial steps into performance, and his move to New York. Part Two delves into Giraudo's studies at City College, the formation of his orchestra, and recording of several of his albums.

LATIN JAZZ CORNER: You studied with Ron Carter at City College. What were you studying with him and what did you take away from that?

PEDRO GIRAUDO: I took private lessons with him and I also played in his ensembles. We went over some really amazing things about walking bass lines and about time. Sometimes he would correct me on how I was practicing and work with efficiency. He would just not stand for mistakes. What I mainly got from Ron though was his sense of discipline and his sense of how serious you should take music. That was more the thing that left a mark on me.

The other day I was playing at The Nuyorican Poet's Cafe and an old City College classmate came by. He was also a bassist, so we were talking about Ron. Ron had this thing where he really left a mark on your discipline. He was very into focusing and nailing the music. He wasn't so much about what scale to play, it was more about the discipline.

LJC: You mentioned that David Bushler also influenced you too . . .

PG: Studying with him was what shaped my composition skills, there's no doubt about that. He was another guy that was really crazy about discipline and about correctness. The first class that I took with him was The History Of The Symphony, and then I started taking as many classes as I could with him. I just loved it; they were the most demanding classes that I ever took in my life. We used to analyze a symphony every week and we had to write a paper on them every week. Every week, we would analyze orchestration, form, harmony, melody, motivic development, and pretty much anything else. That's what actually gave me all the tools that I used nowadays to write music, that's how I think about compositions. I took a class with him on chorale music, and then once I was already out of school, I took a few of his keyboard music classes. It was basically through really deep analysis of a lot of different pieces that I got all the tools that I use for my compositions.

LJC: Your second album was Mr. Vivo—how did you get from City College and put together that octet for the album?

PG: By then I had changed the tenor player and the trombone player, but it was still mainly all guys from The Manhattan School Of Music, with the exception of Jonathan Powell on the trumpet. For my recital, I just got people that I loved to play with, but then eventually, I realized which players I really needed for the sound that I needed to get. So I switched players around a little bit in the beginning, and then after that, the personnel in my big band has been incredibly steady. I still use the very same drummer that I used on my graduation recital, and the same pianist. The horns are the same from Mr. Vivoon, with just one exception. Since then, I've added people; the newest member of my band has been in the band for six years now.

LJC: That is pretty amazing to have such a steady group for so long . . .

PG: Absolutely, especially with these guys. In the big band, I have some of the most in-demand big band musicians in New York. They have the very top gigs—The Village Vanguard Orchestra, The Mingus Dynasty, Maria Schneider's band . . . all of that. I feel really blessed to have them in the band. They're the nicest group of people. You can imagine—the money thing is not really happening with a big band, but I can count on these guys. I feel really, really lucky.

It makes a huge difference for me to know who I'm writing for. Every time I do arrangements for other people, it gets so difficult for me to write for somebody that I don't know. Eventually, you start to write in a way that suits a professional arrangement that will work for whoever is on the chair. For me, it's something that I enjoy so much, writing music knowing who is going to play what. I also select who is going to play a solo depending on the tune. I feel very lucky.

LJC: When you were starting out with the big band, what was it like finding work for the group and getting your album Mr. Vivorecorded?

PG: For the first octet, I won a prize from City College. You applied and whoever won would record a band. Then the teacher would oversee the process to make sure that it worked out. It was kind of a gift from City College.

From then on, the next album was Desconsuelo. For that, I met somebody who has been outstanding in my career as a bandleader, Alex Venguer. He has been the co-producer of the CDs from Desconsuelo on. He's also a top-notch engineer; I'm really lucky that he loves the music. He has won two Grammy Awards—he's an amazing engineer. He always manages to make it work for me financially.

I get support from everybody to make it happen. The way that things are happening nowadays with the labels, I'm pretty much on my own. I make it happen with the support of everybody and a lot of work.

LJC: For Desconsuelo, the band grew to 12 pieces.

PG: There are twelve instrumentalists. Sometimes I have a guest singing, which makes it thirteen.

LJC: Was the growth a result of your music needing more musicians to make it happen?

PG: Absolutely. I remember clearly—I was writing two tunes, “A Dario Iscaro" and “La Bronca." I remember being in front of the computer writing the music and thinking, “I really need some more instruments. I can not make it happen with this amount of musicians." So I doubled the horns—I had four horns by then and I made it eight. Then I had two trumpets, two trombones, and four saxophones.

LJC: What did that extra instrumentation allow you to do that you couldn't do before?

PG: There are many things. One is form. I really like extended forms—I felt that with few musicians, it was difficult to play extended forms and not exhaust everybody. I'd have a trumpet or trombone player with half of their lips gone after playing a tune. It's also the sound. The dynamic range is significantly wider once you have a full big band. The colors that you have are different. Again, talking about the personalities—rather than have four horns that you can write for, you have eight. It was mainly to keep everything effective. I just love the acoustic loudness of more people. I'm a big fan of Wagner and I just love the big band sound.

I actually tried to expand it even more and then I realized that it was not what I wanted. I wanted three trumpets, three trombones, and five saxophones for a minute. Then when I did that, it was kind of nightmare to organize everything. Most importantly, I felt that I lost the chamber element, the soloist thing. With eight horns, I feel that I have eight soloists. Once I had eleven horns, I lost a little bit of that; trumpet three and trombone three were really not that important. Now, it's not just trombone 1 & 2, it's Ryan and Mike. I tried the large group a few times, and then I just returned to the ensemble that I have now.

LJC: That led into El Viaje, which was inspired by your journey into parenthood, a powerful transition that really came through in the music. So what was going on for you and how did that translate into this beautiful music?

PG: It was honest. It was just the music that came out. As a father, it's just impossible to describe what goes through one's heart. The emotional strength of what happens when your son or daughter is born is just amazing. I started writing the music from the moment that I knew we were expecting our daughter. I finished it the first year after her birth. It was honest music that came out during that time. It reflects my being completely restless, the emotional power of this new dimension and love, and being scared. In a way, it describes all those things that one goes through as a father.

LJC: One of the things that strikes me on El Viajeis your work with multi-movement pieces—it reminds me of great composers like Ellington, Mingus, or Chico O'Farrill. That's not common in jazz, how did you come to that and what do you think that it brings to the music?

PG: First, it is something that I love as a listener. I love extended pieces, just like I love long books. I think that it's easier to get transported into a parallel world. That's kind of the point of departure. If a tune is two minutes long, it doesn't really take me somewhere else. I really love extended pieces that will take you on a voyage.

Most of my pieces are around 7, 8, or 9 minutes, mainly because of my interest in longer pieces. I like forms that are longer—I think that you can express more things, it's more interesting, and it's a richer story for me. If I listen to something that is two minutes long, I don't get that same sense. The last time that I went to see Wagner's Ring Cycle, was four nights. For four consecutive nights, I was on a different planet for however many hours I was listening to the piece. I really enjoy that idea of being transported somewhere else. For me, I think that length is an important issue in that.

It is a fight—I even feel it in myself—our concentration span has gotten so much shorter. It's something that I notice in myself; when I was in college, I used to sit down, close my eyes, and listen to one hour of music without drifting my mind away from the music for even one second. Now, I don't know if it's related to the responsibilities of adulthood or the Facebook syndrome, but it's something that I want to fight within myself.

I really want to push into that direction where people would go to a three-hour concert . . . we need to really get back to that relationship with art. We need to get into that thing of really being able to loose yourself for 1, 2, or 3 hours into art. On a smaller scale, that's what I would love for my audiences to experience when they hear my music—the same thing that I experience when I listen to Wagner or a half hour movement from Shostakovich.

LJC: Listening to all your previous work, El Viajeseemed like a mature arrival for your compositions.

PG: Absolutely, I agree. I felt that El Viajewas my starting point as a composer writing my own music. I love Desconsuelo; I think it has a directness that talks to the audience in a way that I really like, but there were a lot of influences from other kinds of music that are very evident. With El Viaje, I feel that it was my beginning as a mature composer; that was the time that my music really came through as my compositions.

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