At age 16 started his professional career as a pianist,
playing Brazilian popular music in night clubs
in S„o Paulo and Rio de Janeiro.
He talked to Mr.Samba in July 1995 at his home
in Los Angeles.
MR.SAMBA: Guilherme, how everything started?
GUILHERME VERGUEIRO: I came from a family of artists. My father is an actor and an amateur pianist, a journalist and a radialist, my mother is also an actress and my mother's father, was a highly respected piano master teacher, we always had a piano at home, and listened to music a lot, so by the time I was 5, I started to fool around with the piano and I found out that I was able to play any song that I heard on the radio instantly at the piano. (only the melody at that time).
My family got amazed with that and decided that I had to have classical training, and so that's the way the whole trip started.
MS: Why you changed from classical to popular?
GV: When I was around 9 years old, I had to go to bed at 8 o'clock at night, and we didn't have television at home, and I was never sleepy at 8, so I use to sneak under my pillow a small radio that I had and listen to popular musical programs, and I started to develop a great passion for Brazilian music, samba in particular and ballads.
Also at that time the bossa nova started to get big, and I just loved to hear that new music. It amazed me the way the musicians at that time started to play the samba, specially Joao Gilberto, and I really got hooked, and started to play the classical songs that I was practicing in the samba rhythm, and my grandfather found that very funny, and never criticized me for that, so I begun more and more to try to play sambas at the piano.
MS:What you mean try?
GV: To play the Samba at the piano is not a easy task. It is very complex.
You deal with a very strong rhythm, harmonies that move all the time and the melody, of course.
You have to coordinate everything in order to sound right, and when doesn't sound right you notice right away that something is wrong. You got to have a lot of independence.
Each finger has a different job to do. Studying Bach helped me a lot to be able to play a good samba.
MS: What is the difference between Samba and Bossa Nova?
GV: None. Bossa Nova is not a rhythm by itself. Bossa Nova, as the word indicates, was a name given to identify a new way of playing the Samba. One can say that Bossa Nova is a cool Samba.
MS: What is the connection between Brazilian music and jazz?
GV: Like jazz, Brazilian music is a kind of music that is open for improvisation. Like jazz, the chŰro and the samba came from Africa. Brazilian music is a little more sophisticated, I guess because of European influences.
Unlike the blues, that I guess is where the jazz came from, the samba, the chŰro, and other Brazilian musical forms are richer harmonically and melodically, and the rhythm is more complex too, so I guess that the improvisation is the main connection between these two wonderful forms of musical expression.
MS: Even when in your concerts you play compositions written by traditional Brazilian composers the Brazilian journalists say you play jazz. Why?
GV: That is in my opinion a little bit of misunderstanding and without being rude a little bit of ignorance too. People has the tendency of labeling things, so it has being established that any music that doesn't have a singer in front is jazz. Even outside Brazil now when you play Brazilian music instrumentally it is called Brazilian jazz. I think one can easily recognize the difference between Brazilian music and jazz even in the improvisation part. The vocabulary is different. In Brazilian music you don't use blue notes.
Today in America everybody learn how to play jazz in schools. It has hundreds of methods of improvisation, studies about the styles of the great jazz musicians, so it is very hard today for one to see an original American musician. They all sounds alike, play scales, formulas and many Brazilian musicians came to that same schools in America, and started to play that same scales and formulas, so it is equally hard to see an original Brazilian musician.
So with all that music massification, everybody is confused, and nobody knows anymore what they are listening, if it is jazz, Brazilian jazz, samba, fusion, jazz rock, Brazilian rock, but I think anyone can recognize an original musician when they see one.
MS: Are you saying that the schools of music should be closed?
GV:(laughs) On the contrary. I think the methods that are being applied are wrong. I think that teachers became obsessed analyzing the styles of the great artists developing a complex of inferiority and keep trying to sound like Coltrane, Parker, Shorter, Tyner, Peterson, and so on and forgot about the true meaning of music teaching. You don't learn music in schools. You don't get talented in schools. Music and talent either you are born with or not. In schools either you develop the music you have inside of you and the talent or you kill both or establish limits.
I think the music schools should be very careful about who they hire to teach. You can't have teachers who has complex of inferiority, (or superiority). The real master knows how to deal with talent. He knows how to deal with different personalities. He knows about psychology.Each person is different than another, so you got to have different ways to talk to each one. If you were born with talent and with music inside, you need a master to make that easy for you.
One can't kill what you have inside. A real master has to find a way to make it easier for the kid to express himself trough music. He has to respect what the kid have inside, and find out how to make the kid understand that he already has everything that he needs to express himself inside, and help him put it out. It has to be with freedom, liberty. If you give somebody too much methods, scales, formulas, you kill the inside of that person. He will never be able again to hear the music he has inside, that was what he used to hear before going through all that methods. I believe that each person has his own methods, scales, or formulas inside. That is what is wonderful in music.
Music is not mathematics. Improvisation is like composition. The difference is that when you are improvising you are doing instant compositions. That is what is beautiful about jazz and samba and other forms of music expression. Are these moments that you are making instant compositions. You can play the same song for 20 years and every time will be different. If you start to apply methods of improvisation, scales, formulas, etc.. you are not improvising. You are being a dummy. So, I think that is nothing wrong with schools, what is wrong are the methods of music teaching.
MS: What about influences?
GV: Influences everybody have. I guess you get influenced by everything that you like. But this doesn't mean that you can't have your own personality or style. Influence is not imitation. Imitation is bad. When somebody hear something that he likes, and run to the instrument to try to do the same, that is bad. That is going to kill his personality. This person will never be an original. What you hear and like, became registered in your heart. It is a good feeling, so sometimes when you are playing, some of that things come out, like a comment, or something like that, but don't become the body of your playing. It becomes something that is incorporated in your style.
I think that everybody has a lot of influences, because everybody likes lots of things, but we should like ourselves first, so we can be influenced by anything in a positive way.
MS: What are your influences?
GV: Well, I am a pianist, composer and arranger, so in each category I have some influences.When I was growing up in Brazil, it had a fever of bossa nova trios going on, and I loved to hear them. Tenorio Junior, Joao Donato and Luiz Carlos Vinhas were my favorites. From 68 on, they all disappeared, due to the military regime that took power. At that time in Brazil, everybody who played bossa nova was considered communists or subversives by the new regime, so they vanished from the scene. Many went to another countries and others simply disappear. The record companies stopped their production of instrumental music completely.
Just as an example, the first time ever that the great Antonio Carlos Jobim played live in Brazil was in 1982 or 83, and in order to have his records we had to import them. At that time, almost nobody of the new generation knew who he was. You could ask in the streets to anybody about Jobim and nobody knew his name. So at that time due to the shortage of good Brazilian music, I started to hear jazz. It was wonderful for me to see that in the earth there was a place where the musicians had respect. I was amazed by the amount of jazz records, and variety of instrumentists that had their own records out. The ones that impressed me more were Errol Garner and Thelonious Monk, and later McCoy Tyner, but I also loved to hear pianists like Red Garland and Andrew Hill. I enjoyed very much also listen to Horace Silver and Nat Cole.
As a composer, I am influenced I guess by all the old Brazilian samba composers, like Cartola, Nelson Cavaquinho, Sinho, Pixinguinha and many others, and of course every composer of my generation has a little bit of Jobim too, and the Brazilian classics, like Ernesto Nazareth and Villa Lobos, and as a arranger I just went completely nuts when I heard the Maestro Moacyr Santos for the first time. He is the best, and I treasure his albums since then. I also liked to hear the old samba orchestras like the orchestra of the Maestro Severino Araujo and Cipo.
In the dark period of Brazil militarism where the good Brazilians vanished I got very impressed when I heard for the first time Gil Evans, and I also started to hear and like, Ernie Wilkins, Neal Hefti and I also like Johnny Mandel, Marty Paich, Oliver Nelson, Claus Ogerman and others of this kind. But I always had my own ideas about music, and I never tried to sound like nobody, I just tryed to learn from them,I always searched for the music and sounds and timbers that I hear inside of me, but sometimes I recognized some of that music, sounds and timbers listening to other artists, so that is the way one get influences, I guess.
MS: Where did you play when you started your career?
GV: I started to play professionally in the worst period of Brazil. A lot of repression was going on, military police all over the place, many people getting arrested for the simple reason of their ideas, the situation was really horrible, too hard to describe in few words, but I got to know some great artists, who didn't had the chance to get out of the country and were making a living playing in small night clubs, houses of prostitution etc.. so they started to help me, I mean, I needed to play in order to learn, I didn't have no experience and I really didn't know how to play well, but all the really good musicians were gone, left the country, so these artists thought that I had talent and had the patience to have me playing with them in spite my lack of experience. I learned a lot with them, and I guess that's when I learned to play well.
I played for Edison Machado, the greatest Brazilian drummer of all times, Agostinho dos Santos, a great singer, the one who sang the songs in the movie Black Orpheus, Leny Andrade, another great Brazilian singer, sometimes I played with my own trios, or quartets, and that was the way I kept going until I left to New York in 1975.
MS: Why did you leave?
GV: Fear. I got busted one night in Rio by the military police and they took my photograph and my name and released me because I had nothing to do with that bust (they took about 12 artists together and I played dumb because I was from S.Paulo, so I made them believe that I was there by mistake, or something like that) but I got really scared, and I knew that if I got bust one more time they would beat me to death or even kill me, (at that time torture was very popular in Brazil, they would torture you for no reason, just to see if you say some names of artists that they thought were communists or subversives, I had many friends who went trough all that) and I knew also that if I stayed in Brazil I would get very depressed and I would go nowhere with my music and my ideals, so with the help of one friend who gave me1 000 dollares and my mother who bought me the ticket I left to New York to start a new life. That was in 1975.
MS: How did you do in New York?
GV: In the first months I just wonder around the city and jazz night clubs. I didn't know nobody and I didn't know how to speak English, so there were nothing I could do really. I was just enjoying freedom. After a while I met some Brazilian musicians who were living there and started to play some gigs.
Later I met the bassist Walter Booker, and we putted together a group, Love Carnival and Dreams, featuring my compositions and arranges, and we played in jazz night clubs, then I started to grow as an artist, and feel my potential, and met some great musicians and feel more comfortable. Then I got hired to be musical director in a Brazilian night club and there I stayed for 2 and a half years playing 6 nights a week. Then in December of 1979 I decided to go back to Brazil
GV: It is very difficult to stay away from your roots, specially if you are a Brazilian. The country is so beautiful, the people so nice, and the culture so strong ... I was getting completely paranoid about staying away. I felt I had to go back, and do my work there, I had this idea to start releasing some independent albums, and I felt that I had to be there for the people who had being suffering so much with repression, I don't know, I just felt I had to be there.
MS: What did you do then?
GV: I released my first album, "Naturalmente", and started to play all over. Then I released my second album, "So por amor", and kept playing all over. Then I went to Denmark (a wonderful country) as a guest to teach and talk about Brazilian music, and I did a lot of concerts there and recorded my third album, "Live in Copenhagen", went to France and Italy for some concerts, and then I got back to Brazil and from 85 to 89 I did a lot of different projects, and started to get deeper and deeper into Samba music and got involved with the greatest School of Samba (school meaning group) Mangueira. Then I came to the US with the great singer Joao Nogueira to do some concerts and decided to stay there again, and I have being here since then, going back and forth as much as I can to play concerts there and keep pushing my Mangueira projects.
MS: And now, what are your plans?
GV: Now I am very excited about my career. I have about 5 or 6 projects going on. I putted together a Samba Big Band here in Los Angeles with some of the greatest horn players from here and Brazilian rhythm section, that I would love to tour, it is very original and heavy; I am looking for producers to put together a documentary about the History of Mangueira, I just released a CD in Brazil ( a trio album with Ron Carter and Robertinho Silva) after 8 years away from recordings, I played also in S.Paulo and Rio last spring at the Heineken festival, and I had the opportunity to put a great concert together playing sambas written by old Brazilian composers and I brought as special guests Wayne Shorter, Wallace Roney, Raul de Souza and Mads Vinding, and I am also looking for money to put an album with this guests together, and most of all I am very excited about the Internet, I think it is a great way that I have now to get closer to people who enjoy different approaches in music, and if I get lucky, having a good feedback selling my albums through the Internet I will have some money to produce all this new projects that I have in mind.
I am also looking forward to play as much live concerts as I can outside Brazil, to spread the word of the Samba culture, throughout the whole world, and I am also going to Brazil next month to play a couple of duo concerts, piano and percussion, with this great percussionist from Mangueira, Bira Show, and this is a concert that I also would love to do all over, it is a good concert to do in Universities and Schools of Music, so we can also talk about the samba culture and show this new approach of samba playing.
MS: Thanks, and good luck.
GV: Thank you.
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