Archives for category: Jazz Music


When she started out, Billie Holiday was simply the vocalist for Teddy Wilson’s band. The rise of juke box technology, coinciding with her debut, catapulted her to success for the struggling Brunswick label, ensuring its commercial survival and success, and helping to make Teddy Wilson’s name too. These early numbers (still) deserve a wider audience.

But there are other, less-well-known vocalists who also sang with Wilson then. We know the ‘hits’ we hear now from the first few bars, but if you search YouTube, do you find The Hour of Parting? With the vocalist credited?

Who was Boots Castle, who sang The Hour of Parting with Wilson? A beautiful song written by Spoliansky, who fled Germany for London in 1933.


And who was Jean Eldridge, who sang Moonray with Wilson? Was she related to Roy Eldridge, jazz trumpeter?


Read the rest of this entry »

Who knows or has even heard of Lonnie Johnson? “I was old enough to have felt first-hand the old country blues … And I got to see how those blues were modified and modernized by artists like Lonnie Johnson.” Thus BB King.

Alonzo Johnson (1899 – 1970) played guitar and violin, and sang too. He’s known as a blues player, but his experience ranges wider, from touring blues shows with Victoria Spivey and Bessie Smith, through work with jazz greats Louis Armstrong and Duke Ellington, stride pianist James P Johnson –

Lonnie Johnson (left) Chicago, April 1941, with Andrew Harris bass, Dan Dixon rhythm (FSA photo Russell Lee -

Lonnie Johnson (left) Chicago, April 1941, with Andrew Harris bass, Dan Dixon rhythm (FSA photo Russell Lee –

– and UK skiffle artist Tony Donegan – who changed his name to Lonnie in 1952.

His influence on others extends to Elvis Presley (on 1954’s “Tomorrow Night” he imitates Lonnie’s 1948 hit vocals) and early Bob Dylan (listen to “Corrina Corrina”). You can hear why “in the 1920s and 1930s, Johnson was best known as a sophisticated and urbane singer rather than an instrumentalist.”

“Of the forty ads for his records that appeared in the ‘Chicago Defender’ between 1926 and 1931, not one even mentioned that he played guitar.” (Elijah Wald,  Escaping the Delta : Robert Johnson and the invention of the blues, 2004) So why a guitar hero? Johnson was responsible for bringing the instrument out of the rhythm section – where it had superseded the banjo in the jazz line-up – to the front as a solo instrument, with single-string picking, bending the notes and ‘voicing’ it like the violin he had played before. You can draw a straight line from there to rock ‘n’ roll and the modern guitar ‘hero’.

Coinciding with electrification of the instrument – around the same time as the violin – was of course influential, as was the style of other players like white guitarist Eddie Lang. But to hear how well he plays, and how fresh he still sounds, try this 1928 recording with Don Redman – Fletcher Henderson’s arranger – the Dorsey brothers and Jack Teagarden.

Paducah (Redman)  New York October 10th 1928. Johnson 1:28 – 2:15

This was the band which became the Chocolate Dandies.

Compare with guitarist Eddie Lang, alias Blind Willie Dunn and the Gin Bottle Four, Hoagy Carmichael scatting. An all-star group that also included King Oliver, the Gin Bottle Four was one of the first interracial jazz bands to record, cutting classic tunes “Blue Guitars,” “A Handful of Riffs,” “Midnight Call Blues,” and “Hot Fingers.” And this one, “Jet Black Blues”, which you may know from the game MAFIA …

Listening to early Duke Ellington on a long journey by car, I remind myself of how good his sides for OKeh are. You always hear something new.

This time I hear what sounds mighty like rock ‘n’ roll ‘avant la lettre’. Listen to this Ellington blues composition, Lazy Duke, from 1929, the opening reminiscent of Frankie and Johnnie. At about 1:18, the chorus is taken by Barney Bigard on clarinet – the piano figure underneath is almost where boogie and blues would go thirty years later.

The two wailing reeds take an effective combined solo, and the percussive acoustic bass drives at an insistently steady rhythm.

Here’s the original 78 “Fox Trot”, credited to The Harlem Footwarmers, one of Ellington’s many aliases on OKeh.

JazzB is an intimate jazz venue in downtown Sao Paulo. The area is better known for its sex industry workers and drug users than for cosy music venues, but it doesn’t feel unsafe. Of course there are exceptions, but the taxi driver says it’s fine, and it doesn’t seem threatening. It’s lively, with lots of folk on the streets, and plenty of neighbourhood bars. JazzB is in the Rua General Jardim, which runs west from the Praça da República in the area known as Vila Buarque. 

View of the street from your table

View of the street from your table

The bar seats around 100, and divides into two areas, to accommodate two types of customers. At the front behind large plate glass windows are tables and chairs at which couples and friends out for the evening sample the bar food and the wide range of bottled beers.

Beer bar

Beer bar

The bands play in the corner of the L-shaped space, facing a set of tiered seats which rise to the ceiling in studio theatre style. Here jazz aficionados can appreciate the music without too much interference from the chat of those who come to talk against a jazz background.

Jazz fans have a good view

Jazz fans have a good view

Not long open, JazzB is already a landmark venue for the adventurous tourist – my fellow guests included a young Japanese man who perused his guidebook as he waited for the band.

Picturesque setting - the Steinway needs tuning

Picturesque setting, though the Steinway needs tuning

On Saturday we were favoured with an evening of improvisation from the Jorginho Neto Quinteto. Jorginho is a virtuoso trombonist, who has played at festivals in Brazil and in New York. An alumnus of the Orquestra Jovem (Youth Orchestra) Tom Jobim, he plays with the highly regarded Banda Mantiqueira jazz ensemble and other Brazilian jazz groups. On Saturday evening, he played with Daniel D’Alcântara (trumpet and fugel horn), José Luiz Martins on piano, Bruno Migotto (bass), and Edu Ribeiro guesting on drums.

Fronted with brass

Musical brasswork

D’Alcântara is another stalwart of the Brazilian jazz scene, playing with the Orquestra Jazz Sinfônica de São Paulo and teaching at Sao Paulo’s premier jazz music school, Souza Lima. The two brass players had great fun passing phrases back and forth as they led, alternately and together.

Jorginho Neto, slide trombone

Jorginho Neto, slide trombone

Daniel D’Alcântara,

Daniel D’Alcântara, trumpet

Both players also stood back to let the trio of younger musicians have their way. Edu is a fine and energetic drummer, taking some inventive solos, occasionally accompanied by percussion on his acoustic bass from Bruno Migotto. (That explains the wear marks!) Migotto handles his instrument with enthusiasm and infectious enjoyment. The raised eyebrows were saved for explosions of invention from Martins at express train speed, which Neto brought back to walking pace with masterful finesse. These players would be at home on any stage, truly world class. Here’s their version of jazz standard The Nearness of You.

See for JazzB’s current programming.

P.S. If you sit on the stadium seating rather than at tables on ground level, AVOID the top tier, especially near the noisy service lift. You’ll be bumped repeatedly by clumsy serving staff, and distracted by noisy staff and customers at the downstairs bar below.

Went to see Sao Paulo Ska Jazz at popular venue Jazz nos Fundos (Jazz at the Back). It’s behind an unpromising-looking car park near a flyover which is home to a recycling depot used by Sao Paulo catadores, collecting metal, cardboard and wood on man-sized handcarts. The venue reflects its location in the decor – the look is industrial salvage with musical overtones.


Front line brass

Sao Paulo Ska Jazz (SPSJ) revisits pop and Brazilian classics – Oasis, Tom Jobim – with a ska or a reggae rhythm and a hard-driving brass section supported by electric bass, drums, piano and electric lead guitar. The music may recycle other styles, but it’s definitely not rubbish.


Big band

Though the sound can lack balance, the musicians are a tight-knit unit, with the quick understanding and appreciation of each other’s talents which comes from working hard together.


Watchful Musical Director

The eight-piece band is fronted by sax player Marcelo Pereira, who also plays with La Orkestra K. Playing the guitarra (electric lead guitar) at the core of the band is MD Aquiles Faneco, directing with an eagle eye and taking his solo spots with aplomb and sometimes abandon.


Piano solo from Sidney Ferraz

The players listen closely to each other, backing up solos, introducing or returning to the melody, as the focus shifts from one to another.

2014-03-09 01.01.43

Baritone and tenor saxes, trumpet and muted slide trombone

The band has been together for close on five years. How refreshing that they can nevertheless still surprise one another with what they do!


A muted performance!

Look at the expression on the face of trumpet-player Diego Garbin as trombonist Douglas ‘Tigrinho’ takes his solo. The noise this band makes is a joy! From the Jazz nos Fundos archives, here they are in full swing.!10391

No, not the outré Spanish film-maker, but a good tapas restaurant. The décor bears more than a passing resemblance to his film aesthetic, and your bill is presented in a fine red ladies´stiletto, but in the interest of avoiding copyright infringement, that´s as far as it goes.

Original artwork

Original artwork …

The architect-designed interior is stylish and comfortable – Spanish roccoco meets cocktail lounge – and the service is charming and attentive. Upstairs is an intimate function room seating 20 or so, and affording you a view of the industrious kitchen. Spanish chef Tomàs Peñafiel and his Argentinian team turn out tasty tapas and other Spanish classics – paella, bacalao, and churrros, among others – and the jamón serrano is good.

 ... with live jazz

… with live jazz

They´ve been open about a year now, and have recently begun to offer a live jazz quartet on Wednesday evenings from about 7 pm. With a repertoire from Spanish boleros through Brazilian choro to funk and jazz classics, the music matches the food for fusion and appeal.

Jazz en plein air and in full flight

Jazz en plein air and in full flight

And the wine list is also appetising. Spanish and New World, cava and sangria, and if that´s not to your taste, ask for your cocktail of choice. This is a venue whose watchword is good quality, in food, in wine and in music. What more could you want?

A Croatian-born trumpeter playing New Orleans jazz in a French-look bistro – where else but in Sao Paulo, cosmopolitan world city?

Brand of cachaça (sugar cane spirit)

All of Jazz is a celebration and an academy for all forms of jazz, set on a quiet street at the modest end of upscale Itaim Bibi in Sao Paulo. It’s in an ochre-red building, with echoes of New Orleans in its first-floor balcony and its ambience.

Rua João Cachoeira 1366

Rua João Cachoeira 1366

The music starts around 10 in the evening, every day except Sunday, with an ever-changing programme to delight the ear as you sit at marble-topped tables and sip your drink or sample the menu.

Jazz quartet May 11 2013

Bentwood chairs, a tiled floor, a bar against one side and the small room is full – it would be crowded with an audience of 50.

Jazz video jukebox

Before the evening’s band comes on, jazz videos play on a small screen. Upstairs, there’s a wide range of jazz CDs and some videos for sale, alongside a few upstairs tables. The band takes its break on the street out front. Customers join in – this venue doesn’t stand on ceremony.

Trumpeter Busic is well-versed in the classics, from New Orleans to New York, from Dixie to Miles Davis, and his accented singing lends charm to the band’s playful renditions. A Latin Summertime, a gospel-tinged approach to blues – the musicians have a lot of fun with time signatures, styles and colours, sharing it with audience in best showman style.

André Busic Quintet 26th October 2013

André Busic Quintet 26th October 2013

The rhythm section is particularly jokey, the pianist inventive, and Busic preaches with the best of them when he cuts loose. The tenor plays with a sweetness all the more surprising for his impassive demeanor, while the greats of jazz look on from their monochrome portraits. This is a venue whose raison d’être is simply to come and enjoy the music.

Buenos Aires is known as the Paris of Latin America, and at its best, it is indeed a spacious, beautiful, prosperous and cultured city. One of the factors which makes it cosmopolitan is the number of  cafés or bares – there is one almost literally on every corner in the microcentro. The city conducts its life in them, at every level.

Bar of the Plaza Hotel, Florida San Martin, near the river port to Colonia

Bar of the Plaza Hotel, Florida San Martin, near the river crossing to Colonia

The Plaza Hotel has been an upmarket destination for more than a century. Overlooking the Plaza San Martin in Retiro, it was opened in 1909 and hosts the wealthy and the well-known to this day. Its bar is a destination in its own right. The wood-panelled decor, buttoned leather and subdued lighting make for a relaxed ambience, and its high tea – cakes, sandwiches and a decent pot of tea – is a welcome treat. The skill with which the barman mixes drinks for his regulars suggests that he can provide a treat too, should you be in the mood. On Wednesday evenings they have live jazz music.

London livery company dinner 1925 - note guests of honour

London livery company dinner at the Plaza, 1946 – note guests of honour

At the everyday level, cafés abound. The Florida Garden opened in 1962, a meeting point for the avant-garde of the day. During the week it is more a businessman’s venue, with a pleasant mezzanine floor offering an elevated view of the daily bustle. The double counter is workplace and service facility, and the copper accents extend from the coffee machine over the decorated walls and up the stairs. They serve a decent coffee and the usual medialuna (croissant) with ham and melted cheese. It also sells coffee beans loose. The constant stream of customers confirms that it is still serving them what they need.

The counter at Florida Garden, corner of Florida and Paraguay

The counter at Florida Garden, corner of Florida and Paraguay

Out in the quieter suburb of Recoleta, overlooking the plaza in front of the renowned Cementerio de la Recoleta, is the equally famous Café La Biela. Opened in 1850 when the area was still farmland, and the vegetable garden of the local monastery only recently converted into the first public cemetery in Buenos Aires, it was a small pavement café on the site of a general store. As the city grew and as the well-off moved further north to escape the yellow fever breaking out in the lower land by the river, the café grew and changed, hosting the members of the Civil Pilots Association, and in its second century, racing car drivers and enthusiasts from Fangio and Jackie Stewart to Emerson Fittipaldi.

La Biela at Recoleta

La Biela at Recoleta

It takes as its symbol the connecting rod or ‘conrod’ from a car engine, known in Spanish as la biela. Sipping coffee, we saw customers reading the newspaper, having a meeting while the car waited outside with driver, having their shoes shined at table, taking the afternoon sun on the terrace, or planning their visit to the Cementerio.

Petit Colon on Plaza Lavalle

El Petit Colon on Plaza Lavalle

Buenos Aires takes its café culture very seriously, and prefers it traditional. El Petit Colón has the look – traditional ceiling mouldings, wooden furniture and bar, patterned wallpaper, brass fittings, black and white photographs, and spectacular light fittings. It’s popular with the lawyers who work around the nearby Palacio de Tribunales and with business people, as well as with the theatre-going public at the Teatro Colón from which it takes its name. Fast attentive service, good bar food and the usual excellent coffee complete the package. Difficult to tell that it opened as recently as 1970.

Cafe Tortoni on Avenida de Mayo

Café Tortoni on Avenida de Mayo

And so to that venerable Buenos Aires institution, Café Tortoni. Whether you ask where the best café is, or the best tango show, you get the same answer: Tortoni. Founded in 1858, and a feature of city life for generations, this café is such a landmark that if you look like tourists, and a little lost, as we clearly did, the locals give you directions to it unasked.

The bar at Cafe Tortoni

The bar at Café Tortoni

Here too the decor is in brown, beige, off-white and gold, with stained glass, brass light fittings, black and white photographs, wood and leather chairs, and the usual food and coffee. It’s the original style to which El Petit Colon pays homage. The costumed waiters play their parts well – we saw one grip a bottle of agua in the crook of his knee to open it with his free hand – and towards the back the cultural life of the café is celebrated with photographs, bronze busts and a souvenir shop. On the left hand side at the back is a separate room for the tango performances, seating 50 or so at tables, with a stage at the far end for musicians, singers and dancers (though not all at the same time).

Cafe Concert

Café Concert

The show we saw featured a pianist at the baby grand, a stony-faced bandoneon player centre stage and an electric bass to the right, with just enough room in front for the singer or for a pair of tango dancers. The performers walked in through the audience, and the dancers changed behind the curtain. A technician at the back ran sound and lights for an appreciative audience of visitors.

Café Tortoni is one of more that 70 cafés and bares declared Bares Notables by the city. Although supported by the city’s programmes, the status of such establishments does not prevent them from closing. They find ways of promoting themselves – tango shows, websites, supporters clubs – which raise their profile. Some recent establishments are experimenting with a more modern style – the Grand Cafe in Plaza San Martin is said to deploy a New York style – and such adaptation is needed for café life to survive. Clearly they are no longer the home from home of working men as seen in the early photographs, but as long as they provide what the Porteño – the citizen of Buenos Aires – needs, they will thrive. It seems that Buenos Aires needs a sense of history with its coffee, its medialuna and its WiFi.

Heavyweight champion of the world

In 1920, heavyweight boxing champion Jack Johnson opened a club called Club DeLuxe on the corner of 142nd and Lenox Avenue in Harlem, New York.

He is said to have gone broke. A prominent gangster called Owney Madden took over the club in 1923, re-opening it after a year. Madden, an immigrant lad from Leeds in England, had risen through the New York underworld with a reputation for violence.

Madden and business partners Big Bill Dwyer and Big Frenchy De Mange (below)

Big Bill Dwyer, believed to own the Pittsburgh Pirates

Big Frenchy DeMange

Big Frenchy De Mange

also became owners in the exclusive Stork Club, where influential gossip columnist Walter Winchell (below) held court.

Walter Winchell in 1939 Photo by Granger

Walter Winchell in 1939 Photo by Granger (

An owner in more than twenty clubs, Madden was known for his Prohibition-era business activities. He was also known for his revenge tactics and his pay-offs of City Hall.

Owen Madden

Owen Madden

From these origins sprang the musical culture which was to conquer the world, to nurture the aristocratic Edward Kennedy Ellington, and to make the name of the Cotton Club an international by-word for exotic sophistication. We should not be surprised that U.S. rappers glorify gangsta culture, or that funk in Rio is associated with organised crime. Whether they will produce another Duke remains to be seen.

To put Club DeLuxe in its setting, here’s a thumbnail sketch of the Harlem nightlife of that time, from The Harlem Renaissance by Steven Watson

From the official website

Not at all blue – from the official website

Digital remaster of October 30th 1930 session by The Harlem Footwarmers, from The OKeh Ellington C2K 46117

How to write a jazz standard.

1. Listen, to your musicians …

“This thing that clarinetist Barney Bigard used to play, Ellington made a tune of that, “Mood Indigo”, that Barney used to warm up his instrument.” Clark Terry

… and to your teachers.

Bigard learned it from his clarinet teacher Lorenzo Tio, who called it a ‘Mexican blues’ and titled it Dreamy Blues.

2. Innovate.

The usual voicing of the horns was clarinet at the highest pitch, trumpet in the middle, and the trombone at the lowest pitch. Ellington voices the trombone at the top of the instrument’s register, and the clarinet at the lowest. With the electric microphones of the time, it created a ‘mic tone’ from the overtones of the clarinet and trombone, giving the illusion of a fourth instrument. Both trumpet and trombone were tightly muted.

English release of original recording

English release of original recording, with credit to Ellington and Mills

3. Collaborate …

Lyrics were added in 1931 by Mitchell Parish, although credited to publisher Irving Mills, as was common practice, and accruing royalties for the publisher. Ellington never complained publicly about such arrangements, but praised Mills’ guidance and actions as invaluable to his career.

… with open eyes.

“Why in the devil, when you found out what was done to you” – double dipping on royalties and an agent’s fee – “why didn’t you blow the whistle?” (Maurice Lawrence)  Ellington replied that he could have, but then he “would have been black-balled in Tin Pan Alley”

4. Do the marketing.

In truth, the Ellington band had succeeded beyond expectation, at the Cotton Club and on national radio. Mood Indigo, their most popular single yet, had been released at the end of 1930. In 1931 their first nationally distributed press kit was released by Irving Mills. Tours, films and recognition as a composer were the next steps.

Ellington was fond of saying, “Well, I wrote that in 15 minutes while I was waiting for my mother to finish cooking dinner.”

The foremost Black and Tan club

At the foremost Black and Tan club

Original sound from 78 rpm and Victrola

Excellent article about Ellington from The New Yorker

Official website


Note on the song

Extensive biography “Duke Ellington’s America” by Harvey G. Cohen

Jazz nos Fundos is a venue for those in the know in Sao Paulo. On the edge of the Via Madalena nightlife district, and accessed through a working estacionamento or car park, it’s a place to come and listen to the best of Sao Paulo jazz, to patronise with friends and lovers, or to meet the opposite gender. Barely a building at all, it’s a roofed-in corridor which looks as though it was once a car-repair garage.

A nod in the direction of a salon

A nod in the direction of a salon

The venue’s studied air of post-industrial neglect is enhanced by the detritus and the decrepit musical instruments decorating the walls, the rows of old cinema seats for aficionados in front of the stage, and the general gloom of the L-shaped space. A changing art display is hung on some salvaged panels leant against the wall. Customers start to arrive at about 9:30, as the musicians are setting up. Arriving a little earlier means the crush at the small bar is easier to manage. It’s around the corner at the end of the seating area, where you can also dance, or find the toilet. This venue can’t be accused of being too comfortable.

A Latin line-up to make you dance for joy ...

A Latin line-up to make you dance for joy …

The cu-bop line-up of La Orkestra K has played here a few times. Their infectious dance music puts a smile on your face and a song in your heart. With piano, reeds, guitar, brass, wind, percussion and rhythm section, and vocals in Spanish and Portuguese, they cover a range of Latin American musics – Colombian porro and cumbia, Cuban paseo and bolero – and their own compositions, under the musical direction of Paulo K. Individually impressive as soloists, they have clearly worked together many times, to forge a tight and playful ensemble, as their SoundCloud tracks testify.

 ... and streamed live to a screen near you

… and streamed live to a screen near you

Formed in 2011, the Paulistano band has its origins in the music school of the Universidade Estadual de Campinas, and they have learnt their craft well. Just as impressive a sign of the musical vigour of Brazilian culture is the fact that Jazz nos Fundos streams all its music live over the Web, and archives it as an excellent library of contemporary Brazilian jazz. It’s a static webcam, but what a soundtrack! From December last year and this February, here is La Orkestra K’s contribution.!8883

STOP PRESS La Orkestra K is in the recording studio putting the finishing touches to their first album. Stand by for dancing!

The eponymous Paulo K (arms folded)

La Orkestra K, the eponymous Paulo K with arms folded

Rua Joaquim Antunes 381

Brado, a newly opened restaurant in Pinheiros in the west of Sao Paulo, is worth a second look and listen. A free-form menu boasts a range of Italian and Brazilian food – the asparagus risotto was good. The bar is stylish without trying too hard.

Good selection, and good service

Good selection, and good service

A tasteful interior is complemented by the quiet walled garden at the back, complete with banana tree. At the front, timber decking extends almost to the footpath. A manobrista  is on hand to spirit your car away to nearby parking.

Two thirds of a jazz and choro trio

Two thirds of a jazz and choro trio

On Saturday, the passing traffic wound its windows down to hear choro and Brazilian classics and jazz standards played with elan by a trio of electric bass, keyboard and woodwind. And it wasn’t only me who found the music to their taste – as well as appreciative honks and thumbs-up, I saw one taxi literally go by, reverse and stop out front for three minutes during a lull in the traffic to allow both driver and fare to appreciate the repertoire.

One-Note Samba and more

One-Note Samba and more

So much nicer than traffic noise, the music made it a pleasant place to catch the breeze. And with good coffee, prompt service, and panna cotta com marmalada de pêra to look forward to, it’s a tempting alternative to the Saturday feijoada.

Wire sculpture – compare with Lanchonete Frevo below


There were stars of the stage as well as the band stand in the ‘Harlem Renaissance’. One of the earliest was Florence Mills, who had learnt her craft on the East coast vaudeville circuit with her two older sisters, and in a quartet of performers called the Panama Four.

Cast of Shuffle Along 1921

Cast of Shuffle Along 1921

But it was the Broadway success of Shuffle Along, the black jazz musical which marks the start of the Renaissance in 1921, that launched international careers for her and at various times for Josephine Baker, Adelaide Hall, Lena Horne, Paul Robeson and Bill Bojangles.


From Shuffle Along, later included in revue Dover Street to Dixie

One of the earliest musical revues written and performed by African Americans, it ran for around 500 performances on Broadway and on tour, and in London, Liverpool, Paris, and other European cities. See on its production history.

Mills’ voice was too soft to register well on the recording technology of the day, but she became a very popular performer nonetheless.

Mills is said to have turned down a starring role in Ziegfeld’s Follies to work on the revue Blackbirds with entrepreneur Lew Leslie. From the first 1926 version starring Mills, Blackbirds became an international success.

Florence Mills by London society photographer Bassano, 1923

by London society photographer Bassano, 1923

In London, Blackbirds was a sensation – Blackbirds parties were all the rage, and the cast were invited to fashionable ‘society’ events. The Prince of Wales said he had seen the show 11 times.

Christmas card from London 1926

Christmas wishes from London 1926

Its success proved Mills’ undoing. The London show ran for more than 250 performances during 1926 – something like five shows a week for a year – and it took its toll on her health. She returned to the US unwell the following year, dying of an infection while in hospital, aged just 32.

Thousands of admirers came to the funeral home and to the funeral. Duke Ellington memorialised her in a piano composition. Rooted in the ‘stride’ style of Harlem, it’s notable for being a solo composition reaching into the parlours of white American and middle-class black American culture – a piano is a weightier investment than the brass instruments of New Orleans jazz. Here it is, played in October 1928. You can hear the Duke finding his voice in this tribute to Florence Mills.

Black Beauty

“The vagabond who’s knocking at your door

Is standing in the clothes that you once wore … ”

from It’s All over Now Baby Blue (Bob Dylan) 1965

Blues of the Vagabond

Way back in November 1929 in New York, the band led by Duke Ellington, resident at the Cotton Club and known on record as The Washingtonians, The Harlem Footwarmers, Joe Turner & His Memphis Men, Sonny Greer & His Memphis Men … and so on, recorded a side for OKeh written by Ellington called Blues of the Vagabond. Duke was the immaculately dressed gentleman professional, arranging, playing piano and leading the band. He looked like this.

The young Duke

The young Duke

At the apogee of what was called the New Negro Movement – later known as the Harlem Renaissance – in the following year they recorded as Mills’ Ten Blackberries, Frank Brown & His Tooters, and the New York Syncopators. In October 1928 for Okeh, under the Duke’s name, they had recorded what became something of a signature tune, The Mooche, also written by Ellington. Here it is: irresistible!

The Mooche

Opposite a glamorous building of the privately-funded Universidade Nove de Julho in Barra Funda, a slightly shabbier building plays host to a minor musical miracle.

New building for private university

High-rise private university, Avenida Francisco Matarazzo, Barra Funda, reflecting …

Room in a public school, dedicated to music

… low-rise public school, Avenida Francisco Matarazzo, Barra Funda

In the music room of the Colégio Olga Ferraz, where the Associação Cívica Feminina (ACF) runs after-school activities, a band for local youth meets regularly to practise. It’s the Banda Choro Blue from a small charity, the Instituto de Música Choro Blue, run by expatriate Bostonian John Berman and his partner, the tireless Lilian Candalaft. This article in the Brazilian business magazine Epoca has more details

Where the Brazilian greats are studied, guest musicians visit

Where the Brazilian greats are studied, and guest musicians visit

When we arrive, some kids are already there, and greet us in a consciously adult manner, secure on their own territory. A good number of them are children of migrant workers from the north-east of Brazil, nordestinas who find work in Sao Paulo as maids and cleaners, some of them single parents supporting children on very modest wages. One of Berman’s motivations in working with these students is to raise their awareness of and pride in their own musical culture, which is rich and strong in the African-influenced north-east.

Jazz and choro musician John Berman (foto Michel Pereira)

Jazz and choro musician John Berman (foto Michel Pereira)

A natural and charismatic teacher, he gradually draws them into the practice room, helping them to set up music stands and instruments, checking tuning, welcoming his students warmly as they arrive, and introducing the visitors. I am presented as an interested blogger, his daughter Debra as a New York visual artist – more about her work at and at . Her boyfriend Max Comasky, a bass player of 13 years standing, sits in with the band today.

Berman begins by reinforcing some learning points on Brazilian musicians and musical styles, in the guise of choosing something to play. The kids respond with good-natured, sometimes jokey answers.

Deepening the learning

Deepening the learning

Veterans of public playing despite joining the band somewhere betweeen the age of eight and thirteeen years, they settle comfortably into playing from their repertoire, and the music begins to swing. One young man sits beside the guest on bass, absorbing his moves with close and longing attention – he aspires to playing the bass himself.

Max Comasky, bass, and understudy

Max Comasky, bass, and understudy

Students begin with the recorder before choosing an instrument, perhaps starting in the band on percussion, which is also Brazilian.

Group learning, percussion section

Group learning, percussion section

Some are studying instruments elsewhere – the sisters on the front bench are taking classical lessons for violin and for flute, though they play the band repertoire with skill too – and everyone can take the loan instruments home to practise.

First violin and flute on the front bench

Close concentration on the front bench

The elan with which they play makes clear that these students do practise – the two lads on saxophone swap improvised phrases playfully, the other flautist on the front bench shyly constructs a phrase, the clarinettists underpin the pieces with steady melodic flow.

Alto and tenor saxes, with tenor doubling on flute

Alto and tenor saxes, with tenor doubling on flute

Modestly accomplished

Modestly accomplished

Concentrated woodwind

Concentrated woodwind

When Berman wants to illustrate a point about the rhythm of the music, he waves his arms wide and claps and counts in the rhythm he wants, and has the students stand and move to the music so that they feel the rhythm. Spontaneous smiles break out.

Get up, get on up ...

Get up, get on up …

Comasky demonstrates his ‘slap bass’ technique, adding the instrumental element.

Get UP, get on up ..

Get UP, get on up …

As latecomers arrive, they pick up instruments and join in. Despite it being school holiday time, the band’s all here.

Not a good place to take a phone call ...

Not a good place to take a phone call …

 ... but he makes that triangle ring like a bell

… but he makes that triangle ring like a bell

And yes, during this practice, Deb Berman warmed up by decorating the entrance door before moving on to the back wall, for a quick-sketch mural in the colours of the Brazilian flag.

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But by far the most exciting and impressive thing is that these kids, barely teenagers, perhaps in the face of indifference from parents

Percussion ...

Percussion …

 ... wind and ...

… wind and …

 ... woodwind

… woodwind

are enjoying practising and playing music, over a time-scale of years – that’s more than many students with much greater access to such opportunities can manage. Their joyful noise is a testament to their spirit and that of their supporters. Encore!

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Banda Choro Blue

P.S. Here’s a clip from Brazilian breakfast TV about Choro Blue. The band is covered from about 2:15 on.

P.P.S. And here’s a snap of Deb Berman’s mural at Choro Blue’s forthcoming new practice rooms. The paint is still wet …

Choro Blue mural, Sumaré, Sao Paulo

Choro Blue mural, Sumaré, Sao Paulo

David Newman Texas 1933 - New York 2009

David Newman Texas 1933 – New York 2009

Ray Charles needs no introduction. His version of “Unchain My Heart” with the Raelettes is cool and tight where Joe Cocker’s is raucous, sprawling. It makes for a rather different interpretation of the song.

On that 1961 track, the sax player is David (‘Fathead’) Newman. Newman was a jazz player on tenor sax and flute. Beginning in 1954, he spent 12 years with Charles, and then joined the band of jazz flautist Herbie Mann for a 10-year stint.

He was a well-known hard bop jazz player in later years – playing with Stanley Turrentine, and with Cannonball Adderley as producer, for example – but he played very widely. The roll call of those with whom he recorded – Aretha Franklin, B.B. King, Eric Clapton, Queen Latifah, Dr John, Manhattan Transfer – demonstrates that he has nothing to prove. His debut album, recorded in 1958, released in 1960, and introduced by Charles, who also plays piano on the album, is a more R&B-tinged offering.

The intention “was to find some swinging numbers, not too far out, that everybody could understand and enjoy, and still show off the best qualities of each member of the band.” Here is their rendition of Dizzy Gillespie’s Latin dance track Tin Tin Deo, with Marcus Belgrave on trumpet, Bennie Crawford on baritone sax, and Edgar Willis and Milton Turner on bass and drums.

Tin Tin Deo

Festival entrance, Swing Street, Punta Ballena

At the Festival entrance, Swing Street, Punta Ballena

The Festival Internacional de Jazz de Punta del Este in Uruguay is in its 17th year. A festival on a dairy farm, its main venue is an outdoor stage set in picturesque countryside at Punta Ballena outside the beach resort of Punta del Este, 3 hours along the south coast from Montevideo. (See )


The main stage in its setting

Punta is a place where people feel comfortable – here LBJ attended an American summit in 1967, the World Trade Organisation began with the Uruguay GATT talks here in 1986, American film stars buy houses here.

The Festival office

The Festival office

Dairy farmer Francisco Yobino began a jazz festival here in 1996. His Finca del Sosiego was doing well making dulce de leche – milk-and-sugar fudge, a popular dessert in Latin America – and he had diversified into leisure activities. His first love, jazz, proved irresisitible.

Front row, great view, good sponsorship

Front row, great view, good sponsorship

He is no longer farming, but the show goes on. The musical director is veteran Cuban clarinettist Paquito D’Rivera, an international performer and composer, one of three band leaders featured on the night we went.


Main stage pre-show

The music began while it was light, led by drummer Carlos Carli. He’s a long-time collaborator with D’Rivera, born in Uruguay – and very pleased to be back – now running a music school in Madrid, and he’s played with Gary Burton and Pat Metheney among others. With Ricardo León on piano and Cono Castro on acoustic bass, we had a tight rhythm section.

 ... playing as the sun set

As the sun sets …

His ensemble featured Spanish bandoneon player Leonel Gasso, a well-known accompanist of tango singers and a veteran of tango shows. The bandoneon – a concertina originally from Germany and a standard instrument in the tango’s orquesta típica – is an unusual jazz voice.

… the music starts

Gasso gave it full play – and in the more familiar tango repertoire of Astor Piazzolla – playing the instrument balanced on one knee while the jazz flowed steadily underneath.


Carlos Carli Cuarteto

The audience, many of a certain age, and from Brazil as well as from Argentina and Uruguay, responded enthusiastically, though no-one danced the tango … The Uruguyan Vice-President was reported among the audience, a sign of how seriously Uruguay takes its culture.

Blissed-out audience

Blissed-out audience

As darkness fell, Paquito on clarinet and Diego Urcola on trumpet guested with Carli, bringing on the night in style. They stayed on stage for the second set, joined by Alex and Zachary Brown on piano and acoustic bass, and Eric Doob on drums – young US musicians who also played an impressive bracket as a piano trio. The Quinteto played a series of classical melodies – Bach, Chopin, Beethoven et al – in a jazz vein, improvising around the well-known tunes with great good humour.

Paquito D'Rivera Quinteto

Paquito D’Rivera Quinteto

D’Rivera plays with strong rhythmic drive and lyrical sweetness. And he’s an accomplished showman as well, chatting and joking with his audience, and giving his colleagues room to shine. We were in a fine frame of mind at the second interval. I strolled around for a look at the festival.

Evening dining hall

Evening dining hall

The dining room was being prepared for the after-concert paella and, the PA system in the corner suggested, a musical feast too. Corporate sponsors could enjoy the use of a pavilion with table service close to the stage during the concert, though there were no takers this time. Some people did come dressed for dinner.

Fresh air and music

Fresh air and music

The well-organised facilities also included simpler food and drink – that essential for an enjoyable evening in Uruguay, the parilla or barbecue grill, was doing a roaring trade.

Asado in full swing

Asado or barbecue in full swing

Punta has about 10,000 residents, 15,000 if you include the surrounding country, but it is boosted hugely by tourists during the summer. An evening’s jazz was an inviting prospect after a day at the beach – the 500-odd seats had almost all been taken. Perhaps it was the fresh night air thinning out the crowd.

Outdoor auditorium

Outdoor auditorium at interval

The final band of the evening, the Gary Smulyan Quintet, hails from New York. Once again a trio of hugely competent young musicians drove the rhythm section – Mike LeDonne on piano, John Webber on acoustic bass, Joe Farnsworth on drums – enabling Gary Smulyan and special guest Joe Magnarelli on trumpet to run wild and free.

The Gary Smulyan Quintet

The Gary Smulyan Quintet

A diminutive figure, Smulyan sports a baritone sax which he plays with startling ferocity and attack, though he can also blow sweet and low. The aficionados who remained were treated to a whirlwind tribute to cool jazz and bebop giants of the instrument Gerry Mulligan and Pepper Adams.

On this showing, Punta serves up a good-natured and world-class festival. Other Punta venues also deliver excellent music. Medio y Medio runs a sell-out mini-festival in a characterful Punta Ballena venue, while the Conrad Hotel and casino offers a wide range of theatre, music variety, and floor-shows. There’s a good chance that summer visitors to Punta can find a cool end to their summer holidays.

Birth of the cool ... is that a halo or a music disc?

Birth of the cool … is that a halo or a music disc?

Familigia Mancini has had not one but two very successful restaurants in the old Italian quarter of Sao Paulo, Bela Vista or Bixiga, for many years. On the gently curving one-way pedestrianised cobbles of Rua Avanhandava, the customers’ cars, the taxis, the moto-boys delivering pizzas on their light motor cycles and the occasional rubbish truck or Prefeitura van jostle for space while people alight and manobristas whisk their cars away. It’s lucky there’s plenty to watch on the street, since you can wait forty minutes for a table, nursing a Campari and soda on the benches outside Mancini’s.

Mancini’s, Rua Avanhandava, Bela Vista, Sao Paulo

Set amid the tall Sao Paulo apartment towers, the street is a glittering river of la dolce vita which has brought the neighbourhood upmarket. Apartment blocks have been renovated, and the affluent footfall has attracted chic interior decor boutiques – another attraction to occupy you while you wait to be seated.

Mancini’s is a comfortable establishment, but tonight we are on the other side of the street at Walter Mancini’s, where not only the food but also the music vies for your attention. In contrast with the homely interior of Mancini’s – exposed brick and wood over a number of levels and alcoves – Walter Mancini’s is built along a curve of plate glass looking onto the street, and refracting the lights of the interior. This is one place where Sao Paulo – TV actors, journalists, established musicians – comes to be seen, and it’s reflected in the decor.

Front row seats at Walter Mancini’s

The soundtrack is jazz standards, played by a changing line-up of trios and quartets who take to the central podium. A small grand piano, acoustic bass and a drum kit are fixtures, and the amplifier is decently soft and clear. Valve trombone, saxophone, a chanteuse, all make an appearance. The musicians appreciate and acknowledge the occasional applause from the customers – many are so engrossed in their conversations and their company that you can forgive the players their stony-faced demeanour. For all that the playing is skilled, and the standards played with competence and passion. You see the musicians at table when they have played their set.

Oh, the food? I’ve never had a bad Italian meal, even in the back streets of Palermo, though some have been indifferent. Here it’s Italian Brazilian, which is prepared with a somewhat heavier hand – pasta is thicker and doughier, sauces more salty, flavours less balanced and refined – competent, satisfying and popular though it is. In truth, this is a social restaurant rather than a gastronome’s delight, where the ambience is key, whether one is with family or with the stars and the ‘wannabe’ stars. The decor gives you a clue – a long frieze of framed black and white photos of old Sao Paulo, and over the bar, brass plaques commemorate the performers, writers and artists of the metropolis. Lowering your eyes when you finish studying the plaques, another, more obvious function of the bar is crystal clear. Here you can enjoy the delights of your favourite tipple as you observe le tout Sao Paulo. Once you have secured a seat.

A Sao Paulo insititution

You can tell you’re in Vila Madalena well before you get out of the car – the facades of the bars shout for attention, with mural art, enticingly lit windows, or clever architecture such as salvaged floor boards nailed any old how against the frontage. Too-loud live music advertises its wares from open doorways. Clients cluster around the popular venues, spilling out over the steep and broken footpaths onto the street, talking, laughing, embracing. The manobristas or parking attendants try to flag down the cars crawling by. The occasional residential houses left stranded in this sea of nightlife seem slightly shocked by all the activity.

Bottles of Johnnie Walker Red Label and Black Label kept for individual customers

Bar Piratininga on Rua Wisard is an amiable venue behind an unassuming glass canopied front. Once a house, it’s the usual long shed of a building, divided over two open floors with a mezzanine at the rear, and a decent small sound system piping live piano music throughout. We go up to the first floor alongside the piano and order drinks.

Tonight Olmair Raposo is at the keys, playing a broad range of popular rock from the 1960s, 70s and 80s. He’s a friendly bear of a man, his repertoire and his English showing the influence of his ten years abroad in North America. Elton John is a particular favourite, as are the Beatles, who occupy a special place in the hearts of Brasilians. Raposo plays with lilting, sometimes hard-driving rhythm, and sings with clear diction.

Olmair Raposo, pianista e vocalista with guest John Berman on clarinet

When he is joined by clarinettist John Berman the pace picks up as they dip into jazz standards, batting inventive solos back and forth with gusto.

We order a portion of mandioca, sweet deep-fried manioc root which comes to the table golden yellow, hot and crisp, and is rather good with tomato ketchup. The waiter executes a few dance steps as he reaches the top of the stairs – everyone enjoys the music here. The youngish clientele listen attentively and applaud with enthusiasm. Raposo repays their attention by playing their requests, scribbled on a napkin and brought to him by the staff. They cheer and sing along.

1920s house and car, up-to-date venue

It’s hard to believe that some years ago this venue was on its last legs and about to close. It reached back into its history – once a cafe, it was one of the first bars in Sao Paulo to serve draught beer or chope, also pioneering music trios at a time when most bars offered a guitarist on a stool, “banquinho e violão“. Becoming one of the first ‘theme’ bars, it dressed its staff in 30s and 40s style, displayed period photographs of Sao Paulo and used a restored 1929 Ford for its business.

Business picked up so much that it is now one of Madalena’s best-loved venues. And the name? The Campos de Piratininga is the flat plain atop the coastal wall of the Serra do Mar where Sao Paolo begins. With its happy upbeat feel, this venue can indeed claim to represent something of the spirit of the city first known as São Paulo dos Campos de Piratininga.

Billie Holiday, cover girl

I’ve mentioned jazz pianist Teddy Wilson in a previous post. What was less clear to me then was how ground-breaking his work with Billie Holiday was. Yes, it sounds gorgeous, as a quick listen will confirm, and not at all like the dark and dramatic Billie of Strange Fruit recorded at the end of 1939. This is light, upbeat, poppy music.

Miss Brown to You

Fox Trot – Vocal Chorus Billie Holiday

That’s one of the first of the tracks to be recorded by Billie and Teddy for Brunswick Records, between 1935 and 1938. Billie Holiday was signed to Brunswick by influential producer John Hammond to record current tunes with Teddy Wilson in the new ‘swing’ style for the growing jukebox trade. They were given free rein to improvise the material. Their first collaboration included “What a Little Moonlight Can Do” and “Miss Brown to You” in 1935. Most of Holiday’s early successes were released under the band name “Teddy Wilson & his Orchestra.” He and Holiday produced 95 recordings together.

What a Little Moonlight Can Do

Not just throw-away hits, these singles were to influence enormously the direction jazz vocals were to take. After the success of “What a Little Moonlight Can Do”, Holiday began recording under her own name  – on the 35-cent Vocalion label – producing a series of extraordinary performances with the swing era’s finest musicians. Hammond said of her, “Her singing almost changed my music tastes and my musical life, because she was the first girl singer I’d come across who actually sang like an improvising jazz genius.” Listen to “My Last Affair” from 1937 to hear what he means about her phrasing.

(This Is) My Last Affair

Fox Trot – Vocal by Billie Holiday

The Brunswick label was broke and unable to record many jazz tunes. The commercial impact of the Teddy Wilson-Billie Holiday sides from 1935 to 1938 was significant. Because Wilson, Holiday, Lester Young and others came into the studio without arrangements – which cost money – and improvised the material, the records they produced were very cheap.

Holiday was paid a flat fee, not royalties, for her work. Some of the records were successful. The single “I Cried for You” sold 15,000 copies. Hammond said, “15,000 … was a giant hit for Brunswick in those days. I mean a giant hit. Most records that made money sold around three to four thousand.”

In July 1936 Holiday began releasing sides under the band name “Billie Holiday & Her Orchestra.”  The 1936 side “You Let Me Down” is a stand-out, and hints at the darker material to come.

You Let Me Down

By the late 1930s, Billie Holiday had toured with Count Basie and Artie Shaw, had a string of radio and retail hits with Teddy Wilson, and had become an established recording artist. Although she was unable to record in the studio with Count Basie, Holiday included many of his musicians in her recordings with Teddy Wilson. Her songs “What A Little Moonlight Can Do” from 1935 and “Easy Living” from 1937 were being imitated by singers across America, and quickly becoming jazz standards. The road ahead for her was less clear.

Easy Living

Billie Holiday opens at the Apollo Theatre in Harlem with Basie in 1937

This bar is clearly a Sao Paulo institution, and it knows it. “Founded in 1948 by German Henrique Hillebrecht” as the web site has it, the downtown bar has witnessed much of Sampa’s history, and played its part in its rise – music, food, political debate – and decline, closing in the neglect of the 1990s which seemed to afflict much of Sao Paulo’s Centro. The substantial turn-of-the-century Edificio Independencia office block of which it is the ground floor stands empty now. The landmark Copan Building around the corner experienced a similar rise and fall. See

The management imagines Sao Paulo’s Bohemian set “thankful” and “reverent” at its resurgence in 2001 “on the most famous corner of the city”. It claims an enticingly varied musical and gastronomic offering. Quite a reputation to live up to. Tonight the music comes from Paulistana roots sambista Carolina Soares, who appears regularly.

What we have here is a music emporium. On the Boulevard terrace, the traditional Riverboat’s Jazz Band – trumpet, banjo, washboard, euphonium – complete with straw boater hats and red or black sleeve suspenders play New Orleans tunes for the punters while the parking manobristas drive away and return cars. They are playing as we go in, and still in full swing two hours later. They’re good, even with the over-familiar tunes.

Riverboat’s Jazz Band, “considered one of the foremost traditional jazz bands in the country”

Inside, a singer-guitarist is the first sight to greet you from a high stage. As you go further in, you notice access to an upstairs area – lounge? Internet cafe? tourist information point? all three? – as you thread your way through to the Salão Principal where the main act performs. Handsome thick dark green tiling curves away down a service corridor. The main room is already crowded and, without a reservation, a table beside the service entrance is the best you can expect. Nevertheless the carpaccio salad was good and the service attentive.

Salão Principal, Bar Brahma, Sao Paulo Centro

A choro group  – cavaquinho, mandolin, guitar and pandeiro – play the familiar repertoire well, though the PA obscures their sound, and the crowded room of birthday celebrants, drinkers, diners and dancers pay scant attention. Called Choro Brejeiro – Provocative Choro – they also appear here regularly.

By the reaction of the audience, the main attraction is undoubtedly Caolina Soares. She makes a striking entrance, buoyed by an instrumental build-up from her band and setting her stamp on the evening with her presence. Tall and Juno-esque, she sways and turns gracefully in an eye-catching yellow-gold figured silk gown which she clutches and twitches as she performs.

Sambista Carolina Soares with band. Note goofus player.

She too is a Sao Paulo institution, a regular performer during carnaval and at the Sambódromo, who also tours internationally. The crowd knows the lyrics well and sings along as she praises the girls from Rio Grande do Sul, and sings of love and desire. This is MPB (Musica Popular Brasileira) with a samba tinge.

The Bar is expert at giving its customers what they want: they also operate bars at the Aeroclube Sao Paulo, the capital Brasilia and now in Alphaville in Sao Paulo. They run a samba school and events such as a vinyl record collectors’ fair at the Sao Paulo Centro bar, and lest you fear they are too MOR, the cutting edge Sao Paulo jazz venue Jazz Nos Fundos programmes live music for them in the adjacent smaller Brahminha. Bar Brahma is indeed as described, “a franchise model developed by the premium new business division of Ambev”.

Paying the bill at Brahma: beer, bar and franchise

Ambev? “A subsidiary of global brewing company Anheuser-Busch InBev and the biggest brewery in Latin America and the fifth in the world.” (Wikipedia). And the name? An Anheuser-Busch brand, “Brahma is a Brazilian beer, originally made by the Companhia Cervejaria Brahma which was founded in 1888.” Bar Brahma is part of a global business, not just a corner bar with good beer and a samba singer.

Bourbon Street, the purpose-built Sao Paulo jazz club named for the street in New Orleans, calls one of its cocktails a Hurricane. Reason enough for it to be empty, but this Thursday holiday evening it was so empty that the upstairs balconies were closed. Sao Paulo is ‘travelling’, fleeing the metropolis for more scenic points – on the beach at the coast, in the mountains in the interior, to the attractions of Rio, anywhere but in the metropolis, which those who are not Paulistanos say drives them crazy. So who was there last night?

Entrance to Bourbon Street Moema, Sao Paulo

The club is a large dimly-lit auditorium, with tables on two levels on the ground floor, a dance floor in front, and upper balconies curving around both sides, supported by slim cast-iron pillars. At the back is a bar, at the front a deep stage, lit from behind through glass brickwork set into the curved back wall. A DJ plies his trade from a balcony. Lighting and sound, played a little too loud as usual, are modern and high-quality. The venue is both public and intimate

Directed to a table under the watchful portrait of Ray Charles, we sat following the patrons dancing to a Brasilian soundtrack. The lively crowd took to the floor readily, more so when Orquestra SAGA arrived They’re a biggish band dedicted to playing Brasilian dance hall (gafieira) music, fronted by Gabriel Moura, son of musician Paulo Moura (for more on Paulo Moura see ). The band is well-connected with previous generations of Brasilian musicians, playing with some of the most famous – singer Seu Jorge, percussionist Wilson das Neves, singer Fabiana Cozza, trombonist Itacyr Bocato. The name of the band? Sociedade Amigos de Gafieira.

Interior Bourbon Street Moema

The couples danced well, the women waiting to be asked by the men and occasionally dancing alone, the men squiring their partners expertly around the spacious dance floor. Many of the dancers knew each other well, perhaps belonged to a club (SAGA?), we concluded, attracted by the gafieira soundtrack. But others in the audience danced just as willingly and as well, and here too, more women than men. All ages, shapes and sizes, some of the men wearing hats inside, in the current fashion, even while dancing. Older men generally were neatly dressed down, the younger ones favouring a more working class look – jeans, and white Tshirts under open checked shirts, or perhaps a striped polo shirt. The hats may be in homage to the SAGA brand – panama hat and co-respondent shoes, though I didn’t spot the shoes.

Orquestra SAGA vocaliste Flávia Menezes

Women, on the other hand, had taken the opportunity to dress up – keyhole dresses, or off the shoulder, with laced-up backs, big hair, some also sporting impossibly high heels even for walking, let alone dancing. None more glamorous than the Orquestra’s singer, whose dress was an alluring confection of dark rose pink, the banded satin serving both to reveal and to conceal in the time-honoured way. Her singing partner Moura – fawn hat over his dreadlocks, ‘unstructured’ buttoned jacket and tie – clearly favoured the working class look.

The music and dancing both excellent, there was an infectious warmth about the occasion which made you wish for more of the same, not just as a ‘preservation’ event but as a regular night out, not only booked for a night when the bar was likely to be otherwise empty, but as popular as in the Rio de Janeiro of the 1930s in which gafieira arose.

House band at Estudantina in Rio de Janeiro, where the gafieira revival began in the 1980s

At the Clube Paineiras do Morumby, a large private members club in the prosperous and leafy Sao Paulo suburb of Morumbi, the Orquestra Pinheiros gave their tenth anniversary concert, a programme of jazz standards and show and film tunes. The club itself is 52 years old, a large social, cultural and sports club, built on what was once a tea plantation established by Englishman John Rudge after 1808.

Roof over the restaurant

Roof over the restaurant

The club still has something of the plantation about it, set on an expansive sloping site, the open-air dining area crowded with tables under umbrellas, reminiscent of closely planted tea bushes. The lights of Sao Paulo’s ‘verticalisation’ twinkle on the horizon.

Morumby alfresco 

The club house is built with the familiar Sao Paulo raw concrete.

Ferro-concrete, tile and neon arcade, Morumby

It’s enlivened with colourful tiling and paint, and plays with the inside / outside boundary, apposite for a sports club.

Clube Paineiras Morumby: inside view from outside

The concert takes place in the Cineteatro, where the stage hosts the 35 musicians plus technical support. Later, guest vocalists will  share the stage. It’s an impressively large group which can make a big sound. Murilo Alvarenga, our genial maestro, also sings and is responsible for tonight’s orchestration too. He’s one of the few professional musicians in this group; apart from one or two sitting in, this orchestra plays for the love of it, not the money, practising twice a week. And Sr Alvarenga too is clearly here for the love of the music. His enthusiasm for it is infectious as well as educational, and the audience respond strongly.

Audience for …

As the programme unfolds, they nod in time and tap their feet to the music, occasionally voicing their enthusiastic approval.

… Orquestra Pinheiros …

By the end, they award the musicians a standing ovation and an encore for the last number, the song Sway, composed by Mexican bandleader Pablo Beltrán Luiz in 1953, and most recently popularised by Michael Bublé.

… swaying in Clube Morumby’s Cineteatro

Vocalists Ana Tagliannetti and Rita Valente have fun with their response to the lover’s scenario in the lyrics, bringing this good-natured evening to an enthusiastic close. You wonder if tackling it in Spanish might have added to the fun … here’s the composer’s version, from a 1977 performance for TV.

On the cover of his 2008 biography by Todd Bryant Weeks

Oran ‘Hot Lips’ Page was an outstanding trumpeter, singer and band leader of the 1930s, 40s and 50s. A background in the roots of jazz in the 1920s – he played in backing bands for vaudeville, circus and minstrel acts – took him right through to the emergence of jazz as an internationally recognised music in Europe. He was of course mindful of Louis Armstrong, but also acknowledged local musicians from Texas and from Kansas City as influences on his trumpet style.

His vocal influences are no less impressive – Ma Rainey, Bessie Smith, Ida Cox – and you can hear something of their shouting and wailing style in Frantic Blues, a track from New York City in 1944, recorded while he was leading the house band at the Apollo Theatre.

Hot Lips Page & His Orchestra NYC 1944

The tenor sax breaks are by Lucky Thompson, a regular collaborator. And the shouting and wailing doesn’t stop when Page picks up the trumpet!

Monday night is when working musicians have the night off – bars are closed, restaurants recover from the weekend trade – so what do working musicians do? They play music! Tonight the Movimento Elefantes collective hosted an evening of big band jazz.

They were playing at the Teatro da Vila in Vila Madalena in Sao Paulo, a venue so obscure that the taxi driver hadn’t heard of it, though he knew the names of all the streets. It’s the modest theatre space for a local public school just off Rua Rodesia, Escola Estadual Carlos Maximiliano which, threatened with closure, established a community and arts programme to maintain its viability.

Setting up at Teatro da Vila

Movimento Elefantes is a group of 10 big bands, dedicated to keeping big band jazz alive and appreciated. My musician informant tells me that there were well-known players from the heyday of Paulistano big bands in the 1980s in the audience. Some of them sat in with the band tonight for various numbers.

Banda Jazzco at play

Jazzco is hosted by its genial bass player Amador Bueno, who keeps the good-humoured quips coming as dependably as he drives his bass. The 12 band members – four saxes plus flutes, two trumpets and a trombone in the brass section, and keyboard, rhythm and bass guitar, drums and percussion – shape a tight and intricate music, hard-driving and adventurous in its harmonies. The drummer delights in playing not just with colour and volume, but with time signature too. The short solos each player took between his breaks were a particular delight.

Popular bar, popular music – corner of Rua Rodesia and Rua Jerico

The band asks the audience to contribute what they think is a fair price at the end of the night – the appreciative capacity audience in this small theatre clearly thought it worth much more than the price of a beer. The customers in the Mercearia Sao Pedro across the road enjoyed the music too!

“Ton Ton Jazz and Music Bar” says the logo …

Out to see the Paulistano ‘little big band’ Patavinas Jazz Club at Ton Ton Jazz in Moema, Sao Paulo. It’s a night-life district near Shopping Ibiripuera (not near the park of the same name), where venues like Bourbon Street Music Club also ply their trade. The moody black-and-white photographs on the walls may show acknowledged US jazz greats, but in truth, jazz becomes a broad label here. Bourbon Street hosted a very tight US funk band recently, and the second act last night at Ton Ton was Banda Funk Five. The longest line was outside the club opposite, for an 80s and 90s rock night.

Ton Ton Jazz interior

What they have in common is live music – Sao Paulo is crammed full of it. The antiques market at Praca Benedicto Calixto features a beautifully sweet choro ensemble every Saturday afternoon. Even my local supermarket (!) regularly plays host to live music – I’ve heard a guitarist and a keyboard player live there on different occasions.

Ton Ton Jazz is the long shed I’ve come to expect in Sao Paulo, with a bar at one end and a stage at the other, a loud PA plus three distracting video screens, but the food, the drink and the service are fine.

11 playing on stage – the Patavinas line-up

Patavinas Jazz Club is led by guitarist Andre Hemsi. Along with their keyboard player, he composes much of the band’s repertoire.  They’re an entertaining spectacle, though they don’t sport the choreographed movements of a massed brass section, big band style, despite the music stand logos. The interplay of the musicians, and their evident enjoyment of their ensemble work and solos, is what lights up the stage. The keyboard player stands out, even though he’s at the back – he looks like Jack Teagarden, and he plays as sweetly. The daring of his invention can be breath-taking.

Andre Hemsi is the other half of the band’s motive force. He’s a fluent and wide-ranging stylist, stepping up to solos with assurance, and just as strong in support. With the rock-solid rhythm section behind, the front line take their solos with aplomb, whether long-time members or stand-ins. And it’s good to see a woman playing jazz, trumpet in this case.

In a sense, the most impressive factor doesn’t dawn on you until later: these are all original compositions. They range from reggae through swing to bebop, tackled with panache and vigour. The Brasilian love of music nurtures this musical culture, with little regard for the boundaries between genres. Jazz is alive and well, and living in Sao Paulo!

By the time he was 9 years old, Moura knew he wanted to be a musician

Went with friends to listen to a tribute concert for Brasileiro woodwind player and composer Paulo Moura organised by his widow Halina Grynberg, as part of a programme supporting an exhibition she has curated about his musical life. The venue is the Pompeia SESC in Sao Paulo.

Interior, SESC Pompeia, Sao Paulo

The SESC Pompeia theatre is in the old factory buildings on the site, rather than in the swish new purpose-built towers. The imaginative re-use of industrial space, with seating, a central open fire, and a sculptural water feature, is striking enough, but the theatre space is more so, with two sets of raked wooden seating facing each other, and the stage at the centre of the industrial shed.

Centre stage, SESC Pompeia

Moura played with US jazz greats – Cannonball Adderley – and with Brasileiro maestros – Sergio Mendes – as well as with classical stars – Leonard Bernstein – in a long career which spanned the international rise of samba and of bossa nova. Tonight’s programme features a quintet of pianists on four, yes FOUR grand pianos. They have all played with Moura at various times. The lids of the grands are placed at the four corners of the stage, their sombre black adding a funereal reminder that this is a tribute.

Four of the five pianistas – Lima, Taubkin, Sverner, Korman & Tiso

The melodies these tunesmiths play are standards from the chorosamba, and bossa nova repertoires, by Moura and other Brasilian composers. They play in an astonishing range of styles, from Brahms, through Debussy, to ‘piano bar’, and reaching back to ragtime and forward to bebop. A deluge of notes is hammered out to a rapt and attentive audience. The evidence that Brasilian musical styles are just as wide-ranging and flexible as any jazz or classical idiom is authoritatively set out, underpinning the credentials of this most musical of nations.

Young Carioca musician with instruments and technology

I remind myself that one of tonight’s composers, Chiquinha Gonzaga, scandalised the polite society of her day with her interest in and support for the choro music which we revere here. The question crosses my mind: will we sit and listen in 50 years time to the baile funk music which is currently banned in the Rio favelas, in the same attentive way?

For more on funk in Riosee

At the Madeleine Jazz Bar in Vila Madalena in Sao Paulo on Thursday they were trying a new programme last week: five (yes, five!) saxophone players, with an upright bass and drums for a rhythm section. Two altos, two tenors and a baritone made a glorious wall of sound. It was as if the horn section of a big band had broken off and floated away. Standards both jazz and Brazilian were set out with exemplary elan.

Adrian Rollini playing bass saxophone

I was pleased to be able to direct the baritone player to Adrian Rollini’s playing. It suggests he is still less well-known than he should be; time to spread the word! And to help, here’s the man’s Orchestra, with Adrian himself on bass saxophone and on vibraphone, in March 1936, when he was playing the Tap Room at New York’s President Hotel. The tune is his too, Swing Low .

Sang a few at Bar d’Artur last night with John (woodwinds) and Bina (guitar). Audience seemed to like it; one tipsy customer told me I sang like Chet Baker. I THINK that’s a compliment.

Noticeable is how many (older) standards come from stage shows or more recently film. Who remembers the film The Sandpiper, with Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor? Only Wikipedia … but when you start playing The Shadow of Your Smile, from that film, the audience sings along.

Also noticeable is how the standards are easy to sing – comfortable intervals, memorable melody – with usually one or two tricky intervals thrown in, to catch attention. Maybe that’s what makes a standard: good songwriting. Here’s the simple Astrud Gilberto version of The Shadow of Your Smile.

In the 1930s and early 1940s Casper Reardon (1907-1941) was the most sought-after harpist in popular music. A classically trained son of vaudeville artists, he became first harpist of the Cinncinati Orchestra, and head of harp at the Cincinnati Conservatory. Some of his pupils persuaded him to explore jazz music, and he quickly fell in love with the music of W.C. Handy, Fats Waller, Duke Ellington and many more. Jazz on the harp was a previously undeveloped field. When he moved to New York City in 1931, he played in radio broadcasts, phonograph recording, vaudeville and cabarets. At first his name did not appear on records, even though he was the star of the 1934 Jack Teagarden recording Junk Man. He played with George Gershwin, Paul Whiteman, Benny Goodman, Duke Ellington, and others. Casper Reardon’s harp is also heard in some movies, notably dubbing for Harpo Marx in Go West. He was widely known as ‘the swing harpist’.

Here’s the Teagarden number

Casper Reardon

Adrian Rollini was a jazz multi-instrumentalist who worked from the 1920s (including a year-long stint at the London Savoy Ballroom)  into the 1950s. First famous for playing bass saxophone with the likes of Bix Beiderbecke, he later moved to vibraphone – one of the first to employ a four-stick technique – before retiring to run his own hotels and do some fishing, in Florida.

Rollini introduced other unusual instruments to jazz too: the ‘goofus’ or melodica, and the ‘hot fountain pen’ or chalumeau, a cross between a clarinet and a recorder.

The electrifying effect of his swinging bass line can be heard on tracks like Bix’s At the Jazz Band Ball. Now there’s a gig to enjoy! At The Jazz Band Ball

Cast your spell upon my lover;
Under this starlit cover,
Use all your magic charms.


Put an end to all my sorrows,
Bless me with sweet tomorrows,
Bring back my love to me.

This version Moon Ray by Teddy Wilson and his Orchestra (including Ben Webster on sax), and arranged by Wilson, with Jean Eldridge singing, is enthralling. She also sang with Ellington (but can I find a picture of her?!?) YouTube has Artie Shaw, who co-wrote the song, with Helen Forrest singing, but Wilson’s version – he taught at the Julliard  in later years – far surpasses it. It was the B side of a 78 Columbia foxtrot.

Moon Ray               on 78 rpm

P.S. Here’s some of Eldridge singing with what became the Ellington band, then under Cootie Williams’ leadership.

Like A Ship In The Night – Cootie Williams & His Rug Cutters

Mississippi Dreamboat – Cootie Williams & His Rug Cutters


from jazz pianist, played with Krupa, Chu Berry, Ben Webster, Goodman, Lester Young, and especially great work with Billie Holiday. Pianist, arranger, band leader. Beautiful stylist, classically trained. At his best in my view early on, in the 1930s. Here he is with Goodman and Krupa playing in his Orchestra, in LA in 1937. The song -The Hour of Parting – is co-written by Gus Kahn and Mischa Spoliansky, a refugee from Hitler’s Germany.

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