Claudio Roditi: A Brazilian in Iowa
Roditi recalled the emergence of Joao Gilberto and Jobim in the late 1950s. "It wasn't necessarily 'bossa nova' at that point," he said, adding that 1959 saw the beginning of a very creative period. However, in 1964 the Brazilian cultural climate "had a decline because at that point there was a military coup, and things got very bad. There was no emphasis on creative music, and many people were leaving the country, afraid they would be persecuted by the military. It definitely changed the whole scene." The political environment normalized a few years later, and regular jam sessions reemerged with participants like Sergio Mendes. "His commercial success in the States with Brazil '66 came later," Roditi said. "He was really a very good jazz player. At that time, Sergio was influenced a lot by Horace Silver, and it was more free instrumental music."
Asked later about his non-trumpeter influences, Roditi mentioned Mendes again. "Sergio had a sextet, Bossa Rio, that had two trombones and a tenor sax. They had a very warm, rich sound. Raul de Souza played the valve trombone, so I could see what was going on. I would say he had a big influence on me." [Note: Cannonball Adderley recorded Cannonball's Bossa Nova (Blue Note, 1962) with this group, marking the first North American exposure of drummer Dom Um Romao, who went on to fame with the group Weather Report]. "I played with Airto and Flora Purim in '92," Roditi mentioned, and this led to a brief discussion Romao and Airto's intertwined experiences with Shorter and Zawinul's jazz/fusion super group during the early 1970s.
As many jazz buffs know, the "West Coast" school found a receptive audience among Brazilians, and names like Stan Getz became associated with their music. Others of that school who found wide favor in Brazil were Gerry Mulligan, Chet Baker, Shelly Manne, Dave Brubeck and Paul Desmond. Along with its somewhat greater emphasis on extended compositions and developed arrangements, West Coast stylings were generally of a calmer, less frenetic variety than hard bop. Asked if this "laid-back" quality made it more congenial to adoption for Brazilian musicians, Roditi waved the suggestion aside. "There were economic reasons people in the U.S. don't understand," he explained. "The Pacific Jazz albums were cheaper than Columbia or Blue Note. So, if you were a Brazilian kid with only so much money to spend on records, well, you'd buy Pacific Jazz records because your money went farther."
In 1966, at the age of 20, Roditi was invited to compete in that year's International Jazz Competition in Vienna. Discussing the daunting experience of auditioning for a panel of judges that included the likes of Joe Zawinul, Ron Carter and Art Farmer, Roditi admitted, "I was shaking, for sure." Nerves notwithstanding, Roditi was a finalist, although Randy Brecker won. While at the competition, a third important mentor entered Roditi's life when he befriended Farmer, whom he had idolized as a boy.
One other moment of youthful discomfiture, four years later, was also recalled by Roditi. He was getting off a boat in Boston, where he had come in 1970 to study at Berklee College. Americans' casual dress code, always something of a contrast to that of Latin American culture, was particularly pronounced that year. "I was the only person wearing a suit and tie," Roditi remembered. "Everyone was dressed like hippies, you know, with jeans and sandals and tie-died shirts!" After quickly revamping his wardrobe, Roditi applied himself to his studies in Boston, meeting his wife there while rubbing elbows with Jaco Pastorius and Pat Metheny on campus and in local clubs.
"Americans confuse Cuban and Brazilian music," Roditi pointed out during the rehearsal and elaborated afterward. Roditi, who has played with legendary Cuban reedman Paquito D'Rivera, agreed that this mimics somewhat the blurring of distinctions many Americans make with various Asian and African cultures. "Mexican music, Dominican, Argentineit's all different!" he exclaimed, and he singled out Lee Morgan and Jimmy Heath as two American musicians who have been particularly successful, in his view, with their explorations of Brazilian styles.
Roditi discussed his use of rotary valve, or German, trumpets and flugelhorns custom-made for him by Kromet and Schagerl. "At first, it seemed weird to me, but then I really liked it a lot."