Home Interviews Portinho, in his own words as told to Marcela Joya

Portinho, in his own words as told to Marcela Joya

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Portinho Speaking …

Everybody calls me Portinho. I call myself Portinho. My name is not important. Porto is my last name, in case you want to know. I won’t tell you the year I was born, but I’ll tell you that I am a Gemini, in all senses.

My interest in music began when I was eight years old. I started playing percussion with my father’s group, which was an ensemble of traditional Brazilian music, and I played mainly the pandeiro. I didn’t study anything or go to school, but everybody in my family was a musician (except my mother). In my early twenties, I started playing the drums. It happened by coincidence, an emergency, I had to solve. I was playing percussion with my father’s 14-piece band, and one Saturday the drummer got sick, so they asked me to play the drums. I said I couldn’t do it as I was not a drummer, but they insisted. I vividly recall two big guys carried me and put me on the drum set, so I did it. And I liked it, and they liked it, and they fired the drummer. Shit! I felt sorry for the guy, but what could I do?

I started playing with musicians I admired. People that were not famous as there are no well-known musicians in the town where I was born. People get famous when they move to Rio or São Paulo. Only big cities give big names. Something unimportant, anyways.

Jazz came to my life accidentally, like the drums. One day I was walking in my neighborhood, and I saw this store with shoes, scarfs, notebooks, and other miscellaneous things. Then, I saw the Erroll Garner record entitled Gems, so I bought the album for a few cents; of course, they didn’t know what they had!. But I didn’t know either! I just loved its appearance. My father didn’t like it, he was into the traditional Brazilian styles, and this looked to him as if it was from another planet. However, I started listening to it every day. I didn’t know what it was because I couldn’t read the cover, which was in English, but I saw the word jazz all over. Then, I found another record in another store, – by the way, I believe that’s the way you find music: when music finds you; and it was Coltrane with Max Roach, entirely different from the other, fascinating! So I started studying it and memorizing, repeating and memorizing, then analyzing. All of that before thinking of creating on my own.

Not long after those discoveries, I decided to move to Porto Alegre. Since I was in the military, I knew I had to go somewhere else if I wanted to grow. But when I was there; they wanted me to stay. I was playing music in the military band, I was good at playing football, and I made jokes! So they didn’t want to let me go. But anyways… I finally moved on. My older brother, Gutenberg, who was a drummer too, already lived there. I asked him if I could find a job and he said that it was going to be tough, but I could try. I waited for a while and then moved with my older sister – who was also living in Porto Alegre -, then, I started playing in cool, freaky cabarets.

Fortunately, it was in Porto Alegre where I met pianist Breno Sauer. He had a quintet, and we found a steady gig in a jazz club. We started doing well; we won the Globo Prize twice, had nominations for awards, and we even got a contract to play in Mexico. Mexico, Oh, my dear Mexico!

I didn’t like Mexico too much, as many things were not especially nice over there. But let me explain it to you: Mexicans are beautiful people with tourists, they treated them beautifully and sometimes cynically, but they were not very friendly with immigrants who wanted to live there. We got a contract with the quintet and had to stay in Mexico for about four years. But at that time, there were no good musicians in the country, and the truth is that if you want to learn something, you need to be surrounded by talented people. Luckily, we recorded with Lenny Andrade in Mexico, and that’s one of the few happy memories I have of those years.

Thank God we got a contract to play in Laredo, Texas. Later on, a guy who was always attending our shows in this club of Laredo decided to open a jazz club in Nuevo Laredo. He signed us to be the official band of the venue, and we played there for eight months; afterward, we got a job in a hotel in Minneapolis. At that point, we were not the same people who started out with the band. Many of the founding members went back to Brazil. Only Breno and I stayed.

I stayed because I wanted to keep playing with Breno but also because I had family responsibilities. My daughter was born in Mexico, although she was made in Brazil. Anyways … when I decided to move to Minneapolis, my family life was gone. I stayed in Minneapolis for one year. I liked the city, but I get bored easily and tend to look for change, so I rapidly ended up getting tired of the city thus Minneapolis wasn’t – and isn’t – a great city for music. That’s why I proposed moving to New York!! But everybody was afraid. Breno has a wife and kids, so he believed it was an enormous risk he wouldn’t dare take.

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Marcela Joya is a journalist and fiction writer based in New York. She holds, an M.F.A in Creative Writing from New York University and her main research interests are Jazz and Latin Jazz. She has been extensively working on the topics for some years.

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