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

Portinho, in his own words as told to Marcela Joya


Anyways … All musicians want recognition, but just a few of them are concerned about getting better and better. And we all make mistakes too. I regret, sometimes things I didn’t do when I could but also for gigs I said yes to when I should have said no. I also rejected some gigs, that I later regretted.

I wish I could have played at least one tune with Oscar Peterson. He was – and he is – my favorite piano player. I saw him live twice but never met him. Instead, I met “Ed” Thigpen – who was Peterson’s drummer for about six years, in the 60’s during a workshop; I was giving in Copenhagen. Besides being a fantastic drummer, Thigpen was a very nice guy, so I understood why Peterson had him on his band.Peterson was exceptional. Do you know the movie called “West Side Story?” I love it, but I love the album Oscar Peterson recorded with his trio even more. When you listen to his trio playing those songs, you realize what a great arranger Oscar Peterson was. It affected my life, and the movie too. Great films, like real fine art, do that, that’s why I only watch old black-and-white movies; because those movies have a real in-depth content; they were crafted with passion and creativity that doesn’t happen anymore. They just make movies about other planets and zombies… WTF? Forget about it! I need something that makes think.

Tony Williams, for example. He is my favorite drummer. But I also like Max Roach a lot. Once, I was with my ex-girlfriend, Patricia, and we were walking on 8th Avenue and 47th St, where there used to be many jazz clubs. This place had a big window, so I could see Max Roach inside, talking with a young lady. I decided to go in. I told Patricia that I was going to say hi, even when I was sure that he would not remember me. We met, back in 1974, at Carnegie Hall. There happened to be a huge jazz festival in New York, and I was doing the sound check with Gato. When we finished doing the sound check, and I was trying to take out the cymbal stand from the platform, I saw a hand approach me, and it was Max Roach. Can you imagine that? I was shocked, so I said something like, “no please, don’t do that, I’m supposed to do that for you, you are not supposed to do that for me.” And his answer was, “why? We are both drummers”. That was stunning. So that night we talked as colleagues. He was a very polite and a nice guy.

It is pretty common that some of us – jazz musicians – have to do gigs in restaurants. How do we manage not to get bored? Oh! I don’t know about the rest, but I get bored. Sometimes we get lucky, tough, and there are a few listeners who appreciate what we do. Having someone who listens to you is very encouraging; you can’t imagine how motivating it is!! But not having that someone is neither a disgrace nor the end of the world. We play, first, for us, and for the sake of music. It is hard to find people who listen. Live music is becoming a sort of background thing.

portinho 1000Anyways … I started working with my latest trio almost one decade ago. The bass player, Lincoln Goines, has been my friend and colleague for a very long time. We had played together with many musicians throughout the years. The piano player, Klaus Mueller, is one of the few pianists who can put Brazilian music and jazz together the way I like. What do I mean by that? I mean that we can make music in a different way, I don’t mean better but in a different way. When it comes to music professionalism, I am very demanding. Not just with others but with myself. I hate playing something the way it was recorded. I like to change it a little, always. I don’t like repetition, even if you are playing the same songs you should find always find different paths. It is not about the speed and the craziness and the amount of energy you put into it; it is about the sensibility, the smoothness, and the control you need to have to get the freedom you aspire to reach. I like being in between, sometimes a little smooth, and sometimes a little aggressive. Unfortunately, I cannot play that way in restaurants, because they ask me to play with brushes ONLY so not to “disturb the customers.” People who think drums are disturbing don’t know shit about music, I think.

I’m going to tell you something, and I hope you won’t take it the wrong way (but if you do it’s OK): nowadays, the only Brazilian jazz in New York is the music we make with my trio, which is made up of one Brazilian guy, one German and one American. Great Brazilian musicians left town and, all the rest do the same: Bossanova, Samba… There is no creation; creativity is gone. New musicians are repeating, not adding any new spices to the grooves.

I am always thinking of how I can add something to the music. Otherwise, it’s a waste of time as you can simply go to the record and you don’t need to listen to me!

It’s all about creativity. That’s why we the group is different. I like to be a different drummer. I don’t mean better than others, just different.

portinho ronI like musicians who are different. Ron Carter, for example. He is a very different and interesting bass player. We played once with my trio at a club called Cachaça – another one that didn’t last long – and he went to see us and stayed there until we finished. I couldn’t believe it! Later, we did a recording with him and Klaus Mueller.

We released Vinho do Porto, with my trio, in 2008. I like it. It is not that I love it, no! I prefer many other recordings, but I think it came out Okay. It is tough, almost to the point of impossible to get exactly what you want, don’t you think so?

Would I leave New York if it gets too difficult to live here? It’s a question I have asked myself many times … I guess I would move … but where? Please tell me! It is true that live music in this city is not having its best moment, but I would only move if I can’t pay my rent, which is very likely to happen. There is no place to go where you can play real jazz besides New York. I mean real jazz with real musicians. Chicago may be a good place, perhaps.

There are things I still want to do here. A new trio recording, for example, maybe in a Quintet format. I would like to have a tenor player like Bob Mintzer, and the trombone player could be Luis Bonilla. I love the combination of tenor sax and trombone: nice and smooth. And I like thinking of the combination of those musicians.

You know what? I don’t care about the fame, but if I had it in dollars it would be fascinating!!!

Portinho & AirtoOh, I have a picture I would like you to see! I was with Airto Moreira and his group. That’s Astor Piazolla is in the back doing a sound check. I love that picture, but people always want to steal it from me. One time I went to a restaurant in Pittsburgh, and an Argentinian waitress stole it from me. It took me a while to find her and get it back. Then it disappeared again. I had it at my cousin’s house in Brazil, and some son of a bitch took it. But I got it back. Sometimes, I get what I want.

Featured Photo: Marcela Joya

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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