Nothing but Jazz

When Brazilian bossa nova invaded the United States in the Sixties, the legacy was immediate and enduring: Kenny Dorham, Herbie Mann, Ella Fitzgerald, Dizzy Gillespie, Cannonball Adderley, and other American jazzers sunk their choppers into the likes of "Corcovado," "Desafinado," "Meditation," and "One Night Samba" and concocted their own tunes in the bossa nova style. Antonio Carlos Jobim, the composer of those pieces, gained an enduring appreciation for his profoundly moving, delicately shaded music. That invasion also yielded hundreds of cheesy hotel-lounge bands, haplessly, hopelessly attempting to imitate the sweetness and light of the sound, in the process doing the kind of artistic damage that no doubt resulted in a certain suite in Hell for the offenders.

The jazz world's bossa blitz led to an informal cross-cultural musical exchange. American instrumentalists and singers visited Brazil to get a taste of the real thing. And a large group of Brazilians began making inroads here in the United States, most notably percussionist Airto Moreira and his wife, singer Flora Purim; trombonist Raul De Souza; percussionists Nana Vasconcelos, Guilherme Franco, and Cyro Baptista; guitarist-pianist Egberto Gismonti; guitarist Romero Lubambo; drummers Dom Um Romao and Portinho; pianists Eliane Elias and Manfredo Fest; and singer Tania Maria.

Claudio Roditi, who is slated to bring his Brazilian Dream Band to Baileys Club on Saturday, made his own crossing in 1970, landing at Berklee College of Music in Boston after being named finalist in a jazz competition in Vienna. The trumpeter, born in Rio de Janeiro and raised on a teenage diet of Miles Davis, Dizzy Gillespie, and Chet Baker records, experienced something akin to an irresistible gravitational pull to the homeland of Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington, Charlie Parker, and John Coltrane. "I wanted to further my studies," the 54-year-old Roditi says from his home in South Orange, New Jersey, where he's lived since leaving Brooklyn a year and a half ago. "I always felt that if I didn't come here and get acquainted with jazz here in its birthplace, I would never really have the feeling. I would never understand it on a deeper level." Three decades later his perspective has shifted slightly. "When I listen to some recordings I did while I was still in Brazil, [I realize] I was already playing jazz. I didn't think so at the time. It was just for my head that I came here. When I got to Berklee and I started looking around for these heavy-duty trumpet players, I found out I was right in there. It was a shock and a discovery."

The young musician, whose instrument of choice was the rarely seen rotary-valve trumpet (as opposed to the common piston-valve version), rapidly gained attention, for both his drop-dead technical facility and the heady sophistication of his improvisations. Roditi played around the Boston area with drummer-vibraphonist Alan Dawson and in 1976 moved to New York, where he hooked up with a long list of A-list jazzers, including flutist Mann and saxophonist Charlie Rouse. During the early Eighties, he began an eight-year stint in Cuban-born saxophonist Paquito D'Rivera's band. D'Rivera's La Habana-Rio Conexion, a 1992 disc reissued this year on Rounder, offers a reminder of the efficacy of the pair's partnership.

The association with D'Rivera and musicians such as drummer-percussionist Ignacio Berroa led to work with Gillespie's United Nation Orchestra, handily demonstrated on 1989's Live at the Royal Festival Hall. Playing with Gillespie, Roditi made a flesh-and-blood connection with a major force in his own jazz-trumpet education. "Thirty years before I had been listening to him," he says. "His recordings were the first I had ever heard of modern jazz. It was pretty unbelievable. But I never felt like I wanted to impose myself. Once in a while, he would say, “Come to my room. I've got some Cuban cigars.'"

Over the years Roditi also has found a home for his considerable talents in bands led by soul-jazz pianist Horace Silver, saxophonists Gary Bartz and Greg Abate, and singers Mark Murphy, Chris Connor, and Michele Hendricks. In fact the trumpeter is one of the few Brazilian-born musicians who can successfully navigate between Brazilian, Afro-Cuban, and bebop. His agility is evident throughout his discography as a band leader, stretching back to 1984's pop-influenced Red on Red. Double Standards, released in 1997, had the trumpeter alternating Brazilian-influenced material, featuring pianist Helio Alves and drummer Duduka Da Fonseca (who will both join Roditi at Baileys) with bop-based tunes abetted by rising-star tenor saxophonist Jimmy Greene. Milestones, a 1990 live recording with D'Rivera and all-stars Kenny Barron, Ray Drummond, and Ben Riley in the rhythm section, was a burning straight-ahead session.

"I can safely say that I have been one of the rare horn players that have been moving into both worlds freely, from the Brazilian to the jazz scene and including into the Puerto Rican/Cuban scene also," Roditi says. "If you go look for someone else who has participated in these things, you're not going to find anyone. Between Brazilian music and jazz, it's like being bilingual. It's like me speaking English and speaking Portuguese, and I also speak Spanish. So I'm trilingual. You just try to understand each other's cultures. You try to fit. I never went into a gig with Tito Puente and said, “Well, I'm a Brazilian, so I'm going to play samba.' I tried to hear where the clave is and tried to fit with that. You try to understand the spirit of the music."

Roditi first encountered the spirit of jazz at age nine, when he began playing trumpet. On trips to the local record store, he'd invariably see the instrument on the covers of albums by Armstrong, Harry James, and Red Nichols, and convince his father to buy those recordings. At age thirteen he began improvising and tuned into more modern recordings, including Gillespie's 1954 pairing with Roy Eldridge and Miles's 1955 'Round About Midnight. A few years later, Roditi was hanging out with working musicians in the port city of Santos, south of Rio.

"The whole musical movement that was happening in Rio started to go down there," he recalls. "There was an alley where there were three nightclubs where bossa nova and samba jazz was being played. My first jam sessions were in one of those clubs. It was called Little Club. Deodato, Sergio Mendes, Elis Regina -- everybody was playing in these clubs. That area was very crucial in the development of the music in the early Sixties. By '65 the owners of these clubs decided they weren't making enough money and decided to change their whole [booking] philosophy."

More than 30 years after those formative jam sessions, Roditi has become a major force in Brazilian jazz, as attested to by his ability to gather players such as Alves, Da Fonseca, bassist Nilson Matta, and singer Maucha Adnet, a long-time Jobim associate, for Saturday night's show. He stays busy, touring and recording with Brazilian groups, bebop outfits and big bands such as Holland's Metropole Orchestra, and conducting workshops and seminars for college students. His long-overdue next CD will feature a quartet, with Roditi the lone horn fronting a rhythm section. "I expect to do maybe one composition of mine," he says. "The rest will be some jazz standards. This is gonna be a straight-ahead jazz album."

But Roditi remains frustrated with the popular perception of Brazilian jazz, particularly by those who write about the genre. "Because the rhythm is infectious and the melodies are pleasant, very often the public really likes it," he explains. "But the tendency of the critics is to not understand that this is also jazz. It's not ethnic music. What I do is a heavy combination of American jazz and Brazilian rhythms. What I'm playing on trumpet is nothing but jazz, but done in a Brazilian way."